I confess: I'm obsessed with Sean Hannity.
Not a stalker kind of obsession. Nor a weird-fan-with-pictures-all-over-my-bedroom kind of obsession.
I'm rhetorically obsessed with Hannity.
"Great American" Hannity is Fox News' poster boy: he seems so earnest, like he's really concerned about the little guys' (and gals!) plight, and he knows how to expertly use the thinnest strand of fact to buffalo his viewers and listeners into thinking he's telling them "the truth." In fact, he's the perfect embodiment of the whole Fox News philosophy. Forget O'Reilly (jackass), forget Glenn Beck (infantile weirdo), forget that totally unhinged Fox morning "Friend" Steve Doocy (Douche-y?)—when it comes to pure disingenuousness and propagating the government victim mentality, Sean Hannity's your man.
What I'm obsessed with is the near perfection of Hannity's jive shucking. He's like a machine: input any given topic and he'll explain to you, in seemingly rational, seemingly fact-based rhetoric, why the problem is the fault of liberalism and its adherents and why the only solution is the one he's offering—which usually involves cutting taxes, removing all government regulation or oversight, and trusting the conservative oligarchy to do what's best for themselves—er, I mean, what's best for the common good. Oh yeah—and mention Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism. Mention Reagan a lot.
Take, for example, something like global warming. It's a sitting duck for Hannity:
- there's no real evidence for global warming (look how cold it has been this spring!)
- there are thousands of scientists who have proved global warming is a hoax
- cap and trade and other such governmental regulations are simply a way for liberals like Al Gore to heap thousands of dollars of new taxes on American families ("the highest tax increase in U.S. history!") and keep the American economy from thriving
- our air and water are cleaner than they have ever been in the past 100 years
- countries like China that pollute our planet 100 times more than the U.S. (made-up-on-the-spot "fact") aren't curtailing their greenhouse gasses, so why should we? To let liberals like Al Gore . . . (see #3)
- it's a false crisis liberals are trying to use reduce the number of jobs in America so everyone has to be dependent on government welfare programs in order to live, which is the ultimate goal of the liberal philosophy—which has now become radical socialism.
The above Hannity-style screed is typical of the "fact"-based rhetoric he espouses regularly on his radio and TV shows. Let's take a look at his "facts" one by one:
- this is the kind of anecdotal "evidence" you hear from the jackass sitting next to you on the train when we get a 40-degree day in June. "Where's that global warming when we need it, huh?" Usually followed by chuckling and great self-amusement by said jackass. The verifiably erratic weather we've experienced over the past few decades might provide a little more valid evidence of our climate being out of whack. And that freaky 70-degree weather we've been getting in the dead of winter? According to Hannity, it's perfectly normal weather fluctuation that we've had on our planet since it was created (as if he'd know, right?).
- Hannity's right—there are thousands of scientists who discount global warming. Just like there were thousands of scientists who believed the earth was flat long after the actual science proved it not so. But cut away the global warming denying scientists that are paid representatives of energy and oil companies (who somehow continue to show up as "experts" on Fox News programs), and Hannity's still right—there are thousands of scientists who disagree. What he doesn't tell you is that there are HUNDREDS of thousands scientists who have done the hard science over the past few decades to identify the issues and causes of global warming. Admitting honestly that a small percentage (2%? 3%? maybe 5%?) of scientists consider global warming a hoax simply isn't effective support for the jive Hannity's shucking.
- this is where Hannity and his ilk begin to get shrill. Even a little batty. As we've seen from the initial CBO reports as well as independent analysis of a cap and trade system, the cost to American households would probably range in the thousands of dollars—over a 10-year period. (Four grand over ten years comes to just under 2 cents a day—an outrageous tax on American families, no?) But Hannity prefers to just use the first part of that CBO finding, the thousands of dollars part, inferring it's thousands of dollars per year. What he also doesn't mention is that we already have cap and trade systems for other contaminants like sulfur dioxide, which has worked effectively in reducing acid rain. Of course, Hannity throws in the part about Al Gore wanting to keep the American economy from thriving because it's red meat to the brainiacs who take Hannity at his word. He offers no evidence because, really, why would he need to—makes perfect sense that a former Vice President wants the American economy to fail, right?
- Hannity's once again a little bit right: our air and water has been cleaned up greatly in the past 30 years—because of the efforts of those pesky tree-hugging environmentalists who thought it was a bad sign that the Lake Erie tributary Cuyahoga River caught on fire because of the pollutants dumped into the water for so many decades. Even Congress took notice, and in 1972 that left-wing radical environmentalist President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act, which has helped restore Lake Erie to a healthy state, as well as protecting all of our waterways. Same with the Clean Air Acts passed over the past thirty years. Of course, Hannity doesn't mention any of this—that citizens pressuring Congress eventually resulted in laws to help clean up our air and water. Really hard to figure this Hannity rhetorical flourish because, according to Hannity, the environmentalists are supposed to be our enemy, so who are the "Great Americans" who helped clean up our air and water? I guess he'd like you to believe that it all happened by earth's own processes. Or that the benevolent industrial complex in the U.S. took it upon themselves to stop polluting.
- now there's a wise argument: why should we do things that are really good for our natural resources and the earth's atmosphere when those other countries aren't doing anything? Hannity's got a point, right? Shouldn't we too be allowed to crap all over our own precious resources? I thought we learned our lessons with the fiery Cuyahoga River, the nearly dead Lake Erie, Love Canal, acid rain, etc. Who are what is Hannity trying to protect here—the quality of life in the United States? Or the rights of industry to (again) despoil our air and water? Could it be he's protecting the rights of the Chinese to crap all over their natural resources so we here in the U.S can still buy cheap Made In China goods at Wal-Mart? Oh yeah: the "fact" about China creating 100 times more greenhouse gases than the U.S.? According to the U.S. Energy Administration, China surpassed the U.S. somewhere around 2006, and China's emissions may be as much as 20% higher by 2012. Not a positive development for the planet by any means, but again, Hannity doesn't trouble himself with actual facts . . .
- finally, in case he missed anything, or still left any doubt in one of his more savvy listeners, Hannity tosses out the pure batshit crazy stuff. There's nothing factual in it whatsoever. It's Hannity's summation, based on all of his "research" and gut-instinct knowledge, of his opposition's philosophy and goals. It's usually quite canned, as he repeats it multiple times during every broadcast: "highest tax increase in U.S. history," "the radical Obama supports the Marxist takeover of America," "this Socialist, unilaterally disarming administration." Marxist, Socialist (two completely different philosophies)—it really doesn't matter to Hannity. May as well toss Fascist in there as well. When the speaker doesn't know what these ideas actually mean, you can sure bet the brain trust that follows him doesn't either.
So why am I obsessed with Sean Hannity? Why am I obsessed with such a disingenuous, fact-manipulating, victim-facilitating hack for any and all conservative ideas and politicians?
Because Sean Hannity is a rhetorical Terminator.
He's like a perfectly maintained machine that is designed to perform one function with extreme speed and unwavering bias. Ever meet someone who is a master of the Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon game? Give them a name and within seconds they can begin to make the links to the actor. Give Hannity any topic and he can explain to you, with faulty facts and quarter-truths and absolute certainty, why liberals are to blame. Teenage pregnancy? Because the radical left insists on teaching kids sex education in the schools instead of abstinence and because liberals have been on a crusade over the past 40 years to destroy the American family. Makes perfect sense, right? (This is not a direct quote—but it sure could be.) The failed war in Iraq? Because the radical, treasonous left undermined our great leader President Bush at every turn and allowed evil actors like Iran and Syria to fund the terrorists and kill American soldiers. Isn't that the way you remember the past eight years? Hell, you could even call Hannity's show and gripe about the poor quality of sneakers these days and he would explain to you why the radical left in this country has forced shoe companies to move their production facilities to third world countries to avoid the extreme regulations and prohibitive corporate tax rates (35% for more than $15 million in profits—what do you pay on your 5-digit income?)
You can actually hear Hannity's Terminator-like brain in action, especially when he takes a call on his radio show, trying to keep every topic or idea within the simplistic worldview he espouses. And for me, that's the fascination: listening to him try to put together the rhetorical building blocks to convince his listeners of the warped, paranoid, victimized world view he (and presumably the vast majority of them) cling to like guns and religion. Granted, most of the callers simply want to be on the radio with Hannity, so most of the calls in a three hour radio show sound a bit Chris Farley-ish: "Sean, you're a great American. Remind me of why I should be arming myself against the Socialist-Communist-Fascist-Democratic party that is trying to take away my freedoms and all my possessions and put me in a welfare gulag?"
But when a caller isn't quite buying the Hannity agenda, or is calling to specifically argue against the Hannity agenda, that's when the real rhetorical Terminator kicks into overdrive. You hear how completely limited Hannity is by his ideology as he attempts—sometimes successfully, usually not—to bend verifiable facts that refute his agenda to actually support his distorted worldview through the most amazing tortured logic you're bound to hear. Up is down. The world IS flat. George W. Bush will be remembered as one of America's greatest presidents. It doesn't have to make any sense—it just has to somehow fit and support the point Hannity is making. As long as Hannity believes what he says is the truth, passionately, he's sure he's right. Of course, if the caller has half a brain and can pick apart Hannity's flurry of half-truths posing as "facts," then Hannity quickly reverts to the ad hominem attack (ie. "Why do you hate America so much?") That's when you know Hannity realizes he can't buffalo the caller and wants to dismiss him or her as quickly as possible. You at least have to admire Hannity's quick acknowledgement of potential defeat.
I know this Hannity obsession reveals a certain sickness on my part, but I urge you to listen to his radio show a few times and marvel at the machine-like way his mind works. Hard as it may seem, try to ignore whether or not you agree with the crazy shit he's saying and analyze it structurally: how is he trying to make his point? what two completely unrelated things is he desperately trying to link together? why is everything progressives/liberals do or say so evil and dangerous and icky while nearly everything conservatives do or say is so good and patriotic and blessed by god? You may just find yourself growing more fascinated with the albeit contaminated Terminator-like mind of Sean Hannity.
One last thing: understand that millions of people in this country listen to him religiously and actually believe the nonsense he espouses. Scary, isn’t it?