As has been made clear by this summer’s Townhall shenanigans and Joe Wilson’s outburst and its aftermath, politicians–let alone elected officials–no longer set the agenda of political debate in the US: rightwing media personalities do. Government has reached a point where its effectiveness is based solely on whether, and how well, it can *react *to the propaganda put forth by rightwing radio hosts and Australian-owned faux news. And since, though they are currently its greatest driving force they are not officially part of the government, they are not subject to the built-in accountability that legitimately elected leaders are subject to: there are no checks and balances (unless you want to hear a horrid pun about pay checks and *bank *balances). In fact quite the opposite: the more outrageous their schtick, the more successfully their message is spread.
The input of the personalities who set this agenda is, on balance, more destructive than constructive. Deliberately so, I think: their goal is not to determine and implement what is best for the US. It’s nothing nobler than making sure that, whatever that proves to be, it’s *not *going to be implemented by the other side. There’s far greater value in seeing the left fail than in seeing the country succeed.
This proved extremely effective in hamstringing the Clinton administration, and there’s good indications it will be even more so with Obama. The strategy of the pundit-driven right is clear: the more lies they propagate, the more time and resources the legitimate government must devote to reacting to them. The government spends all its time on the defense, and thereby accomplishes nothing. Voila, agenda achieved: the government is paralyzed by a neverending plague of duck nibbles.
What’s the solution? Obviously I’m not a proponent of rethinking the First Amendment. Although clearly this is one of the most destructive results of the freedom of speech that I think I’ve ever been witness too. Still, there’s a baby in that bathwater. Not to mention the fact that even addressing the right is often baldly mischaracterized as trying to silence them: what do you think would happen if anyone actually tried to silence them? Respect for freedoms aside, on a purely practical level constitutional martyrdom is not the solution.
Air America clearly isn’t working. Honesty is not as entertaining as gnashing and spittle, no matter who the personality is who’s delivering it. Comedy is, however, probably more constructive than simple “balanced”** punditry. Surely there are more people who have even a vaguely accurate grasp on the true nature of today’s issues in our era of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report than before they came along. But they certainly can’t do this alone.
Is the solution for the voices of the left to grow a pair? Did Obama collude in his own emasculation, in re healtchare reform, by trusting in the basic intelligence of the American people and assuming that the lies of the right would eventually expose themselves through sheer ridiculousness? Should he have been more defensive, earlier, rather than waiting to be painted into a corner, as seems to be the case now, where his defensiveness–though suddenly unavoidable–seems all the more desperate? Should the Democratic government change its workaday strategy to nipping bullshit in the bud? Or would that in fact mean gifting even more resources to the swiftboatainment industry?
And what *about *free speech: should documentable lies have legal consequences? Should we hold the shrillest voices of the rightwing shadow government to the same standard of truth we hold purveyors of cold remedies to?
Or is it the Press, capital P, who’s abdicated here? Has the relentless, distorted drumbeat of “Liberal Media! Liberal Media!” finally succeeded in its intended goal, and cowed the “fourth estate” into the passive silence of self-censorship? The rightwing propagandists have made it clear that any reporting that does not explicitly support a conservative agenda will subject its organ to dishonest–but clearly very effective–accusations of liberal bias. By selling this so effectively, the state of affairs has come to be that bias is valued over objectivity in the press. Is there a way back to a truly independent, truly investigative press? Is the internet the answer–fragmenting the nearly monolithic press of the Megacorporation Era into a near semblence of the early days of American journalism, where every city had multiple daily newspapers? Will the blog prove to be the savior of journalistic integrity in this country? Or will it prove to be just another tool in the polarization arsenal of the faux journalism of the hysterical right?
Frankly I’m pessimistic. You?
*Too Long Didn’t Proofread
**The slavish, unthinking devotion to “balance” tends to favor the right at any rate: when reality happens to have a liberal bias, allowing a rightwing lie by way of “balance” is obviously not a service to the truth.