SETTING THE BASELINE

This is the latest cover from the Canadian news magazine Maclean's. Unfortunately the story itself is behind a paywall, but the headline and artwork don't exactly leave much to the imagination:

Maclean's is not exactly a rag for right-wing hysterics. It is a mainstream publication with an approximate American equivalent being US News and World Report. It leans right to the extent that much of its target audience is the banking / finance / Wall Street crowd, but this isn't the John Birch Society newsletter. Yet as cultural conservatism takes a stronger hold on right political movements in the U.S., and to a lesser extent Canada, this sort of Limbaugh-Beck-Agnew-Coughlin Culture Wars conspiracy-mongering has become mainstream.

What bothers me about this is not the accusation. In fact, let us assume it is true for the sake of this argument; Canada's teachers (and we may safely assume their union is held responsible as well) are "using the classroom to push their political agenda." It is implied, as it is always implied, that leftist analysis is a loaded, political agenda – "brainwashing" – whereas rightist/free market worship analysis is simply the truth. A left perspective is the challenger or the usurper, something being fed to children to displace the Truth in their minds. That inerrant Truth, of course, is the Chamber of Commerce / Tea Party version of history, economics, politics, and society. Feeding them cherry-picked Adam Smith fragments, supply side economic hogwash, and Reagan Consensus government-is-the-problem boilerplate is never described as brainwashing or an agenda. That's just good learnin' right there.

Yes, it certainly would be extreme if, as the cover art that we may assume is hyperbolic suggests, grade school children were being given lessons on abolishing capitalism. It would not, however, be any more or less a political agenda or nefarious brainwashing scheme than teaching the opposite – that capitalism and liberal democracy is the End of History, government has been proven a failure at solving collective action problems, and that our nation rests on the idea of freedom (from paying taxes and to bear arms; freedom in the Due Process sense yields immediately to the need for security in the face of threats real or perceived).

We know how political the educational system is in the U.S. We have school boards that are taken over by the foot soldiers of FreedomWorks, the Kochs, and the other money-behind-the-power groups that create Astroturfed "movements" like the Tea Party with no intention other than demanding that textbooks are re-written to reflect their beliefs. We also have religious fundamentalists getting involved in local politics so that our children may be told that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that men rode dinosaurs, and other things believed solely by window-licking morons. Yet never is this presented as a political agenda, characterized as brainwashing, or spoken of in ominous tones suggesting that They are taking over. If anything, it is defended as an appropriate response to the alleged stranglehold that (hardcore Communist) academia has on the agenda-setting functions in our society.

That left analysis, from the softest New Democrat form of liberalism to true Marxist or socialist critiques, is universally depicted as the pretender to the throne tells us all we need to know about where the ideological baseline is set in our society. Many liberals in the U.S. flipped out when Beltway media moderation fetishists described America as a "center-right nation" after the thorough drubbing the GOP received in 2008. They were correct – not in that conservatives will win every election, but inasmuch as they don't have to. Having asserted complete control over the political agenda in the last three decades, and with their dogged efforts to re-write history to the satisfaction of Joe McCarthy and Saint Ronnie, they can hold their ground simply by redefining their ideology as the New Normal and characterizing anything from the left of Joe Lieberman as a rogue wave of Communist indoctrination.

This is why they don't fret about losing battles; they've already won the war.

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38 Responses to “SETTING THE BASELINE”

  1. Haydnseek Says:

    They've already won the war? REALLY? If it's all the same to you, I plan to keep fighting.

  2. S Says:

    Haydnseek: That is why you (and anyone else who keeps fighting after the winner of the war has taken the throne) are supporting a pretender to the throne (to stick with the allegory).

  3. Middle Seaman Says:

    After a war there is another war. Taking a different perspective of the time-line, we should prepare for the coming war. Our advantage is the glaring failure of the occupiers. Our disadvantage is we don't have soldiers. The Democrats is dead. The visible and noisy left is full of hate and arrogance: they hate the uneducated, they hate Republicans, they hate Clinton, they hate Israel, they even look down on labor.

    A new young generation will fight and win. They already started training: OWS.

  4. Renee Says:

    To be fair to mild-mannered middle-of-the-road Canadians everywhere, everybody on Facebook freaked the fuck out over this ridiculous cover, and mocked it mercilessly, right on their page. This parody is my favourite: http://ow.ly/i/13PKQ/original

  5. Elle Says:

    I went to meet a member of parliamentary staff from a very small European country, recently. She was describing its party structure, which is pretty fluid, in that people cross the floor and go independent all the time. She was explaining the rough positions of each, and described one as being "extremely fiscally and socially conservative". I nodded. Sensing that I hadn't quite got it, she said, "They want to privatise the schools. They're really right wing. Like the American Democratic party." She then shook her head. "Sometimes I don't even think they believe the stupid things they say."

  6. Arslan Says:

    As Marx and Engels put it: The ruling ideas of an era are ever the ideas of the ruling class, or in other words, we have to get used to it. What this does illustrate though, is the failure of attempts to be "balanced", "bi-partisan", or "moderated." There is no higher power, no judge we can appeal to on the basis that our progressive ideas are more rational and based in fact than those of the ruling class. As long as they own the presses, you will get shit like this. So if they call you a Communist for voting for Obama, you might as well be a Communist.

    When they tell you that you're engaging in "class warfare," don't reply with the typical liberal response, accusing them of doing the same. Just say, "Yes, I am engaging in class warfare. Problem?"

  7. Arslan Says:

    One thing I hate about this framing of politics in the US, is how in most discourse you have three categories into which you will be pigeonholed:

    1. Pro-Romney conservative. Liberals will stick you in this pigeonhole if you criticize Obama.

    2. Pro-Obama liberal. Tell a conservative that Obama isn't a Communist-Muslim-terrorist and conservatives will assume that you're this.

    3. His Holiness Ron Paul. This is where people put you if you make it clear you are against both parties.

    So what does this mean about mainstream, respectable politics? You have roughly three choices:

    1. Side with those who say that government is the cause of all problems. (GOP)

    2. Side with those who blame government more emphatically.(Ron Paul)

    3. Side with those who think government may not be the worst thing since the Holocaust, but who aren't necessarily going to do anything to use the power of the government in improving the situation.(Democrats)

    Step outside of this triangle and you're pretty much ostracized from American politics. You're a hippy stoner dreaming of utopia.

  8. buckyblue Says:

    Indeed, with one side talking about changing mildly socialist programs like social security and medicare, programs everyone will benefit from, progressives really aren't even in the arena. Sadly, though, these and many other socialist programs are wildly popular with the electorate. Yet, the party that calls for their demise and a return to (as if there ever was) a pure capitalist state never pay an electoral price.

  9. Talisker Says:

    @Renee: Exactly. I've been away from Canada too long to be really in touch with the state of political discourse there. But this looks like an attempt to be shocking and provocative in order to attract more reader eyeballs.

    I don't know what Maclean's profits or sales figures look like either, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were less than healthy in the face of competition from the Internet, thus motivating stunts like this cover.

  10. anotherbozo Says:

    …and yet… and yet…

    I like what Michael Moore has often pointed out (to anyone who will listen), that if you ask Americans, question by question, what they believe, the overwhelming consensus is a core of beliefs that is LIBERAL. Don't label as such at the beginning of the survey, of course, nor individual questions, just ask without clear ideological identifiers. We are, as he points out, a generous, compassionate people, and see the role of government as helping to level the playing field, through public education available to all, through laws that protect the small guy. Probably something on his website about it.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yes, public education in the West is CommunistAtheistSocialist!

    In schools, children are told to "share."
    And what is "sharing," but the redistribution of a child's capital!

    If God meant for children to share toys, candy, clothing, and food, he'd have written it in the Bible!

    And these Communist priciples are reinforced on public television, where we have Marx and Engels in puppet form, on "Das Sesame Strasse!"

    For the good of the public, everything with the word "public" in it's description, MUST BE DESTROYED, AND PRIVATIZED!!!

    And now, since I've "shared" my opinion with you, I'll have to do pennance by tying myself to some mast and weather-out the storm as Hurricane Sandy vents its anger at the CommunistFascistSocialistAtheistMuslimHeathen in the former WHITEY House, and the DEMONcrats in DC.
    ZOMG!
    DC!
    DC = Das Capital!
    This conspiracy is even larger than I thought!!!

  12. Arslan Says:

    I know you're satirizing, Gulag, but you can point out that Communism IS in the Bible:

    ACTS 4:32-35 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

    And II Thessalonians 3:10

    "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    Now where have I seen that phras "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat? Oh right: Article 12 of the 1936 "Stalin constitution" of the USSR "He who does not work, neither shall he eat."

    So what we see is that the USSR was a god-fearing country of people who based their law on God's law and his holy scripture, whereas the "founding fathers" hated Jesus and God's word so much that they excluded God from their secular constitution. Rather than proclaim Christ's sovereignty, they only made passing references to all men being "created equal." Created by whom? Allah? Clearly the Founding Fathers were lily liberals who claimed to be Christian but didn't walk the walk!

  13. xynzee Says:

    I got to watch some of that fine 'Mer'cun programming last night in the form of "Trick My Truck" talk about watching a slow train wreck in process. I was between the fascination of the horror and just being to lazy to turn the tube off (mostly the latter).

    It just did my head to watch how the whole story line revolves around hard working truckers who are down on their luck and could use a bit of happiness in their lives. That part I was cool with.

    It was how these guys work so freekin' hard for not much. Insert the boiler plate rallying cry of the white working class, about work hard, never ask for nothing… yadda yadda yadda… here. Yet cannot see that by listening to their Lim(p)baugh radio, and following their instructions from Faux, that they could make their lives that lotta bit better.

    Instead now they get to work their 15hr days six days a week, with a purdy paint job on their truck.
    Bread and circuses perhaps?

    For some reason, Progressives seem to equate fighting for what they believe in with October Revolutions, and are easily cowed by that.

  14. Major Kong Says:

    They've moved the Overton Window so far to the right that they'll have to knock out a wall soon to get it any further.

  15. Bernard Says:

    always fun to see the Right win the war over the stupid left of center Americans. after all who wants a 40 hr work week, weekends and holidays off, a living wage, public education, libraries, fire department, electrical grid, public paid streets and bridges. equal pay for equal work, health care for people. taxes are for losers/poor people. who needs them.

    obviously, the culture war is a done deal. it is now spreading to the Frozen North. with Mr. Harper and the Tar Sands Company owning Canada as well. Free Enterprise. where everyone else pays for Business to own them.

    that's the best part of the Right. to have to pay for the Owners and their right to tell the Worker Bees what to do and when to do it. the Right to never to have to think again. just to listen and obey what the Right People in Business tell us. Now that is really comforting and leads to a obedient way of working for the Queen/King. i was going to say a restful weekend, but weekends off area socialistic, communistic thing the Labor Unions got the scum of America who didn't appreciate the Business people screwing them over 7 days a weeks, 52 weeks a years. if i can't have a living wage, neither can you dumb idiots

    the re-education of America has really succeeded with the Right here. i just have to admit i am out of it and forgot i was to do/obey what ever i am told and that thinking out of the Box/Fox Box/ is not permitted by the Right.

    Gosh, Hunger Games. i forget so much, i think. and that is a crime in America today. thinking is a socialistic, communistic Left wing Paradigm

    i am so glad that leftist paradigm is being done away with. now i can work 24 hrs a day, 7 days a weeks and be happy knowing, not thinking, taht my business leader, Big Brother/ is taking care of me. must Obey Authority.
    they know so much better. our children deserve so much less, don't they.

    and Canada, you are next in line for the Saving. Today America, tomorrow the World.

  16. sluggo Says:

    Right Wing Projection. It is always the same story, every single thing that the Right Wing accuses the Left of, is exact what the right is doing themselves.

    Activist judges! Falling to work with the other side of the aisle! Not tough on terror! Beholden to special interests! Inserting a political agenda into education!

    If you want to know what the Right is actually up to, just look at what they accuse the Left of.

  17. Alan C Says:

    Here's more communism from the Bible:

    Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

    I think the bit about the public schools brainwashing our children is more right-wing projection. Think about all the private "christian" schools and home schoolers who brainwash children into thinking the earth is only 6000 years old and Jesus personally wrote the 2nd amendment. The other side must be doing the same!

  18. Michael Says:

    It should be understood that Maclean's is trolling here. The cover is intentionally inflammatory, and your response is exactly what was sought.

    That is, Maclean's is publishing that story precisely because they know it's stretching the truth, and therefore will incite readers. All of their covers are like that. It's "edgy".

  19. acer Says:

    @sluggo:
    The right's biggest weakness is its habitual sense of victimization and compulsion to whine. Because that whining is what makes them so transparent.

    Indeed, if you hear a conservative accuse "liberals" of something, it's something conservatives are doing far more effectively.

    Cultish coercion? Koch money and the Norquist pledge. Redistribution? Reaganomics. Activist judges and newspeak? Citizens fucking United.

    Ol' Sigmund nailed that one.

  20. acer Says:

    @Michael:
    Well, it's nice to know these asshole "firebrand" attention-sucks aren't entirely of Yankee stock.

    Does Canada have an equivalent of FOX or Coulter? Despite his vile thinking-man's racism, Mark Steyn at least seems to be taking his meds.

  21. Arslan Says:

    Conservatism is never "edgy." Edgy challenges the status quo. Racism and misogyny have been the status quo for centuries so they are not edgy even when someone tries to pass them off as "politically incorrect jokes." I'm looking at Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and the "liberal" Seth MacFarlane here.

  22. Mo Says:

    Where are the progressive billionaires? If Chicago economists, the Cato Institute, and the myriad other right wing propagandists, large and small, can find a sinecure in some Koch/Olin bankrolled organization, where are the billionaires providing a similar safety net for progressives?

    Doesn't anyone, anywhere, realize the way to make bank is to balloon the middle class? Adam Smith understood that one, perfectly. His comments on the fecklessness and incompetence of the landed and the inheritors of wealth are priceless.

  23. Arslan Says:

    Actually all this obsession over the "middle class" is part of the problem in the first place. If you expect the billionaires to come to the rescue you don't understand the problem. The only time you get enough capitalists to wise up and do something positive is when they're staring down the barrel of a potential revolution, i.e. when you have a powerful, organized, militant labor movement. That was the situation back in the 30's, and even then there were businessmen who tried to overthrow the president just because he threw a bone to labor to save their own asses. After the "end of history" billionaires around the world felt they had nothing to fear. They are still making their victory lap.

    As for this myserious "middle class", it was largely the creation of a certain historical event wherein our competitors got destroyed while we suffered virtually no damage to our industry and infrastructure(and we managed to make a profit as the 'arsenal of democracy'). You can't bring that back by willing it into existence. And let us not forget who it was that helped fuck us- all these "middle class" folks who were convinced that their post-1970 problems were due to women and minorities, and who eventually came to believe that they would get rich if only there were more tax cuts.

  24. Sarah Says:

    In keeping with the doom and gloom tone of your post, I offer you this video from Joss Whedon. Vote for Romney and promote the Zombie Apocalypse!

  25. Sarah Says:

    And that last video is not entirely a joke. Here's a golden oldie from the GOP debates over a year ago, which is in even better context now that there is a "Frankenstorm" bearing down on the East Coast.

  26. Arslan Says:

    With the idiocy of that cover, it was easy to miss two other bullshit conservative stories. Look at the top left and right. A new "fertility deadline." UH OH LADIES! Better stop thinking of your career and education! Find a man, any man, and start popping out babies like a good woman! And apparently China hates America. Right.

  27. mel in oregon Says:

    the complete control of america is in the hands of the far right no matter how much liberals whine. the tea party controls the republican party & is represented by characters like the koch brothers, the walton family, grover norquist & karl rove. the democrats are very conservative as represented by rahm emanuel, the clintons, a lot of hollywood, & to a lesser extent than the republicans but still a not insignificant amount, wallstreet giant money. look at obama's cabinet, full of wallstreet people who jockey back & forth between the government & huge wallstreet outfits. that's why your interests are never given a second thought by dc politicians. that's why the wars go on for more than a decade despite 70% opposition. that's why the tax structure gives the wealthy so many legal shenanigans to escape proper taxation, & you have to pay their share. that's why millions of jobs are outsourced. all the crap that's broadcast on corporate tv is far more absurd that maclean's propaganda. but don't worry, a majority of americans still buy junk they cannot afford, all because they are too stupid to realise madison avenue advertising is no different from the propaganda from hitler, the soviet union or north korea. when you hear someone say, "we aren't stupid you know", ask them is that is true why do we elect nixon, reagan & gw bush. ask them why the hell the tea party believes if you put ice on the stove burner it won't melt.

  28. J. Dryden Says:

    I continue to try to fathom what the non-rich conservatives of this world imagine their lives will be like in the future foretold by their leaders. They clearly believe that their lives currently suck because…well…"not enough money," I think. I mean, that's generally why anyone's life sucks, isn't it? Poverty?

    Wealth doesn't buy happiness, but it does buy you out of misery, and gives you the free time/raw materials to achieve whatever kind of happiness you may choose.

    So if the conservative voters are miserable because they're not rich, do they imagine that, when the hard-liners are in charge, they will become so? Is that basically the desire? We hear about "values voters"–people who vote on the basis of 'defense of the family' and 'being pro-life' and 'strong Christian values' but…I can't help but think that those are the things cared about only by people who have never won the lottery. Say what you will about Norquist and the Kochs–for them, it's all about the money. And so, I think, it is for all of us. If we have all the pleasures life can afford, do we really give a rip about what the homos are up to, or whether Betty Lou has her 'little situation' taken care of at the clinic? I doubt it.

    There's a horribly shallow two-faced-ness about American conservatism: it equates freedom with happiness (which is fine), and then equates happiness with wealth (which is not.) And then, because it can't stand to pretend that It's All About The Money, it pretends that It's All About The Children, or The Troops, or The Founding Fathers, or Jesus. But it's not. It's about the rich wanting to stay richer than anyone else, and the poor wanting to join a club that won't have them.

    Note to conservatives: I rip on you and not on liberals because unlike them, you guys actually exist. You may be deluded, but you believe in something and you fight for it. So really, take it as a compliment–you're going to win because you're the only ones who cared enough to show up. ("I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.")

  29. Renee Says:

    @acer We do have an odious troll named Ezra Levant, yes, and something called Sun TV which tried to get itself made a "compulsory-carry" channel to compete with our "socialist state-run media" (CBC), but was shot down hard by our regulators, so it's merely a voluntary cable subscription. Their best ratings are in the 8000-people-viewing-range. Nothing really to worry about, but I do wonder who is funding them because the free market obviously isn't.

  30. Matt Says:

    BTW, if anyone's interested in where this particular train is headed, check out Krugman's series of posts about Hungary. The only question is "USA+10 years, or USA+5 years?"

  31. Jason T. Says:

    Maclean's is not exactly a rag for right-wing hysterics.

    I would disagree with this. I had a subscription to Maclean's for years and years. (I liked getting its perspective on international events.)

    It was a middle-of-the-road, maybe somewhat dull newsmagazine until a few years ago, when Ken Whyte was brought in from the National Post, a conservative newspaper. It suddenly took a sharp right turn and started running a lot of neocon nonsense. (I remember articles on why Canada needed Fox News, for instance, and on why Wal-Mart is good for the economy because … well … invisible hand, that's why, shut up!)

    I finally had enough when Barbara Amiel — Mrs. Conrad Black — was brought back as a columnist. She is truly a loathsome piece of work.

    Arguably, Maclean's (like other newsmagazines) was going to be out of business in a few years if they didn't do something to shake up the formula, but I had no desire to pay big money for a Canadian edition of the National Review.

    @Michael:

    It should be understood that Maclean's is trolling here. The cover is intentionally inflammatory, and your response is exactly what was sought.

    Yes. And not for the first time, either.

    For instance, right-wing scold Mark Steyn wrote a histronic article about Islam several years ago that was widely mocked.

  32. Hazy Davy Says:

    1) https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

    2) I'm doing this not to Godwin this, but show that the creation of a divide, and defining the others as usurpers, is foundational propaganda. (which Göring understood):
    Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
    Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
    Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

    3) What I find interesting about these arguments is that opposite sides use them. (That is, didn't the Khmer Rouge argue that it was the evil capitalists leveraging the schools to corrupt our children?)

  33. Amused Says:

    People who are in favor of authoritarianism (as right-wingers are, despite all the talk of "freedom") generally hate education. When authoritarians take over governments, one of the first things they do is gut the academia and slash education as much as possible. (The former USSR would seem to be an exception to that, but, while its government invested heavily in math and science education in order to fight the technological war, humanities were effectively suppressed, as well as scientific fields that did not immediately impact the country's technological capabilities.) The late Turkmenbashi — who simply abolished post-8th-grade education in his country, made it illegal to send children abroad to learn, and replaced even elementary school curriculum with the Koran and his own works — put it most succinctly when Western journalists interviewed him about his policies: "An uneducated populace is easier to govern."

  34. purpleplatypus Says:

    "1. Side with those who say that government is the cause of all problems. (GOP)"

    And then get elected and govern as though they were determined to prove it.

  35. Bernard Says:

    yes, this is the Weimar Republic, American Style. to watch the Right destroy and any all they disagree with is frightening. of course they are fighting for their beliefs, unlike the Liberals who stand in horror, aghast at what they see around them. too scattered and shocked to actually unite and stop the coming New World Order. The Right will finish us off, whether through Obama or Rmoney. may take the next President or one after him. i doubt it will take too long though.

    and they willl finish off the rest who disagree, like the Jews, the Gays, the Socialists, the Liberals, etc. just like in Nazi Germany. the Right is efficient and organized and brooks no interference.

    the only question/answer is, as i read here, will it be with lube or not. Was that you cund gulag, who said that earlier? whomever, that was/is the only difference awaiting us.

  36. Arslan Says:

    @Amused I think you put too much stock in education. The fact is that plenty of misogynistic, butthurt neckbeards who spend all their time online complaining about black people and women are "educated." During the Vietnam War it was mostly the educated people who thought the war was just.

  37. Carrstone Says:

    Q: How do you know that the flight just landed is filled with pedagogs?
    A: Because when the engines have been switched off, the whining doesn't stop.

  38. Anonymouse Says:

    Ah, yes, good ol' AMURRKUN history, like Paul Revere ringin' those bells 'n' firin' those gun to tell the British that the Amurkuns were armed. Yew Betcha!