For going on 30 years now, politicians in general and Republicans in particular, have been using a variety of wag-the-dog issues based on fear, bigotry, and hatred to distract, deceive, or inflame voters. The end game is ignorance - not stupidity, but lack of awareness or knowledge - of how badly they are screwing us.
Let's look at some of the scare tactics they're using and some of the truths they're desperately trying to hide.
1.) Ebola is a bogyeman: The press, pundits and conservatives are brandishing Ebola like an all-purpose bogeyman to stoke up fear, to assign blame, and to distract the electorate. Congressional Republicans even had a hearing in which they blamed Obama for Ebola. Really, they did. The irony is, without budget cuts from Republicans, it is likely that we would have a vaccine for Ebola on hand by now, according to the head of NIH.
But here's what you have know: You won't get Ebola. It poses close to zero risk to you. Posturing politicians, however, keep talking about it because they don't want you to look at how eviscerating government has hurt all of us except a few fat cats. More about that later. Bottom line: it's all Ebola, all the time. Unless it's ISIS .
2.) ISIS isn't an "existential" threatto the US. In fact, on the scale of things that threaten us, it barely registers. It shouldn't take a genius to figure out that a force of a mere 20,000 or so militia, equipped with scrounged weapons (and those that the US gave them), with no Navy, no Air Force, and no way to get here doesn't pose much of a threat. Yes, they might spawn a few terrorists, but we've already seen that conventional intelligence and police work has been extremely effective at preventing terrorist strikes here at home.
In reality, empirical evidence proves that responding to ISIS or ISIL or whatever its latest incarnation is with military intervention creates more terrorists and insurgents. Our current policy is just plain stupid - equivalent to trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. But hey, they're betting that if fear of ISIS or ISIL or whatever, keeps you so distracted that you keep looking over there, maybe you won't see how badly you're getting fleeced by politicians and plutocrats here.
3) Immigrants aren't taking jobs, hurting the economy, or ruining our values. Study after study shows that immigrants - for the most part - take jobs we won't do; they lower the cost of our food; and they commit less crime than the population in general. They also contribute more to social security than they take in benefits.
If politicians were serious about illegal immigration, they'd enact serious criminal penalties for those who employ them and mount an aggressive and focused enforcement effort. That would dry up the demand, and cut illegal immigration dramatically at very low cost. But of course, they aren't serious. In fact, they want this issue to fester and they stoke the fires of hate and bigotry, because if you've got someone to blame, you're less likely to blame them for ripping you off for the last 30 years with their three favorite cons: "trickle down", "Big gubmint' is the problem", and the "Magic Market" will solve everything by pure serendipity.
4.) No one's going to do anything about abortion, gay marriage, "family values," or any of the other assorted wedge issues conservative politicians love to raise. Oh, they may pass a few laws, but these issues are essentially constrained by the constitution and are not amenable to legislation, as the plethora of court rulings tossing out such attempts to legislate clearly demonstrates. And politicians -- except for a few Tea Party types who love freedom but want to pass laws telling you how to live your life -- clearly know this. So why do they keep beating this drum? Well, if you're all riled up about promises to take the US back to the 1950's and you've got someone to blame for your misfortunes, you're less likely to notice that politicians have turned over the governance of this country to a few fat cats and corporations.
5.) The debt is not a problem, and giveaways to the poor aren't bankrupting us. While Republicans keep raising the debt (pun intended), and entitlements as some hoary-headed, nation wrecking monster, the reality is, the debt is shrinking and it's doing so faster than at any time since World War Two. Oh, and by the way, Europe, which has been following the Republican's austerity prescription, just slipped into its third recession since 2009. But that's just reality.
As long as they can keep you focused on "those freeloaders," you won't notice that the vast majority of entitlements and government handouts go to corporations and the uber-rich, who get about $10 trillion in tax breaks, subsidies and low interest loans. The theory they've been pedaling to justify this is one of the most debunked lies in our nation's history: job creation and economic growth from "trickle down economics." Corporations have been sitting on profits or moving them overseas, not creating jobs or investing in America.
Ironically, benefits given to the poor, such as unemployment, food stamps, and increases in minimum wage encourage job growth and boost the economy here at home. Fact is, lower income folks can't afford to sit on money.
6.) Government works - it does exactly what we ask of it. The problem is, for the last 30 years - since Reagan -- we've been asking it to funnel money and wealth to the top1% at the expense of the rest of us, and to stop regulating finance, stop protecting the environment, and stop building infrastructure.
And here's the reality conservatives really want to distract you from - government is often better than the private sector at delivering services. For example, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security all deliver superior services with an overhead of less than 4%, compared to 15% or more for the private sector - and these government programs have a higher satisfaction rate, and better health outcomes.
7.) Absent constraints, capitalism enslaves and impoverishes. Conservatives have successfully sold two ideas: Government is the problem; and unconstrained markets will magically result in all of us getting richer. In their Ayn Rand fantasy world, shrinking government, getting rid of regulations, and unleashing the private sector is all we need to do.
It's possible that a few actually believe this. But a quick visit to the real word reveals what 30 years of this bait and switch policy has wrought:
*Income inequality is higher than it has been since 1928. And it's getting worse: On average, most of us got $1 for every $1 billion dollars of new wealth, as Paul Buchheit points out.
*Corporations and the uber rich now run the country. By any objective measure, the US is no longer a democracy, it is an oligarchy.
*Finally, our free market uber-alles, big-gubment-is-the-enemy fantasies are keeping us from addressing the mother of all threats - one that is truly existential: climate change.
8.) Obamacare is not a commie assault on our freedoms. It's certainly less than perfect, but it's better than the status quo was and it is lowering costs and improving care. Republicans, with some success, have branded Obamacare as the root of all evil. Democrats, for the most part are hiding their heads in the sand. We should move toward single payer, but to do that we'd need fewer ignorant voters. Meanwhile, more people are covered at a lower cost than the old system, and the rate of increase for medical care has plummeted. Oh, and the critics have steadfastly refused to offer an alternative solution to what was a profoundly broken system.
9.) Here's a bonus tip for 2016: Hillary Clinton won't represent you. Speaking of $10 trillion in corporate giveaways, before you join in the coronation of Hillary, look at her record. She's a classic DLC Democrat, which is to say she plays bait and switch with the best of them. She's a war hawk; she consistently represents the interests of the rich and powerful over yours; and she has a track record of astoundingly clumsy political statements like "we were broke" that show her to be disingenuous at best, deceitful at worst. Don't let her quadrennial shift to the left fool you, this is an unprincipled pragmatist who will do and say anything to get elected.
10.) It won't change if you don't demand that it change. Here's a simple idea - if your Representative or Governor is using any of the bait and switch tactics outlined above, go to the polls and fire him or her next week.
Too many people think voting is a sucker's game -- that there is no real difference between the Parties and they'll do the oligarchy's bidding regardless of what they say in campaigns. And when you consider that 90% of Americans favored background checks for gun purchases, but Congress rejected proposals to do exactly that, it's no wonder. Or when you watch Hillary Clinton and her ilk clumsily veer to the left for a few months preceding an election, then see the inevitable lurch back to the right immediately afterward, it's no wonder.
But we do have a choice - a very poor choice - between a Party that is mostly owned by the oligarchs and one that is totally controlled by them.
At risk are appointments to the Supreme Court, a minimum wage, regulations cutting carbon emissions, control of Senate Committees, regulations curbing the worst excesses of the financial sector - among many other issues of concern to progressives.
So vote. If you don't have a candidate who espouses at least some progressive values, write in someone who does. And if your incumbent subscribes to any of the bait-and-switch, divide-and-conquer, fear and hate mongering tactics outlined above, definitely vote him or her out.
It may well be a sucker's game, but the only way out of that is to play it, and play it better than them. If we do that, we can claw back power a little at a time. If we don't, our cynicism - however justified - becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.