Prior to this health care reform insanity, the netroots has been really good about pushing back against the way that right wing lies and bullshit are promoted through channels such as right wing media, think tanks, and mainstream media promotion of both. But what's harder to do is deal with is the grapevine. As I'm sure you're aware, I tend to think the grapevine is the most important part of wingnuttery, and I have formed this opinion by growing up surrounded by it, but in my years of mucking around reading anti-choicers, I really have come around to see how important the grapevine is. Seriously, it's interesting how little liberals communicate political ideas through conversation than conservatives, though part of the reason is that liberal values---mainly, freedom and equality---are the assumed ones of our culture that even conservatives have to pay tribute to as they undermine them.
The grapevine is important to wingnuts because their mainstay ideas are unspeakable in polite company, for the reason that they're opposed to these basic American values. That sounds like an extreme position, but the wingnuts going nuts in Matt's thread here provide a good example. The sight of their beloved Confederate flag proved too much for them, and they started to spout a cavalcade of often conflicting defenses of the treason in the defense of slavery. Sadly, if you've grown up in a red state, you've heard a lot of these ideas before, inevitably on the grapevine: mainly that the war had nothing to do with slavery (one wingnut whipped out a new one that I haven't heard---that it was because of taxes!). But you also hear that being enslaved was better for black Americans, that the Confederacy had plans to get rid of slavery within a generation, that the North started it, etc. All lies, all popular with wingnuts, and few of them will actually show up---except through insinuation---in right wing and mainstream media. Pat Buchanan saying that white people built this country was exciting because it was a slip. They do that sometimes, when they're in polite company---get excited, slip up, and say something they're only supposed to say to each other. But mostly, it's fascinating how well wingnuts have embraced the idea that you have one face for your fellows and one for everyone else. To me, that sort of basic dishonesty about what you believe should tell you that you're in the wrong, but to them it just shows they're victims of oppressive liberals with all their yammering about equality and compassion.
Keeping track of code words, slip-ups, line-pushing, and garbled arguments in the mainstream and right wing media is important, but we need to know and refute what they're saying to each other in church, social occasions, family dinners, and email. That helps decipher what code words mean, or ask relevant questions of disingenuous wingnuts playing non-crazy to get a public airing. (Like my standard favorite of dogging anti-choice activists with questions about contraception, which is not something they like to talk too much about outside of their inner circles, where strident arguments about the evils of contraception are not uncommon.) To that end, I have to praise the hell out of Media Matters for starting a section of their website called Email Checker. Email forwards are an easy way for the netroots to start shining sunlight into the dark recesses of the wingnut mind. Many of us have old friends or relatives that automatically put us on their email listservs for hysterical tirades about progressive legislation, conspiracy theories about prominent Democrats, and emails promoting racist/sexist nonsense through "jokes". The amount of right wing email purporting to reference experts and historians that is accurate seems to be, at the time of this writing, none.
Some of us try to respond to these emails, but it's hard not to get upset, and worse, you probably opened it up at work and you don't have time to conduct the necessary research to disprove the email. But Media Matters not only does it for you, they've written some calm responses to present the refutations for you. They make an effort to assume that the person forwarding it to you is acting in good faith, and is completely unaware that whoever wrote the original email is lying through their teeth. For instance, here's part of their response to an email sent around trying to scare people about "death panels":
Hey, thanks for forwarding along that email.
It's nuts how many rumors are swirling around out there about the health bills. It's hard to know which ones are true and which ones are just crazy internet rumors.
If this one were true, I'd be pretty upset - so I decided to see if I could find out for myself.
It turns out Tom Daschle never even said that about "seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age." Apparently that quote actually comes from a woman who is adamantly against any health care improvements named Betsy McCaughey. When a reporter confronted her about the chain email, even she admitted it wasn't true, saying "I regret any misrepresentations made by others of my work or Mr. Daschle's views.
When I see things like this---emails flying around that take things wingnuts said and put them in the mouths of Democrats---I'm often inclined to think that professionals are writing and forwarding these emails. Your irritating right wing relatives are both perpetrators and victims of the right wing misinformation campaign.
This isn't the first attempt to catalog these sorts of email forwards. I'm fond of My Right Wing Dad, but they just catalog it, and don't give you any tools to push back.
What you can do to help is twofold. When you get one of these emails, search Email Checker to see if they've cataloged it. (The best way to search is copy/paste a sentence into the search engine, though keywords also work.) If so, copy/paste the reply---tweak it, if need be---into a reply email, and make sure to hit "Reply All". Sure, it's a little rude, but no more so than sending email forwards in the first place. If they don't have it up yet, send them a copy to email@example.com.
What this course of action will likely do is get you taken off email forward lists. That will be a relief for you, though obviously, the better solution would be to get people to stop sending and believing them. But people are mostly going to believe what they want, and there's not much you can do. But by hitting "Reply All" before you get taken off the list, you might get to a few people who are also receiving the forwards that aren't true believers, and who will be emboldened by your example to think critically. One thing I'm pretty certain of is that starting a rumble, albeit a very polite one, with the people who send the email forwards in front of a group will get some eyeballs. People will probably be more interested in reading your response than the original email because responding is uncommon behavior, and therefore gets attention.
I'm guessing this might also be a good reference to refute right wing misinformation being spouted in comments sections at blogs.