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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
If it’s not A, it must be B, because life is always black and white, right?
Voters are increasingly displeased with President Obama’s handling of the economy, but a new poll finds most Americans still think George W. Bush is responsible for the nation’s dismal financial state.
According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 54 percent of those surveyed say Bush is responsible for the “current condition” of the economy, compared to just 27 percent who blame Obama. Among self-described independent voters, a key 2012 voting bloc, the number shifts slightly: 49 percent point the finger at the former GOP president, while 24 percent blame Obama.
Part of the problem, of course, is the simplistic wording of the question which automatically creates a false dichotomy of Republicans versus Democrats. The question might have been, which administration is more responsible for the current financial crisis, which then translates into the definitive statement that voters “think George W. Bush is responsible.” This simplified version of reality, which suggests that the complex terrain of the political frontier is easily understood in concrete, black-and-white terms, is then absorbed by an impatient and apathetic public whose attention span is incapable of grasping anything beyond the 10-second sound byte.
Following yesterday’s passage of the temporary budget bill that includes a disputed $38.5 billion in spending cuts, like many Americans I wanted to know precisely what had been cut. Mainstream media coverage contains only vague language about “social programs” and various “health benefits” being slashed, but offer almost nothing in the way of specifics. The narrative is almost always the painfully familiar story of Democrats versus Republicans, and the epic battle between these seemingly diametric forces that took place before the passage of the final bill. The consensus within the MSM is that the Republicans were victorious in this round, although there is no real indication as to what that victory actually means.
The Republican vultures are already gathering to swoop in:
Move to Repeal Healthcare Will Come Next Week
Republicans in the US House of Representatives plan to pass a bill next week to repeal President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the US healthcare system, a senior party aide said on Monday, but the effort is widely expected to fail in the Senate.
The new Congress will convene on Wednesday with Republicans in control of the House after November’s midterm elections. They are set to move ahead with their campaign promise to try to rescind the new healthcare law, one of Obama’s signature legislative victories. …
“Obamacare is a job killer for businesses small and large, and the top priority for House Republicans is going to be to cut spending and grow the economy and jobs,” Dayspring said.
Interesting choice of words, terming “Obamacare” a job “killer” – given that lack of access to health care kills untold thousands each year. But I digress.
The Republican fascination with dismantling the health insurance industry bailout (a.k.a. “health care reform”) is somewhat perplexing. The insurance companies, by and large, have to be quite pleased with the health care bill, since it delivered some 45 million new customers into their pockets. What company can you think of that would honestly be miffed by a government mandate requiring people to use their product?
The absurdity of mainstream media coverage is matched only by the sheer ignorance – and apparent stupidity – of the apathetic masses that accept such coverage as accurate. Take, for example, this recent screen grab from Yahoo! News:
The headline itself is seemingly innocuous, as indeed there was a piece of legislation dealing with taxation that had passed the Senate and was headed towards the House [which, regrettably, has since been signed by Obama]. The trouble begins, however, with the dubious lead sentence that follows:
AP – A massive tax package that would save millions of Americans thousands of dollars in higher taxes is headed for a vote in the House Thursday even as rebellious Democrats complain it is too generous to the wealthy.
The sheer volume of misinformation crammed into that single sentence is staggering, and one is almost tempted to admire the immense skill in deception that is on display here. Let’s face it: the corporate media knows its craft well, and it’s only when we guage their performance based on the antiquated -and sadly, inaccurate – notion that the media’s goal is to educate the masses. When we acknowledge that media’s goal is mass manipulation, we realize they are absolute masters of their field.
The basic theme in this particular story is highly familiar, even though it runs wholly contrary to reality. The “rebellious Democrats” (and for once the term is used in the pejorative sense) are seen as standing in opposition to a populist bill that would “save millions of Americans thousands of dollars in higher taxes.” In other words, the righteous Republicans have stormed the capital after the mid-term sweeps, and are now bravely fighting to lower taxes for the masses, because that’s just what conservative, Republican values entail. Right?
“Well, the Tea Party movement itself is maybe 15, 20 percent of the electorate. It’s relatively affluent, white, nativist. You know, it has rather traditional nativist streaks to it. But what is much more important, I think, is the—is its outrage. I mean, over half the population says they more or less support it or support its message. And what people are thinking is extremely interesting. I mean, overwhelmingly, polls reveal that people are extremely bitter, angry, hostile, opposed to everything.
The primary cause undoubtedly is the economic disaster. It’s not just a financial catastrophe, it’s an economic disaster. I mean, in manufacturing industry, for example, unemployment levels are at the level of the Great Depression. And unlike the Great Depression, those jobs are not coming back. U.S. owners and managers have long ago made the decision that they can make more profit with complicated financial deals than by production. …
It destroys the society here, but that’s not the concern of the ownership class and the managerial class. Their concern is profit. That’s what drives the economy. And the rest of it is a fallout. People are extremely bitter about it but don’t seem to understand it. So, the same people who are a majority, who say that Wall Street is to blame for the current crisis, are voting Republican. Both parties are deep in the pockets of Wall Street, but the Republicans much more so than the Democrats. And the same is true on issue after issue. So the antagonism to everyone is extremely high. Actually, antagonism—they don’t like—population doesn’t like Democrats, but they hate Republicans even more. They’re against big business. They’re against government. They’re against Congress. They’re against science.“
Chomsky’s analysis of the Tea Party is highly illuminating. The hardcore Teabaggers represent perhaps a fifth of the population, but a solid half seems to at least approve of their message. At its foundation, the Tea Party movement is nothing more than an abstract, objectless anger. People are bitterly enraged over the state of our society, but they are unable to articulate precisely what – or who – infuriates them.
Regular readers might have noticed that I’ve been particularly harsh towards Obama in the days since the 2010 midterm slaughter. My criticisms might seem unwarranted and counterproductive; after all, it’s a case of the left attacking the left, isn’t it? And even if Obama hasn’t fulfilled the dreams he inspired in millions of reasonable Americans during the 2008 campaign, he is surely an improvement over George W. Bush, right? So why devote so much time to criticizing one of our own, rather than fighting our true enemies: Republicans and teabaggers?
Tengrain has an excellent post over at Black Magpie Theory recapping the best of the worst election night speeches. Although I’m not sure I can agree with his contention that “this election will absolutely change nothing,” he did manage to glean some bright spots from otherwise dreadful election:
- “94% of the Progressive Caucus in the House was re-elected.
- Only 47% of Rahm’s Blue Dog Democrat Caucus was re-elected, and oh, Fuck You, Tiny Dancer.
- Every candidate – literally every single candidate that Maggie Gallagher and the National Organization for Marriage endorsed lost. Not a single one won. They were the kiss of death…
- Grover Norquist only sees on the horizon Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Haley Barbour as possible 2012 contenders. Hahaha!
- Weepy-the-Orange cannot claim a mandate: Exit polls show us that the highest priority for Congress should be “spending to create jobs” (54% of the population is for some form of stimulus, 40% is for deficit reduction)…
- Alaska humiliated Mooselini by re-electing Lisa Murkowski to the Senate as a write-in candidate over the Moose-Savant, Joe Miller. A write-in candidate has only ever succeeded once before in a federal election.
- Speaking of Mooselini she lost the Senate, single-handedly for the GOP: Christine No’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller, all of whom lost a sure-thing GOP Senate Seat. Additionally, she endorsed John Raise in West Virginia, who lost by a huge margin.”
So what can we learn from this? It would seem that although a significant segment of the American public is uninformed and, let’s be brutally honest, idiotic when it comes to political issues, they may not be quite as stupid as we had assumed, since they seem to draw a line at the likes of Sarah Palin and her ilk.
We also learn what we have long known: that there is a significant percentage of the American public that supports progressive, populist values such as those espoused – at least superficially – by the Democrats. The two major reasons that our government keeps shifting to the right are closely related. Namely, our corporate-controlled mainstream media defines the parameters of national debate, which has resulted in a steady slide to the right. Intimately tied with this fact is that, as a result of this blanket, rightist media coverage, ordinary Americans who hold progressive, leftist values become isolated and fragmented; they do not realize that a large segment (perhaps even the majority) shares their views, and as a consequence genuine mass movements of the left never seem to materialize. The 2008 campaign was almost one such rare example, but instead it became nothing more than a cult-following of the cleverly-marketed Obama brand. Even though a majority of Obama voters likely shared genuine progressive ideals, the Obama brand never moved beyond platitudes and the endless repetition of the intentionally undefined “change.”
And it is truly sad, because the Obama administration managed to unite the splintered pockets of progressives around the country into a rare impassioned movement of the left, only to ignore that base once elected in order to pander to Republicans who have no interest in compromise of any sort. And so we find ourselves in an endless cycle of two steps right, one step left – although often times the step left only appears to be a step left, as in the case of Obama’s continued prosecution of the Iraq War (in spite of Bush-like claims to the contrary) and his massive expansion of the war in Afghanistan. When will progressives stand up and fight for their beliefs as fervently as the Right has always done?
Clearly, Yahoo! News is not the best source of information on current events. Yet there are millions of people whose only exposure to “news” is in the form of the Yahoo! headlines that greet them every time they log into their email account. And since the majority of Yahoo! News stories are from the AP, it is safe to assume that the issues and articles presented there are representative of the MSM’s coverage of the topics deemed acceptable for the day. And it is fairly absurd what passes for news at Yahoo! and that bastion of modern, ethical journalism, the Associated Press.
Every once in a while, something especially ludicrous catches my eye, such as this screen-grab from my Yahoo! Mail account earlier today:
Where can I even begin with this? It presents itself formally enough that most Americans would assume the information comes from an authoritative source. Visually, it appears plain and unimposing, suggesting impartiality to a casual observer. But on closer examination, the media’s dual role of selecting issues and framing the range of accept debate becomes readily apparent.
The problems start with the headline itself, which is rife with suppositions that simply have no basis in fact: “New Reality: Obama, GOP talk compromise, conflict.” Now, this headline takes for granted a number of things which any knowledgeable person would recognize as patently false. First of all, the article is implying that Obama has, up to this point in his presidency, refused to cooperate with the Republicans, that his entire term thus far has been consisted of him ramming his agenda through the legislative without any regard for Republicans and their concerns.
This is a popular myth propagated by our media – that Obama is an extreme leftist who refuses to reach across the aisle. In reality, Obama has wasted a large portion of his first two years in office attempting to reach out to Republicans, who in turn have repeatedly slapped him down. Obama missed myriad opportunities during these first two years due to his dogged insistence on including Republicans, in spite of their continuous refusal to support or endorse a single proposal Obama made. So Obama attempting to compromise is hardly a “new reality.”
The second ungrounded assumption in this headline is the implied notion that Republicans are willing to compromise at all. As we all know by now, however, Republicans have absolutely no interest in cooperating; many of them were elected on the promise of simply rejecting anything Obama presents, with the additional goal of overturning what pitiful progress the Obama administration has so far managed to make. It is not for nothing that Republicans have earned the name “the party of no.”
The brief description under the headline continues under the same suppositions taken for granted in the headline, and a casual observer couldn’t help but be duped into accepting this distorted view of reality. Of the remaining five headlines, at least three could be viewed as having hidden motives: the first reinforcing the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve; the third arguing that the “change” voters sought in 2008 will finally be brought in the form of a massive shift to the right; and the fourth referring to an alleged attempted terrorist attack, reviving the specter of our ongoing – and imaginary – “War on Terror.”
So what we have here is a media outlet – the AP via Yahoo! News – highlighting the important issues of the day, and quite cleverly defining the parameters of acceptable debate. One wonders what Yahoo!’s underlying motive is in reinforcing the heavily distorted world view presented by the AP and other mainstream media outlets – most likely, it’s simply laziness.
Anyone familiar with the work of Chomsky will recognize my allusions to the propaganda model of the media that Chomsky and Edward Herman back in 1988. Indeed, I think the model perfectly describes the way our media operates today. Namely, the media reflects the range of opinion within the business community only. So, for example, if a MSM outlet allows mention of declining support for the Iraq War, it means there are some elements within the corporate elite who wish to withdraw from the war for their own financially-motivated reasons. There is no conspiracy at work here, but rather a finely-tuned system of self-indoctrination that prevents those with heretical views from succeeding in the field of journalism. This is why we never see leftist bloggers enter the mainstream: their views, however accurate, are simply unwelcome in our self-censoring mainstream media.
And until reality-based news outlets are able to challenge the MSM in size and scope, America will be doomed to continue our steady pendulous swing to the depths of the fanatical far right.
“They have taken the bridge, and the second hall. We have barred the gates, but we cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes. Drums . . . drums in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out. They are coming.”
So read the Facebook status message of one of my friends this morning. The quote, attributed by him to J.R.R. Tolkien, is perhaps far too applicable on this particular day, election day 2010.
I should start by stating that I am decidedly not a Democrat. Both parties are funded by the same multinational corporations, and both are beholden not to the interests of ordinary citizens, but instead to the corporations that paid to put them in office. Chomsky’s description of the Republicans and Democrats being arms of the same “Business Party” is highly accurate.
However, we as a nation tend to fare far worse when Republicans are in charge then when Democrats are. It would seem the reason for this is that Democrats at least pretend to be progressive, and pretend to represent populist interests. Republicans, on the other hand, are unabashedly the party of big business, but somehow they’ve managed to fool the masses into thinking that what’s best for multinational corporations is also best for them. The fact that such a belief is so widespread is testament to one of the most organized and highly effective propaganda campaigns in history.
Still, I despise most Democratic politicians because they strike me as being utterly spineless and decidedly two-faced. In discussing the character of Democratic politicians, I am reminded of a conversation I had some time ago with a South African about the differences between “communist” China and the “democratic” United States. With China at least, he said, you knew what you were getting. The US, on the other hand, was perhaps the greater evil since it disguised itself as being this grand beacon of freedom and democracy, while simultaneously raping and pillaging the world behind the scenes. A similar comparison could perhaps be made between the Democrats and Republicans.
And yet there is absolutely no question that our country will be dramatically worse off, at least in the short run, if the Republicans gain as many seats as they are currently expected to. One hopes that the potential for a Republican blowout has been greatly overexaggerated, as suggested in the recent NY Times blog post, “5 Reasons Democrats Could Beat the Polls and Hold the House.
Yet in reading this article, a couple of pertinent issues quickly stand out. The first issue is apparent from the very opening, which essentially details all of the improbable events that would have to occur for the Democrats to maintain a majority in the House. The article then raises the specter of a “77-seat Republican gain.” Utterly frightening, to say the least.
However, the second issue which becomes apparent in reading the article is just how detrimental our “horse-race” political coverage can be. Rather than focusing on meaningful issues, this article – and the MSM in general, obsesses over candidates’ performance in various polls, which in turn influences the outcome of future polls. Part of the reason that Republicans might be so heavily favored in current polls is because horse-race coverage has made the Republican victory seem so inevitable. One wonders if media coverage focused on the issues rather than on the horse-race, how the poll results would differ. I suspect that Republicans would be polling in single digits in many parts of the country, since anyone who actually listens to what the Republicans – and Teabaggers – are saying quickly realizes that they are not someone you want to be representing you in office.
And so yet again, we have been completely f*cked by our mainstream media. How many progressive-leaning voters will stay home tomorrow, convinced that their vote is meaningless and therefore not worth the effort? And how many additional potential voters switched off from the political system altogether after being exposed for so long to the absurdity that is our mainstream political media coverage?
One only hopes that Paul Krugman is wrong when he writes things like the following:
“This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness… If the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Now, being a columnist for the New York Times automatically makes it impossible to fully trust Krugman. Even within the article I’ve linked to, Krugman’s carefully worded defense of the Federal Reserve is enough to make one cringe. But Krugman is a highly intelligent individual, and sometimes seems to represent genuine populist values. So if Krugman is afraid, there is probably just cause to be so.
Sadly, there is very little we can do to avoid the oncoming madness. Americans have notoriously short attention-spans and are equally notorious for their apathy and ignorance with regards to the political process. So millions have swallowed the corporate propaganda campaign smearing the Obama administration (partially deserved, perhaps, but greatly distorted) and anyone who might be classed as a “liberal” (a curse word in “conservative” circles). Regrettably, that is the state of our nation. It’s in times like these I remember why I live abroad.