Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The "American Idol" Campaign

Matt Taibbi does justice to the reporting going on right now--twenty months before the next election--on the current crop of Presidential wannabes.

But, how much of this puffery goes both ways? How much do the candidates really want to talk about policy and issues and their stands on those matters? Maybe not so much. After all, Kucinich is obsessive about policy--that's all he wants to talk about--and when was the last time you saw him given equal time to Hillary and McCain and Obama?

More obvious, though, is that we're being set up for the same kind of campaign--and perhaps the same sort of results--as we had in 2000. In 2000, the bulk of the reporting was on "character," whatever the fuck that is these days, and "personality." Reporters ran willy-nilly with every meaningless manufactured lie that Bush's opposition research could dredge up on Gore (Bob Somerby has laid out the routine in excruciating detail) while crafting infinite variations on two Bush themes--that he was the sort of guy just like the neighbor you'd like to have, have a beer with, and, second, that he was a "straight-shooter" who would not lie to the public and was going "to bring dignity" back to the office of President.

Precious little about policy, and when there was such reporting, it was slanted toward Bush and was couched in very general terms, such as "accountability" in the country's educational system. No one really ventured too far into that policy area with candidate Bush--otherwise, they would have gotten something much like what we have now, NCLB, which was and is a stealth campaign to ruin teacher's unions, ruin public schools and privatize public education through privately-run charter schools.

In fact--precisely because of that sort of reporting in 2000, the biggest fraud of the bunch managed to get close enough to have the Supreme Court steal it for him. For the most part, Bush has governed in exactly the opposite fashion as he averred during the campaign. Bush has effectively been--with the willing assistance of a Republican Congress--the most autocratic President ever. Saying that he would serve with humility, he became the most arrogant and isolated President in history. Saying that the United States would be "a humble nation" under his guidance, it is now loathed for its imperial stance in the world.

And it wasn't just because of 9/11. These reversals began on virtually his first days in office. He pooh-poohed the Kyoto accords, and put in place industry flacks and hacks to distort every bit of science coming out of the government which supported the conclusions of worldwide climate scientists. He persisted in a National Missile Defense system that eventually would mean that he would unilaterally and autocratically (without consulting Congress) dissolve the ABM treaty. He and his Vice-President filled the government with right-wing ideologues. After campaigning, in part, on creating an effective peace in the Middle East, in his first week in office, he threw up his hands and declared the occupied territories as beyond help and that there was no point in wasting time on that problem--just as the second intifada was coming into full violent bloom. People may have forgotten by now, but in the late summer of 2001, Bush's job approval ratings had sunk to and had been in a holding pattern around 50-60%. Were it not for 9/11--and the irrational fears his administration stirred up, cynically capitalizing on that day--the public would have thrown Bush out on his ass in 2004 as an arrogant elitist dickhead, the same as they did with his elitist dickhead father.

Why? Because the press collaborated in his lies, and nothing made that more apparent than the actual behavior of Bush once he was in office. The press portrayed Bush as an honest man and competent manager, when, if they'd actually done their jobs and attempted to vet his qualifications, they would have found an incompetent liar who'd used his name and his father's money to enrich himself and evade retribution all his life, and who, from at least one source, had a deeply-held conviction that the post-New Deal federal government had to be dismantled for the good of the wealthy elite. Had the press done even cursory investigation of him--prompted by some healthy skepticism--we might have known the salient details about his "community service" in Houston, the legal ramifications of his drinking, his preferential treatment and abandonment of oath in the Texas Air National Guard, his Harken stock misdealings, and the near-perpetual funding of his business failures by wealthy friends of his family, including some Saudis with odd connections to a man whose name most of the public did not know at the time, Osama bin Laden.

Instead, we got an endless stream of bullshit about Al Gore's "exaggerations," many of which even the worst offenders in the press were too lazy to dig up themselves and which they took in too credulous fashion from Bush's campaign, and, in even lazier fashion, didn't bother to check them against the facts once those turds had been dropped in their laps. Bush, by contrast, was "born-again" and manipulatively pious in public and the press gave him a pass. An alert press would have smelled shit when Bush alluded to his past as Prodigal Son without ever offering any details. A corrupt press, instead, ate that shit and asked for more.

Now, we are six years into the worst fraud ever perpetrated on the American public and the press, as Matt Taibbi says, is doing it to us again.

Moreover, they're doing it to us in exactly the same way. The candidates are likely happy that they don't have to make firm pronouncements on policy and the issues. Even if they do, they know such won't be reported, and they probably won't get called down for changing their minds once in office. At the root of it is fact-free reporting, and bias masquerading as objectivity. When the press is so weak from cocktail-weenie ennui that it can no longer make the most important issues of a national campaign interesting and understandable to its readers, that national campaign is reduced to the status of "American Idol."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

McCain's Magic Carpet Ride

To prove his point (that Baghdad was safe), Joltin' John made an unannounced trip to that beleaguered city to do a little shopping (along with Lindsay Graham, who scored a great deal on some carpets).

Declaring later in the Green Zone that he could indeed walk around the market safely for an hour, just as he had asserted earlier, the Sinister Senator failed, somehow, to note that he was accompanied by about 100 soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships circling overhead.

Nor did the Contradictory Candidate mention that he was wearing a bulletproof vest while bargain-hunting (they're the height of fashion while strolling the streets these days)....

Nor was there mention of another market nearby getting the shit bombed out of it a half-hour later, or that there were mortar attacks on the perimeter of the Green Zone while the reality-challenged inside were telling the press how safe things were, McCain proclaiming “that his visit to the market today was proof that you could indeed ‘walk freely’ in some areas of Baghdad.”

Nor was there much said about the barriers to traffic installed after a bombing in the market two months ago:

…Amir Raheem, 32 , a floor carpeting merchant at the Shorja market, disagreed with the upbeat assessment of the congressional visitors. “Just yesterday, an Iraqi soldier was shot in his shoulder by a sniper, and the day before, two civilians were shot by a sniper as well,” he said.

He said Sunni insurgents routinely clashed with Shiite militiamen or with Iraqi soldiers and policemen in the area. “Everybody closes their shops by 2:30 p.m.,” Raheem said.

While the congressional delegation reported seeing crowds of Iraqis shopping in the market, Raheem said the number represented a sliver of the customers he used to see. “It is not even 10 percent of our work before the bombings, because people are afraid to come and it is harder to move,” he said.

Worse, he said, the closure of the main street by barriers has affected his business. If it was so safe, he said, “let them open the street, for the market has died since they put them there.”

Did McCain consider the six U.S. soldiers killed by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad while making his rosy assessment of the situation?

Did McCain consider that his visit has probably made the market a target for reprisals in the near future? (On Tuesday, Juan Cole passes on the story from The London Times indicating that "21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound and shot dead north of the capital. The victims came from the Baghdad market [Shurja] visited the previous day by John McCain, the US presidential candidate, who said that an American security plan in the capital was starting to show signs of progress.")

Is this the level to which politics in this country has sunk? It's not just McCain--it's everyone in Washington, DC, that stumbles along like a drunk on the dark street hoping to find a lamppost to hang onto. It's not just a stretching of the truth--it's a tearing and rending of the entire concept of objectivity. It's "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes."

That politicians actually believe they can get away with such mendacity says a great deal about how the press has treated the public in the last few years. Call it cynical, call it delusional, it doesn't matter--it boils down to an expectation that the public treat their fictions, if not as the truth, then as honest appraisals of a situation capable of being parsed in more than one way. This, in itself, is a prevarication.

We've seen this syndrome before--in the Stalin years of the Soviet Union, in every banana republic south of the border, in the incomprehensibly obtuse denials of P.W. Botha in apartheid South Africa, where even outright press censorship could not conceal the truth of apartheid's disastrous consequences.

The press did nail McCain's little sideshow for what it was--this time. But, was it because it was deserved, or was it because the major news organizations have already determined that McCain has lost favor in Republican circles and is currently deemed unelectable, is nosediving in the polls, and the press decided to give him another sucker-punch on the way down, much as it had done with Gore in 2000?