April 22, 2011
With the injection of the Tea Party mentality into the American political scene that’s promoted by the global economic ideals of neo-conservatives and neo-liberals, I am uneasy with how this greater gridlock is effecting our political fabric.
Steven Benen’s “Political Animal” piece in yesterday’s Washington Monthly’s website has to ring true with every political junky’s perception of today’s voters – they really don’t have a very deep grasp of the issues. No one expects the freight dock worker or the doctor’s receptionist to be policy wonks on critical legislation but the truth is, even the limited knowledge that voters do have about critical issues is devoid of any substantive criteria.
What we seem to get instead are the fast-food crowd that get’s their daily pieces of information off Facebook, Twitter or the 18 minute round-up on the evening news (the other 12 minutes are devoted to ads); sources that essentially touch the tip of the news-worthy iceberg. Thirty percent of the nation watches a “news” source – FOX – that has been cited more times than others for manufacturing the news rather than covering it.
Images, rather than objective data that helps one make critical judgments, are all that most voters carry with them when answering polling surveys and ultimately take to the voting booth. Behind the scenes of all this lies a corporate effort that funds this; mostly as a self-interests motivation but with some it is an ambition to effect policy in this country. Most can seem benign and are even humanitarian as they reach out in communal spirit to the public they are doing business with. But I worry that this is merely a facade for actions that may, intentionally or not, lead to a form of autocratic rule in this country.
This hasn’t escaped notice by elected officials who use political consultants that specialize in framing messages. Realizing perhaps that most Americans have short attention spans and have shallow but fervent feelings about certain emotional issues, some political strategists send out letters and e-mails to voters along with 30-second radio and TV ads, using words and phrases intended to create a fearful imagery.
Left with nothing more than these fragments about issues and candidates, voters make comments to pollsters that reflect their lack of comprehension. An example of this is in Benen’s column as he cites a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll: “Americans seem to overwhelmingly agree with President Obama when it comes to a larger policy agenda, but approval of the president is down. They overwhelmingly reject Republican ideas and priorities, but when asked who they trust more when it comes to fiscal responsibility, Americans are split between Obama (45%) and the congressional GOP (44%).” Why this apparent conflict in views?
Historian Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) tried to tackle the issue of why a lot of Americans seem to vote against their own self-interest. His analysis essentially boiled down to the ability of conservative political linguists in framing messages around “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion, illegals (which appeals to the “birther” crowd”) and gay marriage, while painting Democrats as liberal elitists. A closer look at these efforts to frame social issues will show that this exercise in muddying political waters is funded by a handful of wealthy, often conservative corporate people like Rupert Murdoch, David and Charles Koch and lesser known but equally wealthy individuals.
These efforts have been dramatically successful in damaging factual data on which to base one’s vote by simply attaching the word “liberal” to it in the hopes that the voters would vote against the messenger at the polls. All of the successes thus far by House Republicans have been cleverly disguised as “the people’s issues”, when in fact they are the issues of special interest, especially the large for-profit corporations
Falsely laying the recent recession at the feet of the Democrats in the last election along with associating our huge deficit with health care reform succeeded in winning back the House for Republicans and increasing their numbers in the Senate. The ability to exploit susceptible voters during these tough economic times and to do it in a manner that takes advantage of voter naivety is becoming the standard for right-wing politicos.
The fact that someone like Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona can express remorselessness about information he conveyed on the Senate floor that was “not intended to be factual” is evidence of a Party whose focus is less on providing moral leadership and more intent on achieving political power and currying to special interests, to the detriment of democratic principles. The fact that there was a deafening silence from conservative constituents about this and the blatant lies that are now well documented on sites like FactCheck.org and Politifact.com are further indications that anything goes to control the minds of the ill-informed.
Let me emphasize that this underhanded approach is not the sole property of the Republican Party and it’s ancillary appendage, the Tea Party. But the level it is being used by them has reached a point that calls into question the ability of our nation to continue to symbolize that “shining city on the hill” as Reagan alluded too or Kennedy’s call to become a nation where a rising tide lifts all boats.
The politics of power and the vested interests of large corporations have made our democracy a weak sister to what it once was. When a small but vocal astroturf minority can influence large outcomes that do nothing to “take back our country” and instead drives a deeper wedge between us, we are, I think, quickly approaching the threshold where oligarchies and autocracies can gain easier access to the powers of control in our constitutional form of government..
America’s future lies in the hands of a generation who seem, sadly, more interested in material consumption and living vicariously through reality TV stars than effecting public policy. Clever people who know how to trigger human emotions are all too willing to use their wealth and influence to keep most Americans at this dumbed-down level.
The last social gasp we may hear before democracy implodes around us is “whose fault was all of this?”. It’s a question whose answer lies in each one’s shallow understanding of how a republic works and what the deeper principles of democracy are. We take too much for granted because we have been given a great gift that few living today in the U.S. have gone without at all or even a small part of their lives. The inability of most to fathom what living outside a democratic form of government is like can lead to a transfiguration where only the shell connotes a democracy while the guts of our political mechanism develops into an autocracy.
Perhaps I am too cynical though and the American people, especially tomorrow’s generation are not as gullible as I imagine them. Perhaps their obsession with celebrity, wealth and looking good is balanced out with a sense of morality and critical thinking that knows when they are being led down some primrose path that says we can have it all if we trust only those who really do have it all. Perhaps too they will figure that those who have it all are actually hoping that they are never discovered by those whom they exploit. Perhaps.