As 2014 comes to a close, the state of our nation is resoundingly marginally less crappy than it’s been in recent memory. Unemployment is below six percent, GDP growth is strong and the stock market is roaring. But in the nuttier recesses of the American right, it was just another 12 months of permanent midnight in Barack Obama’s black nationalist gulag. Obama might be the only person in history who can make rich white assholes hate golf. That alone should be enough to assure him a spot on Mount Rushmore. Yet, his evil genius hardly stopped there. From worse-than-Watergate scandals like Benghazi to his administration’s pro-Ebola health policies to his blanket refusal to admit that the biggest problem facing the African-American community is an insufficient amount of self-disgust, Obama never stopped providing right-wing pundits and politicians with stuff to freak out about. Throw in a slam-dunk mid-term election that turned GOP primaries into cray-cray cutting sessions and this might’ve been the best year ever for the booming industry that is right-wing wrongness. Nice work, gang. Keep dropping those thought bombs.
Cliven Bundy always seemed like a bad sketch-comedy premise made flesh, but for a while the renegade libertarian rancher/agrarian welfare cheat was a bona fide right-wing media darling. Bundy blazed a shining trail through the conservative firmament when his long-standing dispute with the federal government over unpaid grazing fees escalated into an armed protest. But Bundy's loose cannon views proved a little too intense, even for Fox News, particularly this sermonette on the historic plight of "the Negro," which ended his brief moment in the spotlight:
"They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
The entrenched battle between reality and bullshit hit a fever pitch earlier this year when White House science advisor John Holdren testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The questions from several Republican members were almost too off the wall to be believed, inspiring one of 2014's best Jon Stewart flipouts. Among the inquisitors was Indiana climate skeptic Larry Bucshon, who suggested that scientists might be in the tank for global warming as a kind of get-rich-slow scam:
Bucshon: Is it true that this rule has no effect on the global temperature change?
Holdren: Can I take that? I'd like to respond to that.
Bucshon: There's public comments out there that that question has been asked and answered saying no.
Holdren: You should look at the scientific literature rather than the public comments…
Bucshon: Of all the climatologists whose career depends on the climate changing to keep themselves publishing articles? Yes, I could read that, but I don’t believe it.
As Stewart pointed out, Bucshon's top three campaign contributors are Murray Energy and Koch Enterprises and Peabody Energy. You can't make this stuff up and, sadly, we don't have to.
What is it with the right wingers always wanting to bring up slavery? The idea that government assistance to the poor creates dependency and erodes freewill has long been a key tenant of conservative thinking. In a recent Fox segment, actress-turned-pundit Stacey Dash took the notion a step further, decrying Medicaid and the National School Lunch Program as a form of slavery – Democratic slavery.
"This is the Democratic party’s new version of slavery to me," Dash noted. "I am a believer in the American dream, but as long as you are told where you have to live, what you have to eat, what you have to wear, where you have to go school, you will never know the true meaning of freedom of expression and the power and value of self achievement, you will never know that that is."
And you thought slavery was an economic condition in which one human being is owned by another. Boy, do you lack imagination.
The government's response to the possibility of Ebola spreading in the U.S. often seemed to lack urgency and competence. Was it a case of everyday bureaucratic haplessness or was something darker lurking beneath the surface? Let's go with door number two. Texas Representative Steve Stockman had the courage and vision to ask the right tough, mildly insane questions. Speaking on the wingnut radio show Trunews, Stockman wondered, "It's just a strange non-response, a strange way of handling it and I think that if it does go forward and we do not control it, there may be an overreaction where the government starts taking away the rights of those that aren't that necessarily involved or need that to happen," he said. "I hope that’s not the case, but as you know this current government uses crisis to advance their philosophy and their agenda."
Rudy Giuliani built a big part of his political success by fanning the flames of racial division. And he's still doing it as a commentator on Fox. This year, the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand-jury decisions gave him all sorts of chances to reheat some of his classic white-rage backlash bits from the Nineties – like the Gin Blossoms playing "Hey Jealousy" for a half-full casino. Rudy really outdid himself this December when he insinuated that Barack Obama was in part responsible for the murder of two NYPD officers.
"We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police," he said on Fox.
Usually, right-wing invective takes the form of, well, invective. Which is why this editorial from Gretchen Carlson, co-host of the Fox afternoon talk show The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson, was so different and special. In delivering her "My Take" segment on the government response to Ebola, Carlson elevated garden-variety anti-Obama conspiracy mongering into a kind of free-form word jazz, turning punditry into performance art:
"So, should we trust the government to keep us all safe from Ebola? With the government's recent track record not being so hot. Well, we learned we couldn't trust the IRS after the targeting of conservative groups, the secret service after an armed man made his way into the White House, the VA after reports men and women who served this country died waiting to get health care. We couldn't trust the promise that Obamacare, that we could keep our doctors that we wanted. And do we trust that we know all the answers yet about Benghazi? What more and more people seem to be asking about Ebola now isn't that they're necessarily scared about actually getting the disease, but that they're scared the government agencies responsible with helping us if we do get sick might not be up to the task. So if Ebola becomes a bigger issue, the question still remains will we be safe."
There's no greater fear than the fear of theoretically being afraid of something you're pretty sure you didn't need to be afraid anyway in the first place.
In 2010 and 2012, Republican candidates like Todd Akin and Sharron Angle submarined their candidacies with extremist right-wing rhetoric. This year the playing field was so tilted in the GOP's favor they could say pretty much any crazy-ass thing and get elected. No one better exemplified this unfortunate electoral reality than Iowa's newest Senator Joni Ernst, who beat her coat hanger of a Democratic opponent despite some downright avant-garde policy positions. Ernst claimed Iraq had WMD and that food pantries would be a good substitute for anti-poverty programs. In one campaign ad she burnished her credentials for office by highlighting her experience castrating pigs on the farm where she grew up – "So when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork," she claimed, which you gotta admit is pretty funny. But her weirdest moment on the trail might've been this little riff on her avid enthusiasm for firearms.
"I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family – whether it's from an intruder, or whether it's from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important."
Congress needs bold new ideas. In terms of dealing with the issue of undocumented immigration, House candidate Mark Walker of North Carolina took outside-the-box brainstorming to a daring new level. At a town hall meeting last June, Walker responded to a questioner who wondered if we might want to use more aggressive military tactics in securing our Southern border:
Walker: Well, my first answer for that is we need to utilize the National Guard as much as we can. But I will tell you, if you have foreigners who are sneaking in with drug cartels, to me, that is a national threat and if we got to go laser or blitz somebody with a couple of fighter jets for a little while to make our point, I don't have a problem with that either. So yeah, whatever you need to do."
Town Hall Moderator: I hope you wouldn't have any qualms about starting up a little war with Mexico.
Walker: Well, we did it before, if we need to do it again, I don't have a qualm about it.
Walker won his race so book your vacation trips to Mexico now, while it's still there.
One of this year's weirder congressional races pitted openly gay country singer and former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, a Democrat, against GOP incumbent Renee Ellmers. The North Carolina district they were vying for was as fire-engine red as they get and Ellmers squashed poor ol' Clay like a Junebug under a cowboy boot. But on the way back to the House of Representatives, she offered some excellent advice to her male colleagues on the importance of packaging complex policies prescriptions in clearer political rhetoric:
"Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level," Ellmers said. "Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they've got some pie chart or graph behind them and they're talking about trillions of dollars and, you know, how the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that… We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman's level and what everything that she is balancing in her life – that's the way to go."
For many, the surge of undocumented Central American children arriving at our border was a refugee crisis that touched on core human values of charity and kindness, as well as our shared heritage as a nation of immigrants. For others, it was a chance to scare the shit out people with paranoid delusions about drug gangs and Ebola. Representative Phil Gingrey led the charge to raise awareness about this important fake issue. Listen good now – he's a doctor:
"As a physician for over 30 years, I am well aware of the dangers infectious diseases pose. In fact, infectious diseases remain in the top 10 causes of death in the United States… Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning."