In his new book, Jason Mattera argues that young progressives are unwitting minions for Obama’s socialist agenda—but he neglects to mention some key facts.
It appears I must have missed the portions of President Barack Obama's inaugural speech where he announced he would emancipate the workers from their ruthless capitalist overlords.
Lucky for us, many conservative commentators have been able to warn us against Obama's plan to make a rapid transformation to a Stalinist-style planned economy. Jason Mattera, the recently hired editor of Human Events, adds another book, Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed my Generation, which warns of Obama sinister plans to destroy America.
Mattera's offering differs from other books from conservatives since Obama's election, as it takes a specific look at young voters and activists—dubbed the "Obama Zombies"—who, he argues, have become unknowing minions in Obama's socialist army, having been lobotomized by the media and Obama's aggressive youth outreach efforts during the 2008 campaign.
For those who are not familiar with Mattera, he is a rising star among young conservatives who worked as communications director for the Young America's Foundation, a conservative youth organization, for several years before landing his latest gig as the editor of Human Events, a long-running far-right magazine. He is often seen on cable news or YouTube aggressively confronting progressives and Democratic politicians on film. He is a sharp-tongued commentator and satirist who loves to use exclamation points. And in case there was ever any doubt, he doesn't like progressives or liberalism or Campus Progress very much.
The first thing that stands out in Zombies is the endless array of hyperbolic insults. Mattera detests the “puke-worthy racialist thinking” and “mindless followership” from Obama's young supporters who are "hapless tools used to remake America in ways that breed unemployment and multiple job losses …." The American Prospect, a DC-based liberal magazine, is a “leftist toilet paper magazine.” Mainstream journalists are "fawning teenage schoolgirls licking the heels of their teen idol (Obama).”
Surely, Mattera is trying to have some fun at liberals’ expense—which is reasonable enough for such a figure—but the constant string of smears detract from what could have been a serious look at the phenomenon of political hero-worship. Surely even the most hardened supporters of Obama should be able to admit that, just as there have been overstated attacks against him, there has also been some hero-worship thrown Obama's way. Hillary Clinton acknowledged Obama worship during the 2008 primary. (She was famously quoted mocking Obama with a "celestial choirs will be singing" quote.) And Mattera has a point when he pokes fun at a blogger on Obama's campaign website who met someone who shook Obama's hand and says “give me some of that” and then, after forming a handshaking circle with a large group of people, says he felt “solidarity with this stranger consummated by a handshake and signifying some unspoken agreement presumably about Barack Obama." If Sarah Palin fans engaged in similar hyperbole after making a handshake circle, many progressives would be quick to ridicule—and rightfully so.
Mattera, however, doesn't really delve deeply into the phenomenon of political hero worship, which would have been an interesting and serious subject to address. Instead, he writes a book that is filled with snarky jokes (with! exclamation! points!) on every page and the endless insistence that the Democratic Party is run by crazed leftists. In other words, save for the focus on younger generations, this book is not very different from anything written by Ann Coulter (which, presumably, Mattera would take as a compliment).
Like many other conservative books published since Obama was elected, the insistence that Obama is flirting with socialism is ever-present. "What Obama Zombies need to understand," he writes (emphasis in original) "is that social justice is just a euphemism for socialism." It can not be overstated just how patently absurd such an accusation is. Obama's tax plan calls for the eventual increase of the two top income brackets to their pre-2001 levels of 36 and 39.6 percent, up from 33 and 36 percent respectively—just a slightly more progressive tax code, not workers' control of the means of production. Even the bailouts he has supported (TARP, it is worth noting, was passed under former President George W. Bush with Obama's support) have mostly benefited corporations, not workers. While they are certainly at odds with free market principles, these bailouts are fundamentally at odds with the concept of socialism, which calls for a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, not the other way around.
Moreover, many conservatives support some kind of progressive taxation, just somewhat less progressive. Here the absurdity of the accusation becomes crystal clear: 36 percent tax rates makes you a conservative worth voting for; but raise that tax rate to 39.6 percent and you are a card-carrying member of the radical left. If a 39.6 percent tax rate on the rich has become the new threshold that takes one from capitalist to communist, than Karl Marx is probably rolling over in his grave.
It is must also be noted that Ronald Reagan taxed the wealthiest Americans to the tune of 50 percent, though for some reason Mattera did not bother to mention that in that in any his five references to the former president.
This book may sell a lot of copies among conservatives. As of this writing, the book had already hit number 14 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is also a marketable slogan—I imagine a line of t-shirts could be on the way. I don't begrudge Mattera's choice to have some fun at the expense of liberals (Al Franken has not exactly shied away from jokes in his books), but I cannot fathom how, given the tone of the book, Mattera will convince the "zombies" to more seriously consider conservative ideas, even though he touts the project as a “Six-Point Battle Plan for Awakening Obama Zombies From Their Brainless Slumber.” By the time a reader gets to Mattera's argument against raising the minimum wage on page 129, progressives have already been ridiculed as "hapless tools," and "suckers for the diversity hustle," and other similarly pejorative terms literally dozens of times.
Further, progressives have been far from zombies over the last year, having been more than willing to attack Obama on a host of issues. In December, when the Senate stripped the public option out of the healthcare reform bill, there was a sustained and heated battle amongst progressives groups and bloggers over whether or not to support the bill. And Obama has been criticized by progressives on a host of other issues: gay rights, Cabinet appointments, the environment, and so on.
It is also worth wondering why Mattera is so mad. After all, it seems clear that the rich are winning and the poor are losing, despite the fact that regular wage earners are more productive than ever before. Unions are decimated and even with massive majorities in Congress and support of 72 percent of the public, progressives could not even win a tiny public option covering a few million people in the healthcare debate. Further, Obama has governed much further to the right than his progressive supporters had hoped for.
He escalated the war in Afghanistan, and continues to support the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, and many other staples of the Bush Administration's national security policy. But Mattera acts as if Obama is an ultra-civil libertarian, dutifully warning the Zombies, that “your civil liberties don't mean squat if your dead!” He also says that the election of Obama served to “remake America in a ways that … embrace weakness and cling to pacifism.” But it is clearly utter nonsense to hint that Obama is a pacifist, and one might think conservatives would remember that Obama actually retained Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. I understand conservatives lost the election last fall, but the apocalyptic nature of their complaints seem drastically overblown.
These details don't deter Mattera. In his view, we are all Obama Zombies, blindly following the president as he intentionally destroys the country. So long as this patently false narrative is the dominant view among conservatives, there will remain little hope for constructive dialogue.