Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic. Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution
The Internet and talk radio are like magic. They can turn nothing into something. Not all who use it are magicians, however. Some are simply hucksters hoping to beguile the gullible into parting with their money while others are part of a mindless multitude willing to give voice to anything that comports with their beliefs, even though the fictions they create or are helping to perpetuate are made up out of whole cloth.
Examples of the former abound. On September 7th I received an e-mail notifying me that I had "emerged" a winner of $2,500,000 on something called "online draws" that were "played on the year 2009." My good fortune did not end there. Three days later I was notified that my e-mail address had itself enjoyed success in some "computer Balloting." Since I own the e-mail address I assume the benefit ultimately inures to me. It won the relatively paltry sum of 750,000 Euros but if my e-mail's winnings and my winnings are combined the two of us are relatively well off for at least the next several months.
My lottery winnings are outpaced in frequency and amount only by the number of friends I have in Africa who need my assistance in transferring funds that have been accumulated over the years by their ancestors-employers-politicians and the like. For my efforts, which are not terribly taxing, I am rewarded by sharing handsomely in the transferred funds when the transfer is completed. These good luck strokes are, of course, illusory and but for the Internet, could never have been dreamt of. None of us ever received letters in the mail from Africa asking for our assistance in transferring money nor, except for the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, did we receive notice of winnings in lotteries we did not know we had entered. The intellectually infirm are, however, a greater threat to our democracy than the hucksters.
The most conspicuous example of recent time is the host of wholly mindless bloggers and talk radio people who insist that the president was not born in the United States. Before the advent of talk radio or the Internet such nonsense would not have escaped from the prison of the narrow minds in which it took refuge. Thanks to the intercession of the Internet and talk radio, crazy ideas are reported, adopted and promulgated the world over. They have worked their magic in the debate over health care.
Although not part of any proposal, the health care proposals have been portrayed as sanctioning "death panels" that would, as Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York said in a radio interview, require people in Medicare to "have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner." The proposals provide for the kind of counseling about advance directives that many thoughtful individuals consider when contemplating the possibility of incapacity. Thanks to the Internet and talk radio, however, the fiction of a death panel is now firmly established as being part of health care reform.
A group supporting health care reform known as "Organizing for America" has as its logo a symbol about which Rush Limbaugh (whose facility with words easily outstrips his facility with thought) says: "Obama's got a health-care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook."
A chain e-mail that fell into the hands of Fact Check.org has conducted an analysis of H.R. 3200, the House health care bill that Fact Check says shows "evidence of a reading comprehension problem on the part of the author." According to Fact Check, the author's examination of the first half of the bill makes 48 claims about the health care bill of which 26 are false, 18 partly true and only four accurate. That has not affected the distribution of the e-mail. According to a report in the Denver Post the author has sent his analysis to more than 6,000 people and they in turn have forwarded it to thousands more. His analysis, flawed though it is, became the stuff of town hall meetings and cheat sheets that were waved about at meetings in order for the participant to express his or her displeasure with the idea of health care reform. It is the magic of the Internet that enables a careless or deliberately deceptive commentator to influence the health care debate now taking place.
If readers are intent on being deceived by one kind of magician or another I'd suggest they put their faith in the lottery folks or the Africans. They harm only the gullible. The others harm the country and its 46 million citizens who lack health insurance.
Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com.