Friday, September 04, 2009
Changing Times Call for Changing Tactics
Case in point.
Ben Smith's blog on Politico takes into account the case of high profile White House official Van Jones and the nature of the right-wing criticism that forced him recently to apologize for recent public statements he had made. Unsurprisingly, none of them are particularly unfounded nor especially unusual in and of themselves, though must I note had he been less earthy and bit more polished in the delivery this might not have been an issue at all. A role as a surrogate or high ranking Presidential assistant does require a certain amount of conscious filtering and with it the awareness that whatever one says can and will be used against your boss. That might not be fair (or balanced), but that's how it works.
Since Fox News is responsible for setting into motion many of these conservative righteous indignation nontroversies, of which Jones is only one example, I think it would be energy well spent to examine the Modus operandi of the conservative mainstream media. Here a proposal for those brave souls willing to take me up on it. Rest assured you will be handsomely compensated for your effort. Watch Fox News with the sound down for ten full minutes. First, you may notice that, regarding anchors and reporters of a female persuasion, they are almost always heavily made up and physically attractive. This is, as you might have guessed, not a coincidence. Based on this initial observation, if one didn't know any better, one might believe that the point of the network was to peddle celebrity gossip or soft news. Next, watch the banner headlines shown at the bottom of the screen meant to emphasize the current story being presented, focus on the scrolling news banner, or look at both of them simultaneously. What you'll find displayed are alarmist, smarmy, inflammatory, or otherwise sensationalist phrases dripping with such partisan bile that they seem designed to purely enrage rather than to inform. Indeed, if one didn't know any better, one would think the whole network was designed to propagate and facilitate the kind of faceless e-mail smears that famously told the unsuspecting world that Barack Obama was an A-rab Muslim Terrorist and, more recently, that he was out to brainwash our schoolchildren with his socialist propaganda.
In an ongoing trial of the court of popular opinion, a wise judge would surely note in this instant that the prosecuting attorney was leading the witness. Not just leading the witness, but aiming to reduce the witness from a rational human being to an emotional wreck or screaming mess. Forgive me for saying this (I know you won't mind), but if I were a conservative, I'd find it hard to take the messenger seriously. An entire network supposedly devoted to providing "Fair and Balanced" coverage instead presents its information in the format of a childhood taunt. Forgive me for stating the obvious here. Until it lives up to its stated objective and aims to at least give the semblance of impartial coverage, then it ought not to be viewed as some alternative counter-weight, especially when it creates yet another controversy out of thin air and then uses it to hammer progressives, who are, by in large, eager to be open-minded and to at least entertain opposite points of view. The rhetorical fallacy of the straw man comes to mind and Fox News is the king of the straw man argument. The Fox News brand of conservative discourse seems to want everything on its own terms, which, in so doing, breeds resentment and a kind of consternation not merely with liberals but with other networks who are forced to at least give a cursory note to the latest muck that Fox has raked up today. Whatever impact Fox might have on popular opinion, one would think could be easily dismissed by its ridiculous combination of supposition, conjecture, theatrics, and abnormally pretty people. Even so, people honestly believe that it is the last refuge of Mom, God, and apple pie. I'm afraid I just don't get it.
I see a similar, and to our credit, heavily scrutinized reaction of acquiescing to the demands of the right even when it is entirely unnecessary when I observe the actions and words of our President. Still, I honestly believe that President Obama means well and I never doubt that he is a person whose heart is truly in the right place. This conviction of mine was one of the major reasons why I volunteered for his campaign early on, particularly when I secretly thought he had no chance in hell of winning, and it's the reason why I still support him with every fiber of my being. At this particularly crucial period not just in the Obama Presidency, but also in our own lives, I recall a passage from one of the first well-written, well-researched biographies of the man. Entitled Obama: From Promise to Power, written by Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, it was my first real introduction to what at that time was a still largely unknown challenger. As I'm sure most of you who have read it yourselves are aware, most of the book is very sympathetic, but there are a few passages which are gently, though nonetheless justifiably critical. In particular, Mendell makes light of the fact that when it comes down to what motivates the man's desire to improve society as a whole, Obama is a dreamer. Dreams and dreamers are not necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes down to courting and wooing the Right, I think dreams need to be set aside for gritty realities. The biography also notes that Obama can be occasionally thin-skinned, sensitive to criticism, and sometimes unduly driven by the stirrings of his own ego. The author notes this, I presume, as a bit of a cautionary message to Obama himself, imploring him to recognize that while the office of President of the United States is the most influential job in the world, along with the power and the glory comes a correspondingly immense bulls-eye which never goes away until one leaves office.
My hope is that through all of this turmoil, uncertainty, frustration, and stalemate with health care reform and with each worthy cause to which we devote our energies and our eloquence, that we take care to acknowledge our own successes as well as our own shortcomings. Then and only then can we learn from them and in so doing make our subsequent efforts less contentious and convoluted. We have undertaken, at the behest of our leader a grand experiment called bipartisanship and from it we have learned, Fox News being an excellent example, that we cannot extend a hand to our opponents when they are not willing to play by our rules or to grasp our hand back on anything other than their own terms. Bitterness, as expressed by Van Jones above---will do us far more harm than good in the end. Not giving our opponents ammunition ought to be the first lesson we learn and the next might be the realization that nothing rips the Majority Party asunder more than counter-productive scrapping with the Unloyal Opposition. The Republican Party is in a state of free fall, and in those circumstances, the only play in their playbook left is to oppose us on every front. A virtuous siege mentality plays well with their base and it's a safe strategy because they have absolutely nothing to lose. In future, let's ignore them when we can and go about our business. Let's face it, attention only encourages them and gives validity to their protests.