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Daniel Ruth

Political delusions are just a click away

A year or so ago the Atlantic Monthly published a piece titled: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

And the answer, of course, is: Duh!

To be sure, the Internet is a wonderful thing, an instant conduit to vast amounts of credible information and communications. It has also become a vast wasteland of insanity, ignorance and blissful indifference to the truth, or for that matter rationality.

By the way, have you heard the Chinese like to eat babies? It's right there — on the Internet. So it must be true.

Or put another way, a keyboard at the fingertips of someone with all the functioning mental acuity of Sasquatch can also become a weapon of mass delusion. And yes, if the names of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, as well as the drive-by bloviators of the radio dial, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, suddenly leaped to mind you aren't alone. Or wrong.

The latest incarnation of the Internet being turned into one giant tea party of subway three-card monte marks was the breathless story making the rounds a few days ago that Barack Obama's trip to India and several other countries was going to cost the American taxpayer $200 million a day.

And before you could say, "Barack Obama is the Antichrist," the $200 million a day number was being indignantly repeated by Bachmann, who is so far right she even gives incoming House Speaker John Boehner the willies, while Limbaugh and his fellow factotum travelers on the airwaves went into full Old Yeller foaming-at-mouth harrumphing, huffing and puffing and no small amount of caterwauling.

The problem, no surprise here, is that the story was completely bogus, originating with an unnamed Indian government minion who had thrown out the $200 million a day figure to a reporter from the Press Trust of India, who published the number without bothering to check it out.

As the unsubstantiated story quickly went viral, it was seized upon by Obama's detractors who used the $200 million a day figure as yet another example of an imperial presidency run amok in a time of a economic distress at home.

It is certainly true anytime a president travels there are substantial costs involved regarding staffing and security issues, but hardly to the tune of $200 million a day. Indeed the St. Petersburg Times' own PolitiFact.com was able to calculate the average cost of a presidential entourage on a foreign trip at somewhere around approximately $10 million a day.

To put this in context, it costs approximately $190 million a day to conduct military operations in Afghanistan. Well, what's a lousy $190 million or so, when there is political mischief to be made?

You'll not be shocked to know that neither Bachmann, Saturday Night Live's Emily Litella of the tea party movement, nor Limbaugh and his radio dial lemmings have made any effort to correct the record.

By the way, have you seen the photograph of Obama speaking on an upside down telephone? It must be true.

In the scribbling racket, I receive all manner of e-mails linked to Internet sites purporting to prove that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or that he wasn't born in this country, or that he took the oath of office for the presidency with his hand on the Koran — all of it sheer piffle.

A more recent viral myth shows Barack and Michelle Obama standing in front of the White House during a rendering of the national anthem with their left hands posed over their right chest — an obviously manipulated picture, which has been repeatedly debunked.

Yet there are people who still believe this twaddle, perhaps because they simply want to, or maybe because the Internet age has exposed us to the disconcerting fact there are easily manipulated folks out there who are dumber than a sack of road apples.

The amazing thing about a vast majority of these "Obama Is a Tool of the Kremlin" Internet postings is that they are easily checked out, as well, on the Internet. A cottage industry of sorts has cropped up dedicated to verifying and invalidating claims that Obama is the love child between Malcolm X and Angela Davis, or that Barack and Michelle Obama were once Sandinista rebels, or Barack Obama is an alien life form.

Still countless people will still insist in believing Obama's trip to Asia cost $200 million a day because some dimwit on the Internet said so, a testimony perhaps to the viral power of cyberspace combined with a growing civic illiteracy.

After all, there are still people out there who actually believe if they turn over their banking statement account information to a complete stranger in Nigeria they will receive $100 million in return.

P.T. Barnum must be laughing and spinning in his grave that he was born too late to own a laptop computer.

Political delusions are just a click away 11/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 8, 2010 6:21pm]

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