Back in the Clinton days, there was a surge in conservative, neocon media. This came primarily from two sources: Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Basically, they became full time apologists for Republican misdeeds and full time attack dogs against Democrats. What they discovered, ironically, is something very Soviet. Propaganda.
Remember when Americans would criticize the Soviet press for giving a one-sided account of everything. They would rewrite history so it better suited the leadership. They pointed at the freedoms of the press, the right to elect more than one candidate. This was used to foster a hate of the Soviet Union. At the very least, it was helpful that the average Soviet citizen, or at least the average Muscovite is so intensely cynical, that they understood what BS was being fed to them.
Somehow, it occurred to folks that these same propaganda techniques that were used then could be used in the US. Who woulda thunk?
And since then, the level of news discourse has been dragged downhill. Edward Murrow would be horrified. As a man who brought integrity to news, who questioned the McCarthy witchhunts, he brought a new medium to the public and gave it credibility. He'd likely wince at both what's happened to news, especially the tabloidization of news, but worse, the conservative media echo chamber which takes everything out of context, and spews it to the public because enough of the public would rather hear stuff than verify any of it is true. Is it surprising that the last two Democratic candidate for President (Kerry and Obama) were the "most liberal" in all the Senate. Funny how that always happens.
It's like there's a Mad Libs of conservative tactics, and they fill in the name of the current candidate and attack them. So and so is a liberal, weak on defense, a socialist, wants to raise your taxes, wants to takes your guns, etc.
This has caused politics to devolve into the way it is now. I was listening to some PBS television special called The Conservatives, which, by the way, is incredibly difficult to search for. There should be some way that I can search for all programs PBS has aired in the last few months. It's sad how much keyword searching dominates search so I can't locate this piece of information.
During this interview, they talked to a moderate Republican senator or congresswoman or some such. OK, I finally found it, partly because PBS has it titled as something different. It's called: 2008: A Republican Reinvention and the person was Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey.
In the interview, Whitman says the party was so concerned about getting elected that they found hot button issues to talk about, usually abortion and gay marriage. The purpose was to use these topics to draw out the vote. Whitman points out that these topics, while highly emotional, are rather distant for most Americans, as many are not involved in gay marriage or having abortions. She feels the Republican party needs to address issues of concern to the average American.
The one thing that's changed in this election cycle is the growing response from the left, though they spend most of their time pointing out errors from the right. The right spews propaganda, and the left finds way to deflate it.
Oddly enough, the first place to do this with any serious effect was The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is a very intelligent guy. His staff would find how Republicans used talking points issued to anyone talking to the media, to create an echo chamber, where phrases are uttered and repeated, to control the media. Essentially, the equivalent of Soviet style media without the Soviet control of the media. Why are such talking points necessary? Why are the exact phrases needed to be uttered by every individual representing the party?
Except no one much noticed for a while, until Stewart's team made fun of it. He also made fun of politicians saying one thing a few months ago, then saying something completely the opposite now. We all know politicians lie, but wow, the amazing lengths at which they go to lying. And the funny thing? The people who listen? They'll tell you they are honest folks. And when you point out that these Republicans have changed their stories, their suspension of disbelief is beyond belief. They simply treat it as conspiracy, and won't listen to obvious evidence placed in front of them.
In particular, many conservatives complained about sexism in the attacks of Palin, but were perfectly willing to criticize Hillary. Rove praised Palin's experience as mayor and governor, while denigrating a potential VP pick for Obama, governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, who has been governor more years than Palin, and mayor of a larger city (Richmond) than Palin. The hypocrisy of this was unbelievable, as was Fox News's reporting of this.
After Stewart, came Stephen Colbert who produced a faux conservative TV show, The Colbert Report. Again, the point was to point out the follies of Republicans.
It's not that there weren't attempts to combat Rush Limbaugh. Democrats trotted out Air America to compete. It was that the competition was as painful to listen to as the conservative version. The humor in The Daily Show offers a sophistication that is completely missing from conservative diatribes. This appeals to the snobby, elitist, but well-educated Democrats.
However, shows are now popping up that provide a left leaning contrast, though, for the most part, they are more palatable than the conservative ones because they spend most of the time debunking Republican tactics, rather than spewing invented crap. These shows are Countdown with Keith Olbermann, who also criticized Hillary, by the way, so he's not completely flag-waving for Democrats and The Rachel Maddow Show, which has elevated in popularity immensely due to her charms and insights. Indeed, though it's well known she's a lesbian, she's so good at what she does, people don't think about it much, and thinks about what she says.
To be fair, these shows serve a purpose that is sad. They are there to harness the power of the Internet, and point out all sorts of inconsistencies from conservative media sources. Although the Internet also provides this resource, it's so much less pervasive than television. This allows people who read about "palling around with William Ayers" to find McCain "palled around" with Gordon Liddy, and it was David Letterman who pointed this out!
Ultimately, one hopes that this kind of silly "make-up" stuff will leave politics altogether, but the only way it happens is if people read up on stuff, instead of letting folks tell them the truth.
Indeed, with the recent gay marriage California proposition, people spewed out how marriage has been a certain way forever. They did no research on this. They just felt it must be so because they see evidence around them, from their own marriages, to their parents, to their grandparents. Marriages were often arranged. Certain marriages were once illegal (blacks and whites). Polygamy has been seen as OK by certain religions. Again, the pure lack of research based on the "obviousness" that this is the way it's always been is the kind of political naivete that this country doesn't need.
The problem? It's hard to educate people to think. School is a many year process, and certain religious groups would be happy if you never learned to think because eventually you may question the religious underpinnings. A film was made called Idiocracy where a guy who isn't particularly bright eventually finds himself in the future and realizes he's the smartest guy around, because everyone else has become idiots.
One can only hope, and really that's all it is, because the US population is still mostly the way it was a few years ago, that change is coming to the populace, that is tired of such inane politics and tired of being lied to by people who find it's more important to win campaigns (and then accuse others of "doing anything to win" when they are more guilty of it themselves) than to help Americans.
I think history will eventually point to this era and wonder how such a thing could even happen, how we could find people that would lie and distort because the public would believe anything they said. That time can come none too soon, and we can replace this folly with something resembling rational thought.
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