Is It Television?

I’m told the health care summit turned out to be mostly political theater, as expected. Sometimes I wonder if mass media itself is part of the problem. If politics were an ecosystem, it would seem the introduction of mass media into the environment has given us a species of politicians who can’t do anything else but political theater.

There has always been plenty of corruption and bamboozling in Washington, but in generations past the corrupt bamboozlers were capable of running a government and passing legislation that made a real difference in people’s lives. Now I look at people like John Boehner and Eric Cantor, and wonder, what the hell do you do, exactly? Because it seems their only real function is going through the motions for the cameras; they aren’t real senators, but just play the role on TeeVee.

The question is, is this new species the wave of the future, or have congressional Republicans (and some conservative Democrats) marched into an evolutionary cul de sac, too over-specialized to adapt to changing conditions? And I do think the way to defeat them is not to attack them individually and directly, but to change the conditions that sustain them. Maybe I’ll address that some other time.

At Slate, Timothy Noah has an interesting observation — the ruling class doesn’t fear the peasants enough.

Starting late in the 19th century and ending late in the 20th, a hugely important engine of social progress was fear on the part of the nation’s leaders that economic inequality, if it were allowed to become too severe, would lead to class warfare and maybe the radical overthrow of the U.S. government. That’s why Andrew Carnegie founded his libraries; it’s why the states ratified the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, creating the modern progressive income tax; it’s why Franklin Roosevelt created the New Deal (“The failure of Republican leaders to solve our troubles,” Roosevelt said when he accepted the Democratic nomination in 1932, “may degenerate into unreasoning radicalism”); it’s why Harvard President James Bryant Conant moved Harvard to a merit-based system of admissions subsequently adopted by other universities; and it’s why every Republican president from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan pursued domestic economic and social policies only somewhat less liberal than those favored by Democrats.

Of course, it was Reagan who stopped that trend, and beginning in the 1980s income inequality has grown.

But instead of fearing radicalism fueled by income inequality, today’s “conservatives” thrive on it. Instead of dealing with the issues that are causing people to be angry, conservatives just fan the flames to make people more angry, hoping to harness that anger into political power. And it’s worked for them pretty well, so far. But is it sustainable, or will it all flame back into their faces someday?

See also: Paul Krugman, “
Afflicting the Afflicted.”

10 thoughts on “Is It Television?

  1. I think, in the paragraph that begins,”Of course it was Reagan…” I think you meant “inequality”.

  2. Reagan et al. proved that a sufficiently sophisticated media machine could convince the underclasses to vote against their own interests, and indeed support their own exploitation. The elites no longer have to worry about mass action by the lower classes, because they keep them distracted with circuses (if not bread), and continually tell them that someone else is to blame for any sense of discomfort that may be bleeding through to them between commercials. Decades of work spent undermining the public educational systems helps make it easier to keep them dumb, fat and too lazy/incompetent to do anything about their unhappiness.

  3. ” But is it sustainable, or will it all flame back into their faces someday?”

    In the early stages, and under favorable conditions, controlled burns and back-firing can contain a forest fire. But when too many trees go up at once, the fire generates its own wind and fans its own flames. At that point, there is no controlling it or directing it. And the fools who set the fire in the first place stand to wind up just as crispy as those attempting to fight it.

    Not saying we’re there yet. But a growing number of us are getting pretty damned parched. If politicians continue to divert all the water to themselves and their corporate benefactors, sooner or later, those matches they keep striking and tossing at us will find ignite the dry tinder.

  4. It’s been argued that rigged gerrymandering has created ‘safe’ districts for legislators – districts of like-minded voters who will guarantee a legistor’s re-election because they think, agree, with his/her politics and policies. The legislator is, in other words, safe and certainly not in any danger of being cut off at the pass or lynched OR voted out of office.

    In fact, some have argued that the very root of what is a poor excuse for a legislative body, the House, is directly due to rampant gerrymandering to create ‘safe’ districts.

  5. Television-politicians perform an important function – they are front men, the pitch-men for the oligarchy. They provide a distraction to the masses (you called it political theater), while turning government into a tool (a profit center) for the real owners of this country. GW Bush is the prime example, as was the old master, St Ronnie himself. What we have in this country is not a real democracy, but a simulacrum – it looks like a democracy, it sounds like one, we even have “elections” which provide an illusion of choice, but a real functioning democracy actually delivers the goods, to the citizens who empower it. Ours no longer does. It does deliver the goods to the moneyed elites who bought it off.

    The people in this country have been programmed over the years to see America as the best place on earth, which is a not so subtle way of saying “don’t rock the boat”, or a bit more menacingly “do you hate America?”. I like the attitude in France, which suffered a violent revolution a couple centuries back, where the government actually fears the people, as a result. Here, the oligarchs have mastered the use of media, jingoism and hagiography to keep everyone in line. And it’s working pretty near perfectly, for them.

    It’s anyone’s guess how this will turn out, but I would be that the entire system is going to have to crash, and crash badly before people are outraged enough to wake up from the crap they’ve been fed all their lives. And by then, it will be too late. It will be the ultimate example of Disaster Capitalism, where all the chips wind up on the owners’ squares, and there won’t be nuthin for the rest of us. Which is the point of it all, from the owners’ perspective anyway. Game over.

  6. All I have to say on these five comments is: DITTO, DITTO, DITTO, DITTO, &
    DITTO! A heartfelt thanks to each of you, Kathleen AK Stuck in Baton Rouge without a paddle

  7. 6586. PEOPLE, French.—[continued].
    “It is difficult to conceive
    how so good a people, with so good a King, so
    well-disposed rulers in general, so genial a
    climate, so fertile a soil, should be rendered so
    ineffectual for producing human happiness by
    one single curse,—that of a bad form of government.
    But it is a fact. In spite of the mildness
    of their governors, the people are ground
    to powder by the vices of the form of government.
    Of twenty millions of people supposed
    to be in France, I am of opinion there are
    nineteen millions more wretched, more accursed
    in every circumstance of human existence than
    the most conspicuously wretched individual of
    the whole United States.—”
    To Mrs. Trist. Washington ed. i, 394.
    (P. 1785)

    This was France as Jefferson described it before the French Revolution. In the case of France, the govenment was the tool of an aristocratic class. Moonbat got one thing wrong, IMO. (And Moonbat is seldom wrong.). The rich won’t wind up with the chips. When the shit hits the fan – the angry mobs will not be something conservatives can saddle and ride to greater prosperity. Not only were the rich executed (A tiskit, a tasket, your head’s in a basket), the French revolution turned on itself, eventually finding ‘order’ in the worst despot of the century – Bonaparte.

    Conservatives have created their own Frankenstin – the Tea Party Movement. The anger as I read it is old and deep. I’m reading something that suggests there is a feeling of betrayal in the American male, stemming form the feeling, all at an emotional level, that the American dream, the vision of the post-WWII boom, is a broken promise. Millions of boomers feel that they hve been ripped off – and they haven’t got a clue who to blame. This is the energy of the TPM – and it has the potential not to be a political force – but to be the cause of anarchy. It’s Frankenstein – updated.

    Napoleon emerged from the chaos in post-revolution France. Hitler from post WWI Germany. Oh yeah, we have the most powerful war machine in the world and we are moving twoards chaos. Please – someone convince me I’m overreacting….

  8. Good comments….And thanks for the word simulacrum, moonbat. I’ve made that same observation but didn’t know the word to describe it. Many times I’ve been stumped trying to understand how what I’m seeing in reality, and what I’m supposed to see in theory as a democracy both have the characteristics and label of a democracy, but yet the reality isn’t a democracy. I think the separation occurs with the adherence of politicians to their political parties and the ideologies their party embraces rather than to the people they should be representing.

    And this comment is not an endorsement of Joe Lieberman as an honorable politician ….He’s a political Capo!

  9. “But is it sustainable, or will it all flame back into their faces someday?”

    I would say yes it will (flame back into their faces someday). The right has always exploited fear among the dimwitted teabaggers (even before they knew they were teabaggers), but I don’t believe it was as effective as it is now i.e. Glenn Beckkk and the whole FAUX news sponsored 24-hour hate rallies. One day the wing-nuts will be back in power, how will the MC’s of the right wing hate movement put all that anger back into the bottle? It will be interesting to watch (maybe from Canada or Germany or Denmark)…..

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