In the meantime, my opinions are shaped by the likes of Paul Krugman. I usually really enjoy his writing. Today's opinion piece is no exception. In Kansas on My Mind, he agrees with Thomas Frank about how the Republicans are once again screwing the working class by tricking them into thinking that they, the Republican party, have got their back- this time on Social Security.
The message of Mr. Frank's book is that the right has been able to win elections, despite the fact that its economic policies hurt workers, by portraying itself as the defender of mainstream values against a malevolent cultural elite. The right "mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning public outrage ... which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends."
In Mr. Frank's view, this is a confidence trick: politicians like Mr. Santorum trumpet their defense of traditional values, but their true loyalty is to elitist economic policies. "Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. ... Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization." But it keeps working.
And this week we saw Mr. Frank's thesis acted out so crudely that it was as if someone had deliberately staged it. The right wants to dismantle Social Security, a successful program that is a pillar of stability for working Americans. AARP stands in the way. So without a moment's hesitation, the usual suspects declared that this organization of staid seniors is actually an anti-soldier, pro-gay-marriage leftist front.
It's tempting to dismiss this as an exceptional case in which right-wingers, unable to come up with a real cultural grievance to exploit, fabricated one out of thin air. But such fabrications are the rule, not the exception.
For example, for much of December viewers of Fox News were treated to a series of ominous warnings about "Christmas under siege" - the plot by secular humanists to take Christ out of America's favorite holiday. The evidence for such a plot consisted largely of occasions when someone in an official capacity said, "Happy holidays," instead of, "Merry Christmas."
So it doesn't matter that Social Security is a pro-family program that was created by and for America's greatest generation - and that it is especially crucial in poor but conservative states like Alabama and Arkansas, where it's the only thing keeping a majority of seniors above the poverty line. Right-wingers will still find ways to claim that anyone who opposes privatization supports terrorists and hates family values.
Their first attack may have missed the mark, but it's the shape of smears to come.
It seems to me that most liberal writers I've read base their writing in fact and conservative writers don't. Or am I just reading the wrong conservative writers? William Safire is undreadable and now he is gone from the Times Op/Ed page. David Brooks is a moron. But do conservatives read Krugman and dismiss him immediately in the way that I dismiss Brooks?
When I read Krugman, am I just as bad as the people who only read, watch, or listen to people who believe in the same things that they do- whether it is the NPR listeners or Fox News watchers. I want to surround myself with a wide range of thought, but to do that I'd have to really spend more time reading. Is Krugman really right here? Are his facts correct or am I just so ready to believe whatever he has to say that I lap it up?
In particular, his paragraph about Christmas resonates with me but he doesn't really give any facts here other than his general impression of the situation. Is that all there was to the non-story of the vanishing Christmas? I just don't know.
Conservatives are adament that they are right with or without facts. Since I don't fully investigate these facts myself, I take Krugman at his word. But how do I know that he isn't just looking at the issues only in the way that he wants to see things rather than objectively?