moonshineWilliam Tyndale once ridiculed the poor logic of a 16th Century blowhard by writing that, “the proof of his whole conclusion…hangeth by moonshine.” Tyndale of course, ultimately became a victim of moonshine when he was condemned as a heretic and strangled by real rope – and burned as well – for translating the Bible into English.

Moonshine, a fine word for unreal or laughable lies, shines on. Our political sphere is positively aglow with it. It is never eclipsed, and its source never sets.

The debate over health care reform, for instance, has been bright with it. Just about every word uttered by the opponents of health care reform has been moonshine. Every word, and everyone knows it.  The House managed to shield its eyes from the glare just long enough to pass a health reform bill. And in retrospect, the attacks on reform look all the more ridiculous.

We were told that freedom would be destroyed by our better health. We were told health care reform was communism, or fascism, for socialism, or some other non sequiturism. We were told we’d go broke. Or maybe die. Well, at least if it makes us sick we can afford to see a doctor.

Some might prefer another word to moonshine. Bunkum, for instance, derives from a famously irrelevant and interminable 1820 speech in support of the extension of slavery to Missouri. It was delivered to the U.S. House by Felix Walker, the undistinguished representative from Buncombe County, North Carolina.  Buncombe became bunkum. Twaddle and tommyrot might also do.

Then, of course, there’s bullshit, an early attestation of which belongs to T.S. Eliot, who wrote a ballade called, “The Triumph of Bullshit.”

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited

If you consider my merits are small

Etiolated, alembicated,

Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,

Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,

Impotent galamatias

Affected, possibly imitated,

For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass

Rhyming galamatias (or galimatias) with “stick it up your ass,” is poetic genius. Galimatias, by the way, means moonshine.

I’m afraid it’s the media who must face charges for their impotent galamatias. They consider the reporting of moonshine to be their duty. Hey, if someone said it, it’s up to the people to tell moonshine from sunshine.

Tommyrot. It’s the media’s responsibility to call a lie a lie. If you don’t want to call it muckraking, call it moonraking, with apologies to Ian Fleming.

The trouble with the media’s so-called neutrality is not that people no longer believe anything, it’s that they believe everything. Alternative realities bloom like algae. Remember the famous anonymous quote from an official of the Bush White House:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The absolute arrogance of such a comment is, well, unreal. But it’s really just a frank statement of an ugly possibility. Since the media has abdicated its responsibilities to truths of the real world, any old moonshine will do.

Humans can’t live on moonshine, however. Millions will die for lack of health care unless health care reform is finally passed and signed into law. There’s another word that history might apply to those who abdicate their responsibility to the truth:  infamy.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

16 thoughts on “Moonshine”

  1. “Alternative realities bloom like algae.”

    Interesting turn of a phrase…algal blooms being caused by excess nutrients, frequently in the form of cow manure.

  2. Maybe every sane person who attends a Town Hall meeting in the future should rise as one when a “moonshiner” speaks, and like a solemn Greek chorus reply in unison “BULLSHIT!”

    (and do the same in response to the “Blogviators” on the web…)

  3. Well written, informative and fun to read, Glenn. I really like the way you play with words :).

    I honestly don’t know if passing whatever finally comes out of reconciliation will be a good step, once it finally kicks in. Comparing what the House finally produced with what the Republicans offered is an easy call. But I think it very important to recognize the power given to Blue Dogs and to Republicans. The House Dem leadership insists this was necessary, to get something passed. Maybe / Hopefully this will end up being a good first step. But a part of the compromise included allowing a vote on the Stupak amendment, and a significant number of Democrats voting for it. Some of those same Democrats then voted against the bill itself.

    I understand the mechanics and pragmatic nature of law making, but for some, I think a lot, of us, the Stupak amendment is extremely troubling.

    To borrow your great line, “Humans can’t live on moonshine.” As a lesbian, I feel as if I’ve been offered a great deal of moonshine, usually presented as something like a “reason why gay rights have to wait.” Sometimes even the moonshine is shaded, and the electorate gets to vote on my civil rights,which in some cases even means taking some away. Differences acknowledged, the Stupak amendment takes away possibilities currently in place for women, for a legal procedure. That was a price of passing the bill.

    We very much need health care reform. I’m not surprised, but the political games that are being played with something as basic as the millions of deaths you reference is beyond frustrating.

    1. Yes, it is beyond frustrating. Most Americans understand, at least unconsciously, that the dehumanizing of others (technically, the new term is infra-humanization, the stripping of human qualities from one group of “others” or another) threatens their own integrity and uniqueness. Still we let the tail of prejudice wag the dog of democracy — and I think only generational change will end it.

  4. The danger of modern conservative moonshine is that it is in effect hermetically sealed inside the believer. It cannot be recognized and discarded… it cannot be corrected like a simple factual error.

    Why? Because conservative moonshine is copious, continuous, complete and self-reinforcing. Once you have spent decades believing Bill Clinton was a mass murderer, Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, a president’s careless sexual dalliance destroyed the moral fabric of a nation, Bush 2 won the 2000 election fair and square, the Iraq war was about mushroom clouds over American cities and freedom and democracy for suffering Iraqis, government is the problem, tax cuts for the rich benefit the little guy, Obama is a Kenyan Manchurian candidate, altering our health care system is communism and any move to address environmental damage is going to bankrupt every American, you cannot back down from it. To recognize you have swallowed a perfect storm of disinformation spewed forth by conservative linguistic framers and think tanks is to admit you are not only a fool but also a failed citizen.

    But you are emotionally incapable of doing this. It would be tantamount to identity suicide. Therefore, you will cling ever more desperately to whatever fact-free ideas are put forward by the political machine that has so badly betrayed you. They have not only betrayed you, they have built a steel trap to hold you in.

    When a way is found to untie this Gordian knot, America may, over time, return to sanity, reason and honor in political discourse and policy. Until then, modern conservatism is a growing psychological malignancy that left alone will finally finish off the USA.

    And the people who have created and maintained this system at great effort and expense know it.

  5. Sonny, an accurate if depressing list of things people have / do believe. And from general observation and conversation, plus a few years of practicing therapy, pastoring and other people-related work, I concluded (I think similar to what you are saying) that it is very, very difficult to recognize and even more difficult to change such beliefs. Identity and worth, not to mention place, are so entertwined with, as you put it, a “perfect storm of disinformation,” that to question the beliefs is to question “who am I.”

    Glenn, a generational change is probably needed, related to the dehumanizing of others, based on whatever “ism.” I’m just wondering from which generation to start counting.

  6. The problem, Joyce, is I don’t think we have 20 or 40 years to let this cloud pass over, nor do I think succeeding generations will be spared the 24/7 onslaught of nonsense.

    The challenge America faces here is akin to cult deprogramming carried out on a social level. Speaking the hard truth and calling wingnuts crazy and stupid, calling them suckers and asking them to wake up won’t work, regardless of how much evidence is presented. They will merely string more concertina wire and fill more sandbags. When they perceive attack, their attention is not on understanding, it is on defense. Half the conservative meme is the idea of victimization, of being under attack from those seeking to undermine their world view.

    They must finally be approached with understanding and forgiveness. An appeal to sanity and empirical evidence and basic human values must be made with the utmost sensitivity. The wingnut must be presented with a ‘way out’ of an entirely skewed reality that preserves his honor and dignity. That’s a tall order.

    If, as Glenn explored in a recent piece, reason has little to do with political beliefs, if reason is trumped by emotional responses and subconscious reaction to personal traumas, then we are probably screwed as a country. Our weakness has been found and exploited.

    I find myself re-reading German social history from the ’30s and the parallels are chilling. As was the case then in Germany, the American psyche is being criminally manipulated and abused in an organized way and some thirty percent of the population cannot defend itself against the punishment. Thirty percent.

    Only seven percent of Germans were active, performing Nazis. That was enough to leave a bloody scar on human history.

    The modern reactionary conservative movement is carefully designed by behavioral psychologists. Behavioral psychologists are probably needed to defuse the ticking time bomb. But we don’t read much from behaviorists in the way of ideas or plans for countering what confronts us. Perhaps they are cowering, knowing better than the rest of us what is being done and the terrible results that can be obtained through psychological manipulation.

    Trying to understand reality is a daunting task sometimes. Once reality has been discarded, getting it back is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

    Where is the clear explanation of the situation? Where is the plan of action to address it? The clock is ticking.

  7. In the song “Moonshine” by Shawn Phillips (a Texan!), he sings “moonlight halo gonna tell about a coming rain.” I have confidence that we won’t drown.

    1. I met Shawn Phillips once. Drove a friend, singer/songwriter Dirk Hamilton to a gig in Dallas with Phillips. Phillips didn’t look so good. Turned out he’d been admitted to the hospital with a heart attack that afternoon, got out of bed and came to play the gig. He also had the biggest drawl I ever heard — surprising for a guy who sang a kind of folk/rock/english ballad style.

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