Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[politics] The conservative narrative of disempowerment

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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