Authoritarianism, Fear, and Bigotry from Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm

Kathleen O'Brien WilhelmRemember Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm? She’s the Deer Sign Lady. I try to check in on her from time to time to see what she’s ranting about. It is always a real eye-opener. Most of us living in the real world are not aware of much that is going on in Right Wing Nutjob World. But all you have to do is read a Wilhelm column and you’ll learn what is Big News in that alternate reality.

Voter Fraud

On 13 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm offered us, America’s Vote. She starts by proposing the reasonable, but simple minded idea of making election days national holidays. But she’s against allowing multiple days to vote. Why? “We appear to have no problem with jobs, plans and all that is life when it comes to December 25.” Or rather: she has no reason. She just thinks it is wrong to give people “four to fifty days” to vote. But that’s okay, because she thinks that making elections a national holiday will solve all our problems, because, you know, no one works on national holidays.

But extended voting days (or lack thereof) is not really what her article is about. There have been a few cases of people accidentally voting twice by voting absentee and in person. In general, these were just mistakes made by confused people. But there is one case where a woman may have done it on purpose. Of course, the reason we’re hearing about these things is that this is a form of voter fraud that is always caught. In other words: it isn’t a problem. But this stuff is getting a huge amount of attention on right wing websites and Fox News. And Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm, who seems to only get her news from Fox, certainly got this story from them.

Grand Statements, No Facts

As usual with her articles, she makes grand statements that are not only undocumented, they are untrue. Consider:

Voter fraud is not new, and it is becoming more. It’s often a laughable cliche that many dead people vote in Chicago. America’s vote has become tarnished? It was bad when women and Blacks were prevented this right, but the US Constitution resolved this injustice. It is time something be done to protect America’s vote.

There is absolutely no evidence that voter fraud is getting worse—in fact, it looks like just the opposite. The Constitution did not resolve the injustice of white-male-only voting; the Constitution had to be amended to resolve this injustice—and in the case of African Americans, the Constitutional change did not actually allow them to vote in many places for a century. But note the underlying argument here: if one person votes who shouldn’t, then the entire system has been tarnished. When a rightful voter is denied, that doesn’t tarnish the system at all.

The more I read Wilhelm, the more I think she is just a bigot. Here she is again (1) using right wing sources without quoting them; (2) stating things as fact that are not true; and (3) showing intense fear for “the other”:

Voting has become marred with Black Panther’s threatening voters, and a great deal of voter fraud. Illegal aliens, nuns, the educated, those unregistered, and dead people—all voting many times, many days.

Scary black people: check! Scary Latinos: check! College kids: check! Nuns?! Oh, bqhatevwr! (Note: if you search for “nuns voter fraud” you will, of course, find the right wing blogosphere buzzing about a case!)

Gay Rights

On 17 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm again delighted us with, Government, Get Out of America’s Way! I thought it was going to be more Tea Party pseudo-free market babbling. How wrong I was! I think. It actually isn’t at all clear what she is talking about. But I’ll give you my best guess. If I’m right, it is by far the most stunning piece of writing we have seen from Avon Patch Savant.

How will we ever trust Rob Portman again? He has voted consistently against gay rights and now he says he’s for marriage equality. The government should just stay out of the way of the people “to be as good as he or she works and aspires to be.” Allowing same sex marriage is the government getting in the way by (!) changing the way that the government has traditionally gotten in the way.

To sum up:

It’s not pick on Portman day, but a reminder to Americans that government has ulterior motives beyond moving America forward. Government works for us and must be accountable. Government collects freebies, benefits, healthcare, stock tips, and more at the expense of taxpayers. Too many government hires are stamping on the US Constitution and making laws to their advantage not Americas.

Can’t you just feel the Tea Party passion: something is wrong and although Wilhelm doesn’t know what it is, she feels very strongly that something ought to be done about it. This is prima facie evidence of why the Tea Party has been such a useful tool for the rich. Situation: they are angry about the rich being bailed out with TARP. Resolution: they push the government to lower the taxes of the rich.

Gun Rights

On 21 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm applied her usual white and black moral reasoning to an issue that gets far too much serious and careful discussion, Americas 2nd Amendment Must Never Be Compromised—Ever! (That’s right: a grammar error in the headline.) This was especially fun because gun rights is an issue that I have very complex thoughts about. And those thoughts do not fit into any simple box: I side with conservatives on some things and I’m far more extreme than liberals on other things. Avon Patch Savant, of course, makes everything very simple:

  1. Something must be done to stop bad guys from harming good people.
  2. Lucky we have police who are always right.
  3. Sometimes police are not around to kill the bad guys.
  4. We must have guns so we can kill the bad guys.

Deer CrossingShe again goes back to her deer sign point: “‘No gun’ signage is on most schools, malls, banks. Criminals do not seem to read as guns continue to be part of crime.” Now, I understand that as with the deer sign article, she is trying to be cute. But her entire argument is that “bad guys” have guns; all will be well if “good people” are armed so that they can kill the “bad guys.” This goes right long with what seems to be Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm’s guiding philosophy of life: everything is simple. She does not allow that maybe people can’t be neatly categorized as good and bad. Or that a “good guy” with a gun might get mad over something small and end up killing another “good guy.”

Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm Is Typical of the Tea Party

All of her writing reminds me of a 2011 paper from the American Sociological Association that looked at the beliefs of those in the Tea Party movement. The researchers found that Tea Partiers shared four cultural and political dispositions:

  1. Authoritarianism: respondents believe that obedience by children is more important than creativity, and that deference to authority is an important value.
  2. Libertarianism: respondents believe there should not be regulations or limitations on expressions such as clothing, television shows, and musical lyrics.
  3. Fear of change/ontological insecurity: respondents sense that things are changing too fast or too much.
  4. Nativism: respondents hold negative attitudes toward immigrants and immigration.

Wilhelm demostrates three of these tendencies in the articles here. She doesn’t exhibit libertarianism. But I question just how seriously the Tea Partiers are about libertarianism generally—especially given the way the study defines it. They may well associate these kinds of limits with schools and might answer very differently if a Republican were in the White House. Regardless, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm comes off like a frightened child who wants a grown-up to protect her. And what frightens her: just the modern world with all those people coming into it. Of course, the problem is not that Wilhelm is the way she is; it is that there are tens of millions of people just like her. The more I read her, the less I find her amusing. Now she makes me despair for our society.

The Op-Ed Page

Editorial and Op-Ed Pages

Will asked me what an “OpEd” was—probably because I had used the term in an article that I’d written. It was a good question, because I had been asking myself the same question. Of course, I knew what an OpEd was, just like the Supreme Court knew what obscenity was: I knew it when I saw it. But I didn’t know why it was called that.

I had an idea, though. I thought that “OpEd” was short for “opportunity editorial.” There were two kinds of OpEds as far as I could tell. There were those by columnists like George Will or Paul Krugman. And there were those by people who had nothing to do with the paper like Liz Cheney’s ignorant and vile article in the Wall Street Journal last week.[1]

Because Will asked, I decided to look up “OpEd.” I was surprised to learn that “OpEd” (or “Op-Ed”) is a very recent word: it dates back only to the 1970s. And “Op” does not refer to “opportunity” but rather “opposite.” The term refers to the editorials that run on the page opposite the editorial page. So in the image above, the editorial page is the one on the left and the op-ed page is on the right.

So now we (Will and I) know. I continue to be amazed at how much I stay ignorant about for lack of picking up a dictionary.

[1] She writes the following that is every bit as hysterical and fact-free as the most extreme Tea Partier:

President Obama is the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office. The national debt, which he is intent on increasing, has passed $16 trillion. He believes that more government borrowing and spending are the solution to every problem. He seems unaware that the free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system devised by man…

The president has launched a war on Americans’ Second Amendment rights. He has launched a war on religious freedom. He has launched a war on fossil fuels. He is working to nationalize one-sixth of the economy with job-killing ObamaCare. He wants to collect a greater portion of every American paycheck, not for the purpose of paying down the national debt but to expand his governing machine. He doesn’t believe in creating a bigger pie with more opportunity for all. He believes in greater redistribution of a much smaller pie. If you’re unsure of what this America would look like, Google “Cyprus” or “Greece.”

This is shocking coming from a major figure in one of America’s major political parties.

Grapes Sweet and Sour

Cesar ChavezOn this day back in 1878, boxer and civil rights martyr Jack Johnson was born. In 1885, the great artist Pascin was born.

Brilliant actor William Daniels is 86 today. Bonnie Bartlett and he have been marriage almost 62 years. I’ll mention two people for my mother: author John Jakes is 81 and actor Richard Chamberlain is 79; I don’t have much use for either. Shirley Jones is also 79. The Tin Drum director Volker Schlondorff is 74. Barney Frank is 73. Christopher Walken is 70. Gabe Kaplan is 68. Al Gore and Rhea Perlman are both 65, so we won’t be seeing much of them anymore. AC/DC guitarist and snappy dresser Angus Young is 58. And Ewan McGregor is 42.

The man of the day is Cesar Chavez, who was born in 1927. He co-founded the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huerta. Like Martin Luther King Jr, Chavez has become more a symbol than a man. But also like MLK, he did much great work during lifetime. He was also a curious guy, not believing in money and being a strict vegan.

Happy birthday Mr. Chavez! You died much too young.

Update (31 March 2013 6:20 pm)

I don’t know how I missed it, but the great Joseph Haydn was born today in 1732. Cesar Chavez still would have won, of course. But there is this:

Update (31 March 2013 11:17 pm)

I noticed that I made a mistake ten days ago. I wrote that Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday was on 21 March. That is the old calendar. His real birthday is today. Sorry about that!