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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-09-12 07:24
Subject: [politics] The conservative narrative of disempowerment
Security: Public
Tags:politics

Over the past couple of days, I’ve seen both in my own comments section and on the blogs of conservative (or at least, non-liberal) friends various complaints about liberal media dominance, how hard it is to be a conservative on either coast, etc. All of this seems to be cast in terms of the liberal media, but it’s also consistent with the entire conservative narrative since the departure of Ronald Reagan from the political scene.

Whatever I might think of Reagan (and my opinions of him border on the unprintable), he was elected in 1980 on a wave of hope for change and improvement. Hal Riney’s brilliant “It’s morning in America” campaign symbolized this dawn of a new era of leaner, more efficient government, lower taxes, reduced interference in private life, the benefits of de-regulation — all those wonderful things conservatives say they hope for.

It’s been downhill for Republicans ever since.

Which is why you now have the party which has been in substantial or total control of the government since 1994 running its presidential candidate as an anti-elitist outsider out to reform the entrenched special interests and combat the evils of partisanship. Clearly John McCain has never heard of this Tom DeLay fellow, or that nice little Karl Rove.

Conservatives in America, with almost two decades at the helm of the machineries of state, have failed at almost everything they’ve set out to do.

Are you a small-government conservative? Are you a states rights conservative? Are you a strict Constitutionalist? Are you interested in reduced government interference in private life? Do you think international interventionism is a mistake? Are you against nation building? Are you in favor of clean, transparent government? Are you interested in a safer, more secure world? Are you interested in your personal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Because if you’re any of those things, the Republicans have sold you down the river a long time ago.

True, you’ve got tax cuts. Just in time for the largest deficits in history. Instead of tax-and-spend liberals we have borrow-and-spend conservatives. Which is far worse, assuming you care about your children’s world.

True, you’ve got de-regulation, but look how well that’s worked out for Wall Street and the housing market.

True, you’ve got progress on the Evangelical agenda, but I’m pretty sure the Constitution still says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” so I don’t know why that’s a win for anyone, including Evangelicals. All they’ve done is set themselves up for failure when some other religious group attains sufficient political power to follow their model.

Republicans cannot run on their own accomplishments, because they don’t have any to speak have. Republicans cannot run on their own principles, because they’ve long since abrogated them out of a combination of political expediency, greed and sheer incompetence. So they’re left with the victim card.

It’s all the media’s fault! The media only reports bad news from Iraq! The media distorts Governor Palin’s record! The media is liberal liberal liberal!

Well, that last is true if you define “liberal” as anyone who is not staunchly conservative. (Which is akin to defining “vanilla” as anything which is not chocolate. That would include bacon, dim sum, habaneros and split pea soup.) That kind of dualism plays right into the conservative movement’s search for simple answers, however, and is very handy for maintaining the perception of victimization. People who feel victimized are angry, and angry people donate money, volunteer for campaigns, and get out to vote.

Your liberal media. Broadcast news is the domain of the big three networks, with strong corporate guidance driving editorial decisions. Cable news dominated by FOX and CNN. No liberal presence there except Keith Olbermann sometimes on MSNBC. (Quick quiz — who’s the news director at FOX and what’s his political background. Is there a major network with an equivalent Democratic figure in such a role?) Talk radio dominated by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, etc. A narrow liberal-progressive presence with ratings <10% of the conservative voices. Single title political nonfiction bestsellers dominated by titles such as Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder and How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must), with nothing from the liberal-progressive side coming anywhere close to the sales figures. Only in daily and periodical print media is there even a significant thread of non-conservative voices, and they are at best balanced by conservatives, and far more often absent. Even nominally liberal papers such as The Washington Post have conservative op-ed voices, and there are no papers which lean left to the degree that The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal lean right.

Yep, that’s Your Liberal Media.

The liberal media meme has been the most fantastic success in modern political psychology. It enables an entire generation of conservatives to dismiss media reports as being meaningless due to liberal bias, provides a steady basis for the sense of victimization and disempowerment which has come to substitute for policy and principle in conservative thought, and has the media itself tied up in knots trying to counter the perception of bias (viz the recent demoting of Olbermann from anchor back to commentator).

And now that conservatives are losing for real in the national political discourse, during this long fall from the heady days of the Permanent Majority, their narrative of disempowerment will only grow. I can’t even begin to see how to address the situation, since this meme is completely self-reinforcing and self-justifying. Much like parenting an angry, difficult child, the only answer is to govern gracefully and well and ignore the screaming.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 15:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Being in the minority when the majority has the privilege of entitlement sucks.

Believe me, as a liberal-progressive in Bush's America, I understand that. Conservative triumphalism during the Reagan era was annoying as hell. The same during the Bush-DeLay era was toxic. There may be rooms where it's hard not to be a liberal, but we live in a country where until very recently it's been impossible not to be a conservative.
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S-47/19-J
User: shsilver
Date: 2008-09-12 14:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One thing we noticed during the conventions was the the conservative talking heads significantly outnumbered the liberal ones on the mainstream news and morning shows.
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User: copperwise
Date: 2008-09-12 14:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
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scarlettina: WW: Level of discourse
User: scarlettina
Date: 2008-09-12 14:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:WW: Level of discourse
Right there with ya.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake: politics-sideways_flag
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 15:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics-sideways_flag
That's coz I borrowed it to write this post.

(I know that by the standards of your household I am a corporatist sellout, but I do what I can.)
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-09-12 14:52 (UTC)
Subject: look, no pants!
Keyword:eat the rich
... then there is the Democratic Presidential candidate, who is hawkish on Bush in Afghanistan and argued we should be attacking friendly Pakistan long before Bush did (an act of war, war crime, and violation of the UN Charter). Bush has since gone on to do just what he asked.

... And yet, he gets to paint himself as the 'anti-war' candidate. With Madalyn Albright as his chief foreign policy adviser and Joe Biden as his VP.

(And this only touches the iceberg of unconscionable mega-death foreign policy of this and previous Democratic candidates (pace McGovern).)

Then there are their consistent less-than-sterling economic policies-- e.g. "Free Trade."

Progressives are engaging in exactly the same kind of deception with regards to their party of preference as Republicans.

I'm afraid your emperor doesn't have any pants on either, sir.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 15:38 (UTC)
Subject: Re: look, no pants!
Not particularly, no, but he's a less actively evil.

I prefer incremental progress (Obama) over incremental regress (McCain).
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-09-12 15:41 (UTC)
Subject: Re: look, no pants!
... you prefer Obama's pants to McCain's pants, because of course they're less garish...

Unfortunately, neither is wearing even a g-string.

Continuing to blow up people in foreign countries and overthrow governments not to our liking isn't progress.

Thousands and millions of dead people aren't simply some "unfortunate symptom of change."
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-09-12 16:53 (UTC)
Subject: Re: look, no pants!
If you're trying to get from St. Louis to Boston, it doesn't matter how slowly you walk towards Dallas-- it still isn't progress.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 16:55 (UTC)
Subject: Re: look, no pants!
That is because I am an incrementalist and you are a revolutionary, my friend.

And actually, in many cases, driving toward Dallas beats facing back to St. Louis. Oddly, something I learned in ROTC many years ago, about the value of momentum vs being idle.

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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-09-12 16:58 (UTC)
Subject: Re: look, no pants!
... and when you do it for 100 years, and you're still circling Dallas?

No thanks.

You can call your shoe a loofa if you like, but I know what bad+bad+bad+bad+bad+bad equals.

... and we're talking about millions of peoples of lives, not a few gallons of gas.
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2008-09-12 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay:

Do you know what the numbers are on the consumption of the media you listed vs. public consumption of entertainment media (television, movies, fiction books)?

Is there a way to categorize the political lean in those items?

I know that a lot of my conservative friends use the word "media" to describe not just the news outlets/programming, but much, much more.

And let me point out that while the conservatives own talk radio, the liberals own the internet.

I'm afraid I'm unsympathetic to the apparent lack of an equivalent left-leaning voice to counteract the right; balance means more than just telling oppositely-oriented lies.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 15:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sure. The numbers on cable news are very easy to find. FOX has been #1 for years. One of the problems with 'entertainment' is that conservatives like to class people like Limbaugh and Coulter as 'entertainers'. Which may be technically true, but is profoundly misleading in a most Clintonian sense.

As for a lack of left-leaning voice, the Internet is not a source of record the way the news networks and newspapers are. Neither is the general entertainment sector (tv, movies). Simply not equivalent.

Almost all of the authoritative voices in this country are either conservative or centrist.

And come on, my friend, "oppositely-oriented lies" isn't the issue here. Have you been paying attention to the McCain-Palin campaign lately? They've even stopped pretending to the truth, for example, Palin continuing to repeat her "I just said no to pork" line about the Bridge to Nowhere. Calling bullshit on that isn't an oppositely-oriented lie. Any more than reporting on Abu Ghraib, WMDs in Iraq, Gitmo, Jack Abramoff, the terrorist watch list, etc. are.
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User: ext_119583
Date: 2008-09-12 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What exactly would a liberal voice actually say? I think the conservatives have so much sway because they have some pretty basic values--now you might say they don't stick to those values, but that's beside the point. What exactly are liberal values? How would one go about building a network like FOX based on those values? I think this is the challenge most progressives face--especially politicians.

The left has a long history of basically being anti-right or claiming that the right is just seeing everything as black & white and the world is far more complicated for a simple set of morals. There are even some on the left who believe you can't even have morals because no one person could possibly dictate right or wrong for another person. So where is the liberal framework?

It's easy to attack the conservatives. I mean, too easy, it's like shooting fish in a barrel (and no, the fish is not McCain). However, how do you go about making your own beliefs palatable? Honestly, liberals spend far too much time attacking the right and not singing their own praises. Ask a Republican: Do you think the GI Bill is a good idea? Well, it was liberals who made that happen. The Marshall Plan? Yep, liberals.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 16:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Are you pulling my leg?

Seriously: liberalism has brought about almost every political and social advance in American society, from the end of slavery (the GOP were not the conservatives back then) to female suffrage to child labor laws to patching us through the Great Depression to minimum wage laws to Social Security to any reasonable concept of defendant's rights.

I'm not sure what's unpalatable about believing in personal responsibility, economic opportunity, a peaceful world, citizen-focused government, clean air and water, good schools and healthcare for all citizens. Just to name a few liberal positions.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-09-12 16:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Bullshit.
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User: ext_119583
Date: 2008-09-12 17:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's nothing unpalatable about any of these things. There's just no party that actually promotes or practices them. So what's the point?

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Keith R.A. DeCandido: politics
User: kradical
Date: 2008-09-12 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics
Cable news dominated by FOX and CNN. No liberal presence there except Keith Olbermann sometimes on MSNBC.

And Rachel Maddow, who is incredibly liberal, and not remotely shy about it, and who was just given her own show right after Olbermann.


and has the media itself tied up in knots trying to counter the perception of bias (viz the recent demoting of Olbermann from anchor back to commentator).

I have to call you on this: Olbermann was not "demoted" back to commentator because of his being a liberal, he was removed from anchoring because he and Chris Mathews were bickering like kindergarteners and had to be put in separate corners. That was a TV decision not a political one.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 15:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh yeah, I forgot about Maddow. Drink at the bar says she's gone in 30 days no matter what her ratings. I am very suspicious of corporate interference in editorial and programming decisions. (Ditto Olbermann.)
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Keith R.A. DeCandido: hippies
User: kradical
Date: 2008-09-12 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:hippies
I'll take that bet, because the flaw in your argument is the phrase "no matter what her ratings." If she's getting good ratings, she'll stay on, because money always trumps politics, and MSNBC is trying to increase their profile against the higher-rated CNN and Faux News. Olbermann's their most popular commentator, and if Maddow can get good numbers, they won't care what she says.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-12 16:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You gonna be in Calgary? I'd be very pleased to lose.
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Keith R.A. DeCandido: me
User: kradical
Date: 2008-09-12 16:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:me
Sadly, I will not be in Calgary. :(
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Keith R.A. DeCandido: rome
User: kradical
Date: 2008-09-13 16:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:rome
BTW, Maddow's ratings for her first week were through the proverbial roof. I don't think she's going anywhere....
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2008-09-12 15:56 (UTC)
Subject: Golf clap
Thanks for this one, Jay.
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