Friday, November 12, 2010

How the President Lost the People in 2010: Part III

In this last of a three-part discussion about the disaffected voters of 2010, we focus on those addicted to hate radio (like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage) and radical TV (namely, Fox News). The rise of these sources of incessant right-wing propaganda is new in America and has dramatically altered the political landscape. Those who compare these media sources to left-wing pundits and public radio are either unfamiliar with the latter or are being deliberately disingenuous: there’s absolutely no comparison in terms of hours of programming, accuracy of reports, and emotional vs. rational appeal of their content.

What right-wing media outlets have in common are people who get rich selling a product—and that product is anger. Together they have built a hostile, negative conservative movement which was first appropriated by—then driven by—the GOP. The people who deliver the messages of fear, hatred, and negativism—the vehicles of anger and rage—are not unlike people who hock cigarettes: in both cases, the products are habit forming, addictive, and unhealthy.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Fox viewers could be excused for believing what they heard and being sucked into conspiracy theories designed to make them angry. Like cigarette smokers before there was much information about lung cancer, those early viewers were relatively innocent of the knowledge that would have forced them to be aware of what they were doing. However, we now know that, just as cigarette smokers were harming their bodies and those of people around them, hostile right-wingers are doing damage to their bodies and their brains, as well as to their country.

Being innocent of knowledge isn’t at all the same thing as being willfully ignorant when knowledge is readily available.

There’s no shortage of information debunking Fox “news.” For example, the outrageous claims regarding the cost of President Obama’s current trip to Asia—Billions of Dollars! One-tenth of the United States Navy!—reverberated for days in the conservative echo chamber. Never mind that numerous reputable sources quickly pointed out how laughable those claims were—Fox News and its cousins create their own “facts.”

Such “facts” are usually supported by circular reasoning (Fox heard it from Rush who got it from Drudge who got it from Fox . . .). Like poisonous mushrooms, the “sources” for right-wing propaganda have become so numerous (being, as they are, so profitable) that such a merry-go-round of disinformation can keep going for months—even years (such as, for example, the matter of the president’s birth certificate or the off-the-wall theories of the “truthers”).

Outrageous claims and conspiracy theories also find legitimacy when right-wing pundits or politicians write op-ed articles for conservative-friendly newspapers or magazines (such as the otherwise reputable WSJ). Mainstream commentators trying to be what Fox News, tongue-in-cheek, only claims to be—fair and balanced—sometimes treat factual information from the left (such as scientific discoveries about evolution or global climate change) and denialism from the right as being equivalent. (Frankly, her habit of bending over backwards to legitimize wacky right-wing ideas was the reason I started tuning out CNN’s Campbell Brown—and I guess I wasn’t the only one.)

With its new slogan, “Lean forward,” we may hope that MSNBC will gradually become what Fox watchers have claimed for years: a true and consistent voice for progressive ideas and a counterweight to the pernicious Fox News. So far, a few outspoken liberal pundits (Olbermann, Maddow, Matthews) do what they can to present the rational (read “liberal”) side of many national arguments. But it will take many more voices to help make some segments of the viewing public aware that there really are two sides to some of these issues.

It can be said that during the past year and a half, the president lost the people by not staying in daily contact with his constituents (although, in all fairness, the man does have another job to do). However, it’s the duty of voters themselves to make an effort to really be aware of more than one side of the important arguments.

For his part, there are those of us who think the president is compounding his “mistake”—if that’s what you want to call it—by being too accommodating and stubbornly sticking to his bipartisan dream. The Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of playing at all until and unless the other team leaves the field entirely. His “turn the other cheek” attempts at bipartisan decision making haven’t worked up to now, nor are they likely to work any time in the foreseeable future.

But that’s a topic we’ll explore another day.

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