Monday, June 27, 2005

The Worm Has Turned

Mark Hyman takes it upon himself to clear up the “urban legend” that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security, a myth that Hyman says he receives email about “nearly every day.”

The fact that Hyman receives regular emails about this topic is telling. The charge that Congressional representatives don’t pay into the Social Security system is part of the larger conservative mythology about the “big bad government.” It’s not surprising that Hyman’s conservative fan base would believe and perpetuate this fiction.

This becomes even clearer when you look into the history of this particular far right myth. has already done a far more complete analysis of this urban legend than Hyman offers us. Among other things, the Snopes examination shows how closely linked the myth of Congressional non-payment of Social Security taxes is to garden variety liberal bashing (Clinton bashing in particular). Unthinking hatred of Democrats and the tale about Social Security-dodging congressmen both fit into the larger conservative mythology, a mythology fixed around the metaphysical belief that government (and those who participate in it) are inherently bad.

So if the belief that Congress doesn’t pay into Social Security isn’t supported by the facts, why does Hyman bother to debunk this myth? As we know all too well, Hyman rarely lets the facts get in the way of bashing those he considers enemies.

I think the answer lies in political pragmatism. Already, political players are looking ahead to the midterm elections of 2006. The number of Republicans in Congress distancing themselves from Bush’s failed Iraq policies offers just one example of the maneuvering underway by those running for reelection to maintain their seats.

Given that Republicans control both houses of Congress, negative public opinion about elected officials (something conservatives are usually all too happy to whip up) could spell trouble. Already, public approval ratings of Congress are
at or near the lowest they’ve been in many years. If they’re still that low in 18 months, incumbents could be in trouble. Since the majority of incumbents are members of the GOP, collective cynicism about those serving in government has, ironically, become a source of vulnerability.

What’s a right wing ideologue to do? In Hyman’s case, the choice is to try to slow the bleeding a bit by showing how, in at least one way, Congress might not be quite as bad as many think (never mind that Hyman himself often takes the lead in bashing en masse those who serve in government).

Like the conservatives who are
currently savaging the most recent Hillary-trashing tome on the market because they don’t want to allow Clinton to play the sympathy angle in 2008 (and/or because they have written or will write their own anti-Hillary polemic), Hyman lets real politik trump right-wing instinct. Should the approval numbers of Congress take an upswing between now and November 2006, however, look for a return to the reflexive bashing of those in government that typify so much of right wing rhetoric.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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