Monday, November 07, 2005

Democrats, the Media, and Demagoguery

November 07, 2005, 10:04 a.m.
Political Paralysis
Democrats and demagogues.
By Steve Salerno

Ever wonder why one hears so little talk of right-wing demagoguery? Oh, now and then some particularly dyspeptic liberal will lodge such charges against Rush, or get in a snit over some other outspoken conservative stalwart. But the Right has no true counterparts to the likes of Jesse Jackson, Terry McAuliffe, Patricia Ireland, Al Sharpton, et al. There simply is no conservative whose stock in trade is the chronic spewing of grandiose pronouncements or pithy sound bites having no purpose other than to remind constituents of how much they need him in their corner.

And there’s a good reason why. Although people at all points of the political spectrum seek strong voices to articulate their respective interests, demagoguery, in its classic form, actively fans the fires of oppression, creating whole categories of needs, if not “rights,” that people never knew they had (and, in truth, probably don’t have). The demagogue gains his standing by cultivating victimhood. He inflates his power by reminding you of your impotence, your personal and political irrelevance. He tells you that society is responsible for elevating you, not the other way around. Collectively, those are not notions that fly very well among a conservative audience.

The culture of blame, though much-chronicled, seldom is traced back to its roots in pop psychology — specifically, the recovery movement and its twelve steps. Step one in traditional twelve-step lore consists of accepting that you’re powerless over your addiction. Step two is placing your fate in the hands of a higher power. To be fair, as conceived in 1935 by the mother of all twelve-steps, Alcoholics Anonymous, this powerlessness was problem-specific (i.e., booze) and the higher power was explicitly spiritual (i.e., God). Over the years, though, as recovery was bastardized to encompass any number of addictions, dysfunctions, conditions, syndromes, and so-called diseases, it inevitably bled over into the culture at large. Powerlessness, at least in some quarters, became an all-pervading mantra. The higher power, meanwhile, grew more secular and pragmatic: It was anything external to you that could help get you to where you needed to be (inasmuch as you couldn’t, in your weakened state, get there on your own).

This notion of looking outward, not inward, for advancement has always held special appeal for blocs of people who already felt disenfranchised in one way or another. A shrewd liberal political activist can readily see the potential in encouraging these blocs to regard him as their higher power: He plays to the paranoia of those who feel downtrodden and persecuted, and consolidates his franchise by encouraging them to go right on feeling that way.

And, having surrendered themselves to their favorite higher power, today’s self-styled victims follow blindly and unquestioningly. No matter how outré the platform a liberal demagogue promotes, no matter what hypocrisy he may be caught in, his followers — who, remember, no longer really think for themselves — swear continued allegiance, offering the most improbable of justifications for their loyalty. As Wendy Kaminer observed in her fine book I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, this lemming mentality on the part of “people who feel victimized and out of control. . . hardly makes for responsible political leadership.” Ergo, Marion Barry. You will recall that Barry, always wildly popular among his African-American voter base, served as mayor of Washington, D.C., for a dozen years, until his videotaped crack-fest landed him in prison in 1990. Upon his release, Washingtonians made him a councilman and gave him another shot as mayor. This same principle helps explain why legions of women, including feminists, stood by Bill Clinton through his adulterous antics and his camp’s shameless, near-misogynist vilification of his paramours. Clinton was their higher power. That’s all they needed to know.

Of course, when we survey the landscape of victimization and demagoguery, we have more than just fuzzy logic to worry about. One of the sobering risks of a full-blown demagogic outreach is that it may end in maddeningly imprecise, surreally expensive legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As the ADA took shape, it became clear that the law would ignore almost no one: The information sheet accompanying the bill noted that it would effect 43 million Americans, one sixth of the population. Subsequent challenges to the ADA’s “restrictions” have threatened to expand its purview to as many as 160 million people, nearly two thirds of the population. This is what happens when demagogues stumble upon a cause that enables them to make almost everyone feel helpless.

Worst of all, the rise of the modern demagogue has spawned a self-perpetuating class of forever-victims. Americans historically showed profound sympathy for the underdog, in large part because we assumed that underdog status was a temporary condition that people aspired to overcome. If our patience with some of our distressed neighbors has sometimes worn a bit thin, it is because the nature of the bargain changed: The longstanding dynamic between demagogue and constituent created a permanent underdog caste that keeps voting for the party that rewards its victimization. It’s a never-ending cycle, an infantilizing one, too.

There is no doubt that victimization’s founding vision, of a society comprising millions of unfortunates stymied by both nature and nurture, helped solidify the notion of government-as-surrogate-parent. In this dismal conception of American life, it falls to Washington — the ultimate higher power — to ameliorate any gross disparities between the “lucky” and “unlucky” children in the family of man.

— Steve Salerno is author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.


At November 07, 2005 10:04 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

What's happening to the mainstream newspapers is that they're turning into the tabloid newspapers. And by designating themselves as the spokesperson for liberalism, they've forced the blogs of the Democrats over to the extreme left fringe -- so they can't develop any credibility, legitimacy, quality and traction from those allies.

The mass media only likes to feature liberal blogs as examples of blogging -- yet while trying to undermine conservative/Republican blogs, have to undermine blogging of the left -- since they are the only ones they've referenced in the past.

The mass media has responded very poorly to the challenge of the blogosphere, and so the only bets being taken anymore, is "when," and not "if," -- for their inevitable demise. Some have even said that turning point has already passed. That might be right.

Does anybody recall the last time they saw anything worthwhile produced by the editors and columnists of their local newspaper?

At November 07, 2005 10:36 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

I'm not making all this up -- just because you haven't seen it in your local newspaper:

Newspaper Circulation Slips 2.6 Percent
Nov 07 11:20 AM US/Eastern

AP Business Writer


Average weekday circulation at U.S. newspapers fell 2.6 percent during the six month-period ending in September in the latest sign of trouble in the newspaper business, an industry group reported Monday.

Sunday circulation also fell 3.1 percent at newspapers reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, according to an analysis of the data by the Newspaper Association of America.

The declines show an acceleration of a years-long trend of falling circulation at daily newspapers as more people, especially young adults, turn to the Internet for news and as newspapers cut back on less profitable circulation.

In the previous six-month reporting period ending in March, weekday circulation fell 1.9 percent at U.S. daily newspapers and Sunday circulation fell 2.5 percent.

Circulation at the country's three largest newspapers was relatively stable, but many others showed significant declines.

Gannett Co.'s USA Today, the largest-selling daily, slipped 0.6 percent from the same period a year ago to 2,296,335; The Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones & Co., fell 1.1 percent to 2,083,660; and The New York Times Co.'s flagship paper rose 0.5 percent to 1,126,190.

Of the rest of the top 20 newspapers reporting, all but one, the Star- Ledger of Newark, N.J., posted declines generally ranging between 1 percent and 8 percent.

The San Francisco Chronicle, published by Hearst Corp., posted a 16.4 percent tumble in circulation as the newspaper slashed back on less profitable, heavily discounted and giveaway circulation subsidized by advertisers.

Circulation has been steadily declining at newspapers for several years as readers look to other media such as cable TV and the Internet for news. Tougher rules on telemarketing have also hurt newspapers' ability to sign up new readers.

Newspapers also face sluggish growth in advertising, higher newsprint prices and increasing concern among investors about their growth prospects. The second-largest newspaper publisher in the country, Knight Ridder Inc., is facing a revolt from two of its top shareholders, who want the company to be sold.

Four newspapers whose circulation was affected by Hurricane Katrina did not file statements with the Audit Bureau: The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; the American Press in Lake Charles, La.; The Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and The Daily Leader in Brookhaven, Miss.

Also, four major newspapers which had been barred from filing circulation data for the previous two reporting periods deferred making reports until their next six-month audits are complete. Those papers are Newsday of New York's Long Island; the Dallas Morning News; the Chicago Sun-Times and Hoy, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York.


On the Net:

Newspaper Association of America:

At November 07, 2005 11:04 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

People are saying very loudly, "Cut out all that demagogueing and biased partisanship, setting up one against the other -- and just give us unbiased information -- or we'll get it from somewhere else."

The newspapers' response? "You ain't seen nothing yet! Get back in line! We call the shots around here! We make you, we break you."

Shades of the plantation culture and years.

At November 07, 2005 11:20 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Most of the political reporting is not really about the Democrats against the Republicans -- but the power of the newspaper editors to control both.

That is the abuse of power that far exceeds whether somebody ought to be resigning from public office because of a parking ticket or not.

If they can create a hysteria over that, they've reaffirmed their power to control both parties. Once thinking people realize that manipulation and control -- it's over and done.

I know we in Hawaii like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they are acting in "good faith" -- but when a clique derives its power from this abuse of trust, it's time to cut them loose.

At November 07, 2005 12:13 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Whenever I read the mass media now, I'm reminded of "Iago" in Shakespeare's "Othello" -- who gets off on manipulating the information to the king so that he turns against everything he loves, ultimately destroying his happy kingdom.

It's a power few mediocre people can resist -- but that resistance to temptation, is the mark of the great ones. Agatha Christie also featured this kind of personality in killing off her own character Hercule Poirot, when confronted with a criminal mastermind, who though he never directly murdered anyone himself, caused those he misinformed to kill. So Poirot kills himself as well as this devious criminal -- because he must serve justice.

That's the role the mass media has taken -- that of manipulating information to cause the irrationality and madness of people who believe they are being persecuted by such demons. In this case, they particularly like to demonize the President and Republicans/conservatives -- because liberals and leftists are prone to such deceptions, more than the right. They know to exploit the susceptible, those prone to mob psychology, and conformity to the thinking of authoritarian demagogues.

At November 07, 2005 12:20 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

There's a very good reason that the mass media has to be liberal/leftist; propaganda is not successful with independent thinking people. It works on people who trust others to do their thinking for them. And the newspaper editors will proclaim, "As the editor of the newspaper, I speak for the people."

At November 07, 2005 12:27 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Demagogues are not d(D)emocrats; they just use whomever is more susceptible to being used.

At November 08, 2005 7:26 AM, Blogger OHenry said...

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At November 08, 2005 12:06 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The problem with the newspapers is that they have a highly unionized workforce in a stagnant or shrinking business. Eventually, everybody remaining is top of scale and in a supervisory position so there isn't anybody remaining but the lone reporter with the least seniority who has to do all the work -- while the rest stand around and argue about who's the boss.

Then the top boss gets to tell the president, governor and people of Hawaii what to think -- because they are the boss -- which entitles them to do whatever they want. They are the only person whose opinion matters; suppress everybody else and let the dupes sign their names to editorials written by the editors as representative of the people.

You ever wonder why a few individuals in our society get unlimited privileges to publish personal attacks nobody else is allowed to? There's so much corruption of integrity at the newspapers, it's no wonder parking tickets and wife-beating and child-abuse are equated as serious crimes.


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