Stranger of Blah3.com speaks for many of us:
I hope you all enjoy lying in that bed you’ve made.
All those years of making excuses for George W. Bush’s ineptness, inadequacies, and illegalities have earned you absolutely nothing. You brushed aside his lack of experience and intellectual incuriosity in 1999 and 2000, mostly because you didn’t like Al Gore. Your behavior gave him a much better position from which to steal the 2000 election.
You bought the spin from Bush’s minions, ignoring the crisis that was taking place in Florida after the election. You believed every lie they came up with, from ‘The votes have been counted and re-counted and re-counted’ to ‘Al Gore is trying to steal the election,’ and you decided that letting Bush take office (in the most literal sense possible) was ‘best for the country.’
You papered over the fact that he was scared out of his mind on September 11, 2001 – to the point where he flew to Idaho to hide – in favor of painting him as a ‘resolute leader.’ You swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, every lie that came out of the White House in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq – in many cases embellishing the lies to make them sound more plausible. …
… And after all this, Bush and Cheney and Congress and Coulter and every wingnut pundit, whom you’ve coddled and accommodated every step of the way, show their appreciation how?
They want to muzzle you. They want to imprison you. They want to try you for treason.
Stranger links to an The American Prospect article about radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, who is the same raving loon who “debated” the SWIFT program with Al Sharpton on Monday night’s Hardball. TAP quotes Morgan suggesting that New York Times editor Bill Keller should be sent to the gas chamber for treason. She was more moderate on Hardball and was willing to reduce Keller’s sentence to 20 years behind bars.
To be a liberal in America today is to look at news media and despair. Sometime between the Watergate Era and today, the whole bleeping profession of journalism turned into the Right’s Pet Goat. The much compromised New York Times is Exhibit A. You’d think the Bush Administration would be grateful to the Times for its help with the WMDs scam. But no; the Times is now the ur-Goat.
The catastrophe that is contemporary American journalism is described in detail in Eric Boehlertâ€™s new book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. I’m not going to repeat Boehlert’s arguments here; many of you know them, anyway. Instead, I want to look at the bigger picture of journalism and politics.
To see the bigger picture, you have to step back from political issues and parties, including our much-beloved debate on whether Democrats are hopeless. Instead, consider the political culture of the United States. I argue that our national political culture is so sick and contaminated that it no longer supports the democratic processes of politics and government. Sheer entropy has kept democracy lumbering along — it takes either a long time or a lot of force to stop a really big mass that’s been in motion for a while. But a political culture utterly inhospitable to rational political discussion, as ours has become, will shut democracy down eventually.
If we’re going to restore the United States to functionality as a democratic republic, our primary goal is to heal the national political culture. Otherwise, it won’t matter which party we support or how many elections we win, because the patient — democracy in America — will still be dying. But if we can heal the culture, the job of reforming other political institutions — like the Democratic and Republican parties — will be easier.
For example, many progressives have concluded it is pointless to support Democrats, because as soon as a Democrat gets inside the Beltway his spinal column is ripped right out of him. Time and time again, we’ve seen Democratic politicians make grand speeches to their liberal constituents, but once we get them elected they do little more than offer ineffectual objections to the ruling right-wing power juggernaut. And we’re all sick of this.
But I say that progressivism’s salvation will not come from any political leader or party, Democrat or otherwise. It will come from media reform. This is true because no matter who we elect, and no matter what progressive legislators might want to accomplish, they are helpless to do much until progessive policies have solid popular support. You build popular support for policies by talking about them to the American people. And for the past fifty years or so, that means being able to make your case in mass media, particularly television.
Now, tell me — when was the last time you watched a substantive, factual, civil discussion of progressive ideas on national television?
Take health care, for example. For years, we progressives have wanted some kind of national health care system, maybe single payer, maybe a combination of public and private systems, but something that would scuttle the bloated, failing mess we’ve got now. Many polls indicate that a majority of Americans are deeply concerned about health care in this country. Yet it is next to impossible to present progressive ideas about health care reform to the American public through mass media. Even on those programs allegedly dedicated to political discussion, as soon as a progressive gets the phrase “health care” out of his mouth, a chorus of rightie goons will commence shrieking about socialized medicine! And then the allotted ten minutes for the health care segment is up; go to commercial.
And that’s assuming a real progressive is invited on the program at all.
So even though a majority of the American people sense that something is wrong with our health care system, and think something needs to change, they never hear what the options are through mass media. Probably a large portion of American voters don’t realize that the U.S. is the only industrialized democratic nation with no national health care program. They never hear that, on a purely cost-benefit basis, we have about the worst health care system on the planet. All Americans ever hear is that Canada has national health care and that Canadians have to put their names on waiting lists to get services, and ain’t that awful? OK, but what about the thirty-something other nations with national health care systems that don’t have waiting lists?
Bottom line: The Right figured out how to use mass media to make its point-of-view dominant and shut out the Left. Thus, radical right-wing views are presented as “conservative” and even “centrist,” even though a whopping majority of the American public doesn’t agree with those views. Through media, the radical Right is able to deflect attention away from itself and persuade just enough voters that Democrats are loony and dangerous. And maybe even treasonous.
And if just enough voters aren’t persuaded — well, there are ways to deal with that, too. But media consumers aren’t hearing much about that, either.
Because media is the dominant political force of our time, media reform is an essential part of the cure. It’s not the only part — reform is required along many fronts — but without media reform, we’re bleeped.
So what’s this political culture thing? Genuine representative democracy is more than just elections, as explained in this Wikipedia article. It is a form of government in which “the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and usually moderated by a constitution which emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised.”
In successful democracies, accountability to the people is critical. Therefore, government must be transparent except when national security requires secrecy, and in that circumstance some form of oversight of those acting in secret must be honored. It is also essential that a large majority of the people respect a social contract in the broadest sense of that term. And a fundamental part of that contract is the implicit agreement that protecting the integrity of the law, and of the institutions and processes of democratic government, comes before winning elections or enacting policies.
As explained nicely by the Wikipedia article linked above,
For countries without a strong tradition of democratic majority rule, the introduction of free elections alone has rarely been sufficient to achieve a transition from dictatorship to democracy; a wider shift in the political culture and gradual formation of the institutions of democratic government are needed. There are various examples, like in Latin America, of countries that were able to sustain democracy only temporarily or in limited form until wider cultural changes occurred to allow true majority rule.
One of the key aspects of democratic culture is the concept of a “loyal opposition”. This is an especially difficult cultural shift to achieve in nations where transitions of power have historically taken place through violence. The term means, in essence, that all sides in a democracy share a common commitment to its basic values. Political competitors may disagree, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge the legitimate and important roles that each play. The ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate. In such a society, the losers accept the judgment of the voters when the election is over, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power. The losers are safe in the knowledge that they will neither lose their lives nor their liberty, and will continue to participate in public life. They are loyal not to the specific policies of the government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state and to the democratic process itself.
Granted, these ideals have never been perfectly manifested in the American body politic. All human institutions are imperfect, and institutions that survive through many generations will go through cycles of corruption and reform. Often idealistic people will point to the corruptions and the many ways our nation has fallen short of its ideals and argue that the patient isn’t worth saving. I, however, take the Buddhist view that all compounded things are imperfect and subject to decay, but that’s how life is, and it’s our duty — to ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants — to make the best of it. Not making the best of it is a bad alternative.
Although it’s never been perfect, once upon a time American political culture supported democratic processes, but now it does not. It does not because many of our civic institutions are controlled by right-wing extremists who do not respect the social contract or the values of democracy. Although they pay lip service to the legitimacy of the government and democratic processes, what drives them is the acquisition of power and the implementation of their extremist agenda by any means necessary. If rules must be broken and democratic processes subverted to achieve their goals — so be it.
Paul Krugman recognized what was happening and wrote about it in the introduction to his book The Great Unraveling. He explained that, throughout history, reasonable people accustomed to political and social stability have failed to recognize the danger of emerging radical movements — until the stability is lost. Ironically, Krugman says he came to understand this from reading Henry Kissinger’s Ph.D. thesis. As Krugman explained in a Buzzflash interview,
… reasonable people canâ€™t bring themselves to see that theyâ€™re actually facing a threat from a radical movement. Kissinger talked about the time of the French Revolution, and pretty obviously he also was thinking about the 1930s. He argued that, when you have a revolutionary power, somebody who really wants to tear apart the system — doesnâ€™t believe in any of the rules — reasonable people whoâ€™ve been accustomed to stability just say, “Oh, you know, they may say that, but they donâ€™t really mean it.” And, “This is just tactical, and letâ€™s not get too excited.” Anyone who claims that these guys really are as radical as their own statements suggest is, you know, “shrill.” Kissinger suggests they’d be considered alarmists. And those who say, â€œDonâ€™t worry. Itâ€™s not a big deal,â€are considered sane and reasonable.
Well, thatâ€™s exactly whatâ€™s been happening. For four years now, some of us have been saying, whether or not you think theyâ€™re bad guys, theyâ€™re certainly radical. They donâ€™t play by the rules. You canâ€™t take anything that youâ€™ve regarded as normal from previous U.S. political experience as applying to Bush and the people around him. They will say things and do things that would not previously have made any sense — you know, would have been previously considered out of bounds. And for all of that period, the critics have been told: “Oh, you know, youâ€™re overreacting, and thereâ€™s something wrong with you.”
The ascension of the radical right occurred over many years, and their takeover of government — a slow-motion coup d’Ã©tat — happened gradually enough that most of us didn’t comprehend what was happening. America has been challenged by radicalism before, and always it has come back to the center soon enough. (And by “center” I mean the real center, where liberalism and conservatism balance, not the false “center” of today that would have been considered extreme conservatism in saner times.) I do not believe the coup is a fait accompli; the Right is not yet so secure it its power that it has dropped all pretense of honoring democratic political process. They’re still going through the motions, in other words. But this time I do not believe America will come back to the center unless a whole lot of us grab hold and pull at it. Hard.
How do we do that? First, we have to get our bearings and remember what “normal” is, which is going to be hard for the young folks whose memories don’t back back further than the Reagan Administration. Just take it from an old lady — what we got now ain’t normal.
Second, media reform, as I say, is essential, and will be looked at in more detail in Dear Media, Part II, which I hope to have up by tomorrow. I argue that media reform is essential to all other necessary political reform. Blogs and innovations in media technology may prove to be critical to this reform.