Yesterday, I talked to my father and he expressed his concern about the Benghazi attacks and that no one was ever going to be punished. I probed him a little to find out who exactly should be punished. I wanted to know if he was talking about the attackers or the government officials. It was the latter, of course. And that meant one thing: dad had been watching Fox News again. I tried to turn the conversation onto more friendly ground. I said that we didn’t actually know that there was any wrong doing in the government regarding Benghazi, but that the new revelations about XKeyscore were really unsettling. It turned out this was not friendlier territory.
My dad is a perfect example of the American conservative: reasonable in the extreme when people aren’t shouting at him from the TV. But Fox News propaganda sinks into his brain effortlessly. I know this because I hear Fox News talking points coming out of his mouth. In the case of the NSA spying, he told me that he didn’t mind as long as the government kept us safe. That was shocking because (1) that is the opposite of what he has always said and (2) that is exactly what conservative media are now pushing. So we ended up having a detailed conversation to pinpoint exactly what was acceptable to him. We determined that listening into his phone calls was fine because he doesn’t have anything to hide. But the government installing a video camera in his kitchen was not fine. I could never get clarity on why one was okay but the other was not. Maybe he cooks naked when no one is around?
I think the distinction lies in the fact that one issue has been politicized and the other has not. No one is talking about putting video cameras in our kitchens. And so it is easy to see how absurd that is. But the government tapping all telephones, that’s not absurd; that’s fighting terrorism! This is why all the nonsense we hear from government officials about the terror plots that were broken up by programs like XKeyscore are so dangerous. Good news sources have managed to put these claims in the farcical context they deserve. But conservative sources report them as the gospel truth.
My father has always been a smart and independent man. But he’s now 80 and much more prone to just believe what he’s told. And so I think Fox News is committing elder abuse. But maybe they think they have to be simplistic in how they put out information. People think the same thing about kids. It both cases, however, it is wrong. And regardless, for most people who disseminate information it is just easier to provide a simple narrative of good and bad rather a complex one about real people and issues. For Fox News it is that as well as having a political ax to grind.
I have never doubted that people like my dad really are conservative. But when I talk to him away from the influence of Fox News, he’s much more like Richard Nixon or even Dwight Eisenhower. It is only when the TV hits him over the head with “propaganda as truth” that his opinions start to gel with the modern Republican Party. But we must continue to talk to people like my father and even try to make alliances. Because the cold hard truth is that the Republican Party is not looking out for the interests of people like my dad.
For the record, my father is neither rich nor a social conservative. So he is part of that large part (but not majority) of the Republican Party who really do vote against their own interests. Although I’m not sure just how much he votes Republican anymore. And he’s not aligned with any party officially.