|Specific Analysis on the Muslim Rumours
Now some may find that 10% figure reassuringly low, I do not. While it is better than the 60% of Americans who believed at least one of the three lies about Iraq, that set of misbeliefs was the result of one of (if not the) greatest propaganda/marketing misinformation campaign in history. So that's something of a "high water" mark for a literate, educated population with access to information believing falsifiable claims. This 10% is the result of nothing more than millions of people forwarding emails to their friends and colleagues on their own volition. I'd like to make something of the figure that 79% of people had heard the muslim rumours, but then it has been discussed on television and print media too much to infer anything reasonable. You might also use that fact to dispute the significance of the 10% believing the rumours but I don't: Most of the television and print coverage of the rumours actively debunks them. Sure, Fox News did the madrassa story, and that sort of thing helps account for the higher proportion of Republicans believing them, but not the 10% of Democrats and 8% of independents who do.
In fact, absent the MSM debunkings of the email rumours, I think the figure would be higher. After all, Obama was actively rebutting the madrassa story Fox played in January of 2007. His campaign site has a lengthy page of rebuttals including press mentions of Obama's Christianity back to 2004. So despite at least 18 months of push-back from Obama, his supporters, and legions of mentions in the mainstream press, still approximately 30 million Americans believe Obama is a muslim. That's the population of Canada.
What about Wright?
I also guess that some reading this will want to point out that the 10% figure will have dropped somewhat as a silver lining to the Wright affair. I expect that's somewhat true (though not as much as you'd hope, we've seen enough cognitive dissonance these past few years, and know enough about authoritarian personalities to know it is possible to believe "Obama is a muslim" and "Obama attends a racist black church that hates America" at the same time, despite the obvious logical contradiction). As I say above, the muslim lie is important for 2008, but it's not all that's going on. And if it takes a media blitzkrieg like the Wright storm to debunk one of these rumours once it catches on, then we're really in trouble because getting the media to do that on command isn't exactly our forte.
Broaden the scope - the Problem is larger than Obama
I've been focusing thus far in this piece on the Obama/Muslim emails because they are the most famous and currently politically germane, and thus they have the most attention and meaningful information to them. But I'm still alarmed about the problem generally, as there are a ton of other email forwards that aren't about Obama that are flying under the radar of any organized push-back and freely poisoning minds against progressive politics. The muslim emails just bring a general problem into focus. I mean, we're not talking about a matter that is difficult to ascertain the truth on. Believing Saddam has a WMD program at least had some basis as at one point, he actually did, and it's not like in 2003 you could quickly ascertain the truth in a 5 minute google search. Saddam could have had a program. The available evidence didn't point to it, but it wasn't something anyone could be certain about. Obama's religion is easy to check. I'm even more concerned about the endless stream of right wing garbage that flies around as email forwards. Here's one I got not so long ago:
The next time you hear a politician use the word BILLION in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money.
A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.
A billion seconds ago it was 1959.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.
A billion days ago no one walked on the earth on two feet.
A billion dollars ago was 8 hours & 20 minutes at the rate our government is spending it.
While this thought is still fresh in our brain, let's take a look at New Orleans. It's amazing what you can learn with some simple division.
Louisiana Senator, Mary Landrieu, is presently asking the Congress for $250 BILLION to rebuild New Orleans. Interesting number, what does it mean?
Well, if you are one of 484,674 residents of New Orleans (every man, woman, child), you each get $516,528. OR ... If you have one of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, your home gets $1,329,787! OR ... If you are a family of 4, y our family gets $2,066,012!
Washington D.C., Ottawa, Canada
Are all your calculators broken??
So of course, Landrieu wasn't alone in that request, she was joined by Republican David Vitter, which somehow gets left out of this email. Also the money wasn't just for New Orleans, but the whole state of Louisiana, and I suspect for other Katrina affected areas out-of-state, so already the lies are piling up. The email goes on with a lengthy whinge about taxes I'll edit for sanity:
Tax his land,
Tax his wage,
Tax the bed in which he lays.
Tax his tractor,
Tax his mule,
Teach him taxes is the rule.
And when he's gone, We won't relax,
We'll still be after the inheritance TAX!!
NO TAXES EXISTED 100 YEARS AGO! ! !
We had absolutely no national debt,
had the largest middle class in the world and
Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
Can you spell 'politicians'?
And I still have to 'press 1' for English.
I hope this goes around THE USA and Canada at least 100 times
What the hell happened?????
So it hits all the usual conservative issues, managing to bash taxation, politicians, the inheritance tax, immigrants, reinforce patriarchical gender roles and manage to appeal to some mythical golden era before taxes. You know, the gilded age, when children worked 12 hour days and smallpox was a constant threat. Good times for all I'm sure. Upton Sinclair wrote books about how great it all was then.
This is typical of these emails and I know I'm hardly unique in receiving them. Anyone who knows a conservative or two probably does. A constant barrage of messaging reinforcing conservative ideological framing and viewpoints. All passing around for free. We sometimes remark our surprise that after 8 years of disastrous Republican mis-rule that McCain is even vaguely competitive. I wonder how much stuff like this has to do with that. Viewpoints this stupid don't survive very well in isolation, but when they are constantly reaffirmed, they can persist.
This is going over long, so next up, some more facts and figures on the problem we face.