Thomas Ricks Moves Left

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Obama Administration

He’s not turning into a card-carrying leftie, assuming we carried cards, but Thomas Ricks writes that he realizes the country is just plain not working and he finds himself leaning toward center-left ideas.

I have again and again found myself shifting to the left in major areas such as foreign policy and domestic economic policy. I wonder whether others of my generation are similarly pausing, poking up their heads from their workplaces and wondering just what happened to this country over the last 15 years, and what do to about it.

And then he lists several areas of policy and social issues in which he feels the “conservative” approach just hasn’t worked, or made things worse, and now a more left-ish approach seems more harmonious with reality. Do tell.

One might ask, Why didn’t you notice this before? Because the U.S.Right has been crazy extremist for years. Is it that it’s just now sinking in that the country is dysfunctional? Is it that their own finances are hurt? Is it that the Right’s famous ability to cover over the craziness with correct messaging has been slipping?

Please also read Digby’s Texas gun nuts’ scary ritual: How hatred of a president turned profane. She begins by taking us back to November 22, 1963 –

The morning of Nov. 22, the Dallas Morning News featured a full-page ad “welcoming” the president to Dallas. After a preamble in which they proclaimed their fealty to the Constitution and defiantly asserted their right to be conservative, they demanded to be allowed to “address their grievances.” They posed a long series of “when did you stop beating your wife” questions asking why Kennedy was helping the Communist cause around the world. Here’s an example:

WHY has Gus Hall, head of the U.S. Communist Party praised almost every one of your policies and announced that the party will endorse and support your re-election in 1964?

WHY have you banned the showing at U.S. military bases of the film “Operation Abolition”–the movie by the House Committee on Un-American Activities exposing Communism in America?

WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America, while permitting him to persecute loyal Americans who criticize you, your administration, and your leadership?

WHY has the Foreign Policy of the United States degenerated to the point that the C.I.A. is arranging coups and having staunch Anti-Communists Allies of the U.S. bloodily exterminated.

WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the “Spirit of Moscow”?

MR. KENNEDY, as citizens of the United States of America, we DEMAND answers to these questions, and we want them NOW.

You get the drift. And you probably recognize the tone. The subject may have changed somewhat but the arrogant attitude combined with the aggrieved victimization is a hallmark of right-wing politics even today.

Digby brings this up because the Texas Open Carry herd has been staging regular demonstrations at the cite of the assassination.

Travelers from other nations who come to Dealey Plaza to pay their respects are undoubtedly startled to see yahoos carrying guns and passing out extremist literature very much like the literature that was distributed in Dallas in the fall of 1963. In most places in this world such contempt for national hallowed ground would be frowned upon by decent people. But in America, armed men and women marching around spouting hatred for the president at the very spot where a former president was assassinated is business as usual. We are “free” here to carry guns in public and dare others to argue with us. But that doesn’t make it any less vulgar and profane to do it in a place of national grief — and what should be a monument to right-wing ignominy.

I was only 12 years old when President Kennedy died. I know there were people who didn’t like JFK and especially did not like Bobby Kennedy. But I honestly had not remembered his being accused of being soft on Communism.

I’m not sure exactly how these articles go together, but I feel that they do.

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Counting the Obamacare Beans

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Obama Administration

I want to call your attention to Obamacare in an import-export regional economic modeling view by Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice. It begins:

Obamacare is many things. One of which is an interesting natural experiment in determining whether states shooting themselves in the foot makes it harder or easier to walk than states that don’t shoot themselves in the foot.

He then goes on to explain in a wonderfully wonky-snarky way that the states denying Medicaid expansion are hurting themselves financially.

Unsurprisingly states that expanded Medicaid are seeing uninsured rates drop dramatically as well as more robust local economy as they are now receiving an “export” cash flow of .5 to 1% of gross state product from the federal government. That will spin out to four or five local jobs in “secondary” industries from each job in healthcare that is being created or sustained by Medicaid expansion. Non-expansion states are seeing cash outflows in increased taxes or lower Medicare Advantage payment rates without any corresponding cash inflow. Their hospitals are still seeing high numbers of uninsured patients as other compensating funds have been cut. They are in trouble.

He also says,

Finally, if Halbig is upheld by the Supreme Assholes, we’ll quickly see half the states that would be screwed do the Gaba two-step of buying a new web domain name to use as a splash page and then getting the summer IT intern redirecting visitors from that splashpage to Healthcare.gov. These states would see no change, while the Confederacy and Great Plains Republican base states would take multi-billion dollar hits in order to save $200 for a domain and a redirect.

this was interesting to me, because a guy at the Washington Examiner predicted something else–

The (currently delayed) requirement for larger businesses to purchase insurance for their workers or pay penalties is triggered in cases in which at least one employee obtains government subsidies to purchase insurance. In states where subsidies cannot be distributed, the penalties won’t apply. Therefore, a ruling against the government in Halbig could set up a scenario in which businesses want to flock to states with federal exchanges as a way of getting around the employer mandate.

I don’t doubt that some states actually would refuse to set up a domain, and would then sit back waiting for all these employers to stampede across their borders on the promise of cut-rate employees. Whether that would actually happen I do not know. I am inclined to think that a business that would go to the expense of relocating just to go cheap on employees is not necessarily the kind of employer who will help build a better future for your state, but that’s me.

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New Bullshit Anti-Obamacare Court Decision

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Health Care

When I first saw this headline I felt genuine panic — Court Rules That Subsidies in Obamacare’s Federal Exchange are Illegal, Dealing Huge Legal Blow to Health Law. That’s the headline at Hit & Run, where the Koch-funded libertarians probably are doing cartwheels around their desks. You can look it up if you want to read it.

Here’s the story on Talking Points Memo. The two Republican judges on the three-panel D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the state insurance exchanges run by the federal government may not offer subsidies, or the tax credits offered by the IRS. The one Democrat called this bullshit.

“This case is about Appellants’ not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Edwards wrote in his dissenting opinion. He called said the majority’s reading of the statute amounts to “a poison pill to the insurance markets in the States that did not elect to create their own Exchanges. This surely is not what Congress intended.”

My initial panic was mollified somewhat by the realization this decision does not affect the New York exchange, which is run (somewhat clumsily) by New York. Still, it’s a hell of a mess, and it’s not clear to me if this will go into effect immediately. If so, a lot of people are about to lose the insurance they’ve had for less than a year.

The White House is going to ask the full panel to rule on the decision, which could possibly reverse it.

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The Job Ahead

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Democratic Party, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Thomas Frank, who is one of my favorite guys, slammed President Obama hard a couple of days ago in Right-wing obstruction could have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency’s legacy is failure. The whole article is pretty much in the title. But here’s a bit more –

….In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

At the other end of the Democratic scale, Kevin Drum writes,

I see this kind of thing all the time on the right. If only we had a candidate who refused to sell out conservative values! A candidate who could truly make the American public understand! Then we’d win in a landslide!

It’s easy to recognize this as delusional. Tea party types are always convinced that America is thirsting for true conservatism, and all that’s needed is a latter-day Ronald Reagan to be its salesman. Needless to say, this misses the point that Americans aren’t all reactionaries. In fact, as the embarrassing clown shows of the past two GOP primaries have shown, even most Republicans aren’t reactionaries. There’s been no shortage of honest-to-God right wingers to choose from, but they can’t even win the nomination, let alone a general election.

(Of course you never know. Maybe 2016 is the year!)

But if it’s so easy to see this conservative delusion for what it is, why isn’t it equally easy to recognize the same brand of liberal delusion? Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don’t be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

I think they both make good points. Yes, President Obama let some opportunities slip by him, especially those first couple of years. He could have done a much better job taking his arguments to the American public and making some leverage for himself.

On the other hand, it’s still the case that right-wing politics dominates our political culture as well as news media, and even for those two years the Dems had a majority in the Senate and House, a big chunk of those Dems were Blue Dogs who voted with Republicans as often as not. He never had a majority of progressives who supported him. So there have always been real and tangible limits to what he could accomplish, no matter what he did.

As for “demonizing the Right” — those people are demons, metaphorically speaking. There is no bottom to their nefariousness.

The public, having been fed a near-pure diet of right-wing propaganda since at least 1980, and I would argue longer than that, is leery of progressive policies. It’s less leery than it was ten years ago, as the financial crisis and subsequent economic hardships softened them up a lot. But progressives still have a lot of work to do to sell their agenda to the public.

I still run into lefties who honestly believe the country was ready to embrace single payer health care in 2009 and it was only President Obama who stood in the way. This is proof that it’s not just righties who live with their heads up their asses.

The truth is that there are big chunks of the country in which progressive voices are never heard except by those who go looking for them on the Internet. Public political news and discourse runs the gamut from Ross Douthat to Ted Cruz to Cliven Bundy. This is not to say that there aren’t folks in those places who might respond well to progressive ideas if they ever heard any. But until that happens, we don’t know.

I’ve been saying all along that it’s going to take a long game, several election cycles, and a lot of work to turn things around. That’s still true.

The priority right now is to be sure Dems keep the Senate, which is do-able. In this we should be following Elizabeth Warren:

Meanwhile Warren, the progressive elected the same time as Cruz, is touring the country campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates, even some who are more centrist than she is, like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant. She’s focused on growing the Democratic Party, not cutting down colleagues who are less progressive.

While packing the Senate with less-progressive Dems in order to hold on to it is not ideal, letting the GOP have it would be much worse.

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Hobby Lobby Has Not Split “the Left”

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Religion

Stupidest headline I’ve seen so far today — “How Hobby Lobby Split the Left and Set Back Gay Rights” at The Atlantic. I’m not seeing the Hobby Lobby decision split “the Left” at all. Have you?

It’s true that several gay-rights groups have withdrawn support from ENDA — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — but their reasons are understandable. They say the bill has been so carved-out and watered down as to be useless. And they’re probably right. I’m not seeing any objections from other lefties.

What makes this article (by Molly Ball) especially pathetic is that her strongest examples of splitting on “The Left” are Third Way and Jim Wallis. Third Way is an organization of center-right trolls. And Jim Wallis is a troll, period.

Wallis fools a lot of people because he presumes to speak for the religious Left, and he’s written some books, such as God’s Politics, that spoke against the influence of extremist right-wing religion in U.S. politics. But over the years it has become plain he is no progressive himself; he just plays one on the Tee Vee.

Actual progressive religious people such as Frederick Clarkson have been calling out Wallis’s bullshit for years. Here’s just one article about Wallis out of a whole lot of others at the website Talk to Action.

In fact, here’s an interview of Wallis from Christianity Today where he plainly says he is no liberal and not part of the religious Left. He’s opposed to marriage rights and has been weaselly on reproductive rights, refusing to take a stand on the abortion issue but engaging in much winking and nodding toward the Right.

So no, just because Third Way and Jim Wallis and a few center-right Democrats are chewing their nails over the Hobby Lobby decision doesn’t mean “The Left” is split over it. It is not.

Anyone who wonders what actual progressive religion looks like are welcome to read my book, btw.

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James Garner, 1928-2014

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entertainment and popular culture

As my old pappy used to say, a man does what he has to do — if he can’t get out of it.” — Maverick (series)

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Losing Liberty

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Obama Administration

There was a time the word liberty actually meant “liberty.” Y’know, as in “the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely,” or “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control,” as it says in the dictionary. Between the baggers and the randbots, however, it now seems to refer to maintaining power over others, especially in the sense of being the despot in a despotic state or the privileged class in some feudal system.

For the dim, this new usage of liberty is, of course, a grand bait-and-switch. You might have heard of those guys in Germany several years back who called themselves the “national socialists” even though they hated socialism. Socialism was popular; co-opting the label was a good marketing strategy. Now liberty is the logo being used to package plutocracy, and it has been working pretty well.

Via Annie Laurie, see Homophobia, racism and the Kochs: San Francisco’s tech-libertarian “Reboot” conference is a cesspool by Mark Ames. Reboot is a tech-valley conference sponsored by the Koch boys, and Ames finds it remarkable that one of the keynote speakers is Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Since coming to Congress, she co-sponsored a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, voted against bills that would protect the LGBT community from hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace, against the equal pay bill for women, against federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and she opposes legal abortions in the case of rape or incest (unless the mother’s life is in danger). The Pensacola Christian College grad did, however, co-author a bill “recognizing Christianity’s importance to Western civilization.”

By the old definition of the word, nothing at all in Rodgers’s background says “liberty.” Liberty, to the American founding fathers, was about empowering people to throw off the shackles of despotism, which is “a system of government in which a ruler has unlimited power.” Liberty in the Koch boy’s world, however, is the concentration of power in some dominant class, so that it freely may exploit everything and everyone else for its own enrichment.

Ames, for example, found some pretty nasty things lurking in old back issues of Reason:

And then there’s the uglier, darker side of the Kochs’ libertarianism on display in Reason’s archives: the fringe-right racism and fascism that the movement has tried to downplay in recent years to appeal to progressives and non-loonie techies. Throughout its first two decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, Reason supported apartheid South Africa, and attacked anti-apartheid protesters and sanctions right up to Nelson Mandela’s release, when they finally dropped it.

In May 1976, just before the Soweto Uprising when South African police slaughtered hundreds of black youths — Reason’s South African correspondent, Marc Swanepoel repeated a common theme in Reason’s pages: libertarianism and the white race are one and the same:

“Let the people who advocate immediate majority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia take note. It would be very nice to have a minimal libertarian government and that is what South African libertarians would like to achieve. But as long as the choice is between being governed by a relatively informed white minority and a Socialist black majority, ‘apartheid’ in South Africa will stay.”

Throughout the 1970s, Reason’s pages dripped with racist justifications for apartheid, on the racial-economic theory that whites stood for free market libertarianism and individual liberty, while blacks were genetically predisposed towards socialism and looting. Therefore, libertarians could not support majority rule, which was merely a trick to destroy libertarianism.

To be fair, it should be noted that many of the commenters accuse Ames of cherry picking and misrepresenting Reason. However …

There are different threads of libertarianism, of course. The Koch boys are mostly updated McKinley-era Gilded Agers. I’ve said before that Ron/Rand Paul libertarianism, or what might be thought of as the populist wing of the movement, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. President Eisenhower’s sending of troops to enforce a school desegregation order pulled all kinds of triggers in people who were not just racists and segregationists. These were people who had grown up listening to Grandpappy expound Gone-with-the-Wind revisionist history of Reconstruction, when Ulysses S. Grant sent troops (including colored regisments!) into the South to force white people to eat radishes (out of the gardens they still owned) or starve. The hardened attitude that “government oppression” is something only the federal government can do, while rooted in old “states’ rights” theory, lives and breathes today mostly because of the post-Brown v. Board of Ed period. This I have seen myself.

And then there’s this (emphasis added):

For Reason’s libertarians and pro-apartheid whites, this was the great tragedy that loomed: the loss of their free-market paradise, their “liberty,” to black majority rule. Majority rule and socialism were one and the same; for Reason, apartheid was the only thing safeguarding “liberty.” The logic was insane; but it was accepted as a matter of faith in the pages of Reason.

It’s important to never forget that libertarianism is, ultimately, anti-democratic and opposed to representative government, which some of us think of as the foundation of liberty. As Erik Kain wrote awhile back:

I don’t want to live in Libertopia. And while libertarians may say they don’t want to live in my welfare state either, at least I can say “Then go vote against it.” In Libertopia no such option would exist. That doesn’t smell like freedom to me.

The Ames article is a Part I, and the Part II promises to be more about whether Koch-style libertarianism and Silicon Valley libertarianism really are that close of a match.

But while I’m on the subject …

I’m sure I complained about it at the time, but one of the most surreal things I ever found in Reason was a 2010 article titled The Truth About Tibetan Buddhism. If one did not know the real truth about Tibetan Buddhism one might think the author, Brendan O’Neill, had a point. Basically, O’Neill went to Lhasa and noted that Tibetans there didn’t seem happy, and assume this was because of Buddhism, not Chinese oppression.

He recounted an interview with a monk without noting that the monk would have been supplied by the local Communist Party. The interview couldn’t have happened otherwise. Indeed, any monk who was not a good Party member was rounded up and shipped out of Lhasa back in 2008. The monk repeats standard Chinese Communist Party revisionism about the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, which O’Neill accepts at face value.

He describes the temples in Lhasa as “golden Buddhas surrounded by wads of cash,” without mentioning that the these days the temples essentially are run by the Party as tourist attractions, and the monks are employees who run the temples under Party direction and live on stipends from the Party. (For the real truth about Tibetan Buddhism, see “The Disneyfication of Tibet” by Pearl Sydenstricker.)

For something like this to be in the allegedly anti-Communist Reason is, as I said, surreal. What’s actually going on in Tibet is big-government oppression on steroids, yet the words “China” or “Communist” did not appear in the piece at all. If Tibetans are being oppressed, it is only Buddhism oppressing them, O’Neill says.

Granted, O’Neill is a professional troll who writes really stupid things. But Reason published this. Reason allowed itself to be a conduit of Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Is this because they are so insulated from real oppression they no longer recognize it? Or is it because in their hierarchy of causes, weird Asian religions are worse than a totalitarian government that has been pretty good at making money in recent years, after all …

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Ukraine: Baggers and War

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Asia, Europe, Obama Administration

Consensus is settling on the belief that Malaysia Airlines 17 was brought down by Russian-backed Ukranian insurgents who believed it to be a Ukrainian military cargo jet. This audio tape is the chief evidence:

After more thorough investigation we may yet learn that something or someone else was responsible for the 298 deaths. However, the Guardian is reporting that the insurgents are destroying evidence.

About the insurgents: David Remnnick describes one separatist leader at the New Yorker:

A wildly messianic nationalist who cultivates an air of lumpy intrigue, [Igor] Strelkov has found his way to the battlefields of Chechnya, Serbia, and Transnistria. He is now helping to run the separatist operation in Donetsk. Like the radical nationalists and neo-imperialists in Moscow, who have easy access to the airwaves these days, Strelkov has a singular point of disagreement with Putin: the Russian President hasn’t gone nearly far enough; he has failed to invade and annex “Novorossiya,” the separatist term for eastern Ukraine. Pavlovsky said that people like Strelkov and his Moscow allies are as delusional as they are dangerous, somehow believing that they are taking part in grand historical dramas, like the Battle of Borodino, in 1812, or “the novels of Tolkien.”

“Strelkov is well known for leading historical reënactments of Russian military battles, like you have in the States with the Civil War reënactors,” Pavlovsky said. “It used to be a fantasy world for people like him, but now they have a realm for their imaginations.”

In other words, they’re the Russian equivalent of the Cliven Bundy militia, armed with surface-to-air missiles. Josh Marshall wrote,

So that’s who you’re dealing with: some mix of civil war reenactor or Tea Partier decked out in revolutionary garb, with a mix of reckless aggression and comical incompetence. Here we have them break into nursing homes to photographs senator’s comatose wives; there Putin gives them heavy armaments designed for full scale land war in Europe.

I feel compelled to add that not all Civil War reenactors are that delusional. But you get the idea. See also Dylan Scott, This Is The Feared Russia-Born Separatist Who Allegedly Boasted Of Downing An Airplane.

There are a number of articles out today about why Putin is doing this. In brief, beside the fact that his ego is bigger than Russia, he’s also got ideas about nationalism that should have been left behind in the 19th century. His games in Ukraine also appear to have boosted his approval ratings among Russians.

And of course, on the GOP/Bagger American Right, the plane crashed because Obama.

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No Room at the Inn

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

… either tough love, or very soft hate …

America welcomes refugee children not with open arms, but with arms openly carried.

A few of the protesters who marched against a proposed shelter in Vassar, Mich., on Monday were armed with semiautomatic rifles and handguns. In Virginia, an effort to house the children at the shuttered campus of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville caused such an uproar that federal officials pulled out, even though a five-month lease had been signed. Someone spray-painted anti-immigrant graffiti on a brick wall at a former Army Reserve facility in Westminster, Md., that was being considered as a shelter site.

Some cities have raised health and security concerns. Northeast of Oyster Creek, League City passed a resolution opposing any shelters from opening even though the federal government had no plans to do so. The resolution claimed that “illegal aliens suffering from diseases endemic in their countries of origin are being released into our communities.”

A number of faith-based groups have come together to assist the children and try to shelter and sponsor some of them. But even these efforts are being met with ridicule by the Right. I guess there’s still no room at the inn.

According to the Breitbrats, militia groups have called themselves up to “patrol” the border.

The alert to the civilian militia groups, which includes many groups who showed up at the Clive Bundy ranch in Nevada, calls on all able bodied militia members to converge on the Laredo sector of the Texas/Mexico border. A man who identified himself on a national conference call as “Ruthless” said their objective it to “put up a man-fence” to prevent the illegal aliens from crossing the border in their area of control.

As I think gulag said yesterday — don’t shoot until you see the whites of their diapers.

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Winning the War Against Religious Derp

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Obama Administration

Since About.com shut down the blog section of my Buddhism site, and since I have a book to promote, I’ve started a new Rethinking Religion blog to focus on religious issues. I’ll still be ranting about politics here, of course. I’m cross-posting today because I thought you might like this one:

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If you’ve read my book Rethinking Religion, you know how much I want reactionary Christians to stop trying to force the rest of us to bow to their tribal totems. If it were up to me, there’d be no Ten Commandments monuments or Nativity scenes on pubic property. No store clerk would ever be harassed for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” There’s be no special legal favors for “Christian” corporations, no proselytizing anywhere, and separation of church and state would be global policy.

Although achieving this happily tolerant state won’t be easy and won’t happen in my lifetime, I think it could happen some day. But there’s a smart way to work toward a religiously tolerant world, and there’s the stupid way.

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For examples of stupid, see 5 atheist and Muslim billboards that drove the Christian right nuts at Salon. One is a large billboard with a picture of Santa Claus, captioned “Keep the MERRY.” Under that is Christ on the Cross, captioned “Dump the MYTH.” Another billboard reads “Who Needs Christ During Christmas? Nobody!” The name “Christ” is crossed out. These billboards were both sponsored by the group American Atheists.

The Salon article quotes American Atheist president David Silverman: ““We all love this time of year…Christianity has been trying to claim ownership of the season for hundreds of years. But the winter solstice came first and so did its traditions. The season belongs to everybody.” I agree. I also think that’s what they should have said on their billboards — The season belongs to everybody. Ridiculing Jesus was unnecessary.

Seriously, atheist dudes, the Christian Right is not Jesus’ fault. The CR may have adopted Jesus as its team mascot, but it’s ignored his teachings for years. And seeing Jesus ridiculed is as jarring to Christians — including the tolerant, progressive ones — as watching their mothers being publicly humiliated.

This is not a way to win hearts and minds; it’s just a cheap self-indulgence.

Before buying any more billboard space, I suggest that American Atheists sit down and have a good, long think about what they are trying to accomplish. And then they should take a look at current research in cognitive science and social psychology to craft a smarter way to achieve their goals.

For example, is the goal (a) to wean humankind from religion completely? Or is it (b) to foster a society in which religion is respected as a private matter and not something we’re perpetually hassling each other about?

I can tell you right now (a) is not going to happen in your lifetimes. Or this century. Likely not in this millennia. Something that has been part of civilization since there has been civilization doesn’t disappear that easily. I’m not even going to try to persuade you that (a) wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, although I don’t think it would be. I’m saying it’s a fool’s errand to even try.

If (b), now we’re talking. That is more do-able. And a lot of religious people, like me, would happily join you in the effort. Even then it won’t be easy, but I think enough people are getting fed up with the antics of religious extremists that a smartly run campaign might actually work.

“Smartly run” brings us to the cognitive science and social psychology. Google “motivated reasoning” and read up on it. Rmuse at Politics USA explains,

What results of the several studies demonstrate is that once a partisan is confronted with unwelcome facts about their beliefs, the centers of their brain associated with emotional distress light up and remain active until their defective brains “rationalize away the unwanted information.” According to one of the scientists conducting the studies, when conservatives and Christian zealots rationalize away unwanted information, the centers of their brains associated with positive feelings turn on and “overlap substantially with those activated when drug addicts get their ‘fix.’”

The studies also prove that despite showing conservatives, Republicans, gun fanatics, and evangelical special interests facts, scriptures, and even video evidence that their strongly held beliefs are pure fantasy or absolutely wrong, conservative (and some liberal) brains automatically reject facts because they refute their personal beliefs. Research teams at Yale and Dartmouth discovered, for example, that highly skilled mathematicians will, more often than not, deliberately reach an incorrect answer if data leads to a conclusion that is contrary to their political worldview. There are myriad examples of conservatives and evangelical fanatics disputing hard data, the Constitution, and the Christian bible because they are programmed by conservatives’ buzzwords, memes, and outright lies into believing their errant conclusions and faith are fact.

I doubt that surprises anyone, but do re-read the first paragraph of the excerpt. If your message is one that triggers a negative emotional reaction in most folks, including those who might be persuadable, you are hurting your cause more than helping it.

Negative attack ads work in elections — usually, anyway — because they can whip up enough low-information voters to vote against the guy the ads are attacking. Especially in a close election, just a few hundred voters can change the outcome.

But, dear atheists, you aren’t trying to be elected to a county commission. You’re trying to change society itself. That’s a whole ‘nother thing. And your “target audience,” the people whose minds you are trying to change, are not the hard-right religious extremists, because their minds will not change.

Your audience is everybody else, religious and not-religious.

Take a cue from same-sex marriage advocates. They are winning public opinion by engendering public sympathy. They are changing minds by presenting a positive image of themselves as loving, responsible and family oriented, not by bashing their opposition.

Years ago I formulated a basic rule for successful demonstrating that I call the “Bigger Asshole” rule. The job of public protesters is not to change the minds of the powerful people they are opposing, but to gain public sympathy for their cause. Especially in politics, the powerful won’t change until they are compelled to do so by a sufficient critical mass of public opinion saying they must.

So the job of protesters and demonstrators is to make the people they are protesting look like bigger assholes than they are. But if the protesters come across as bigger assholes than the protestees, the public will side with the establishment. And I assure you that, in terms of the Bigger Asshole rule, ridiculing Jesus is a losing strategy.

LGBT activists are winning public opinion by making gay-bashers look like the bigger assholes. And considering there’s a lot of overlap between homophobes and religious extremists, atheists ought to be able to do the same thing.

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