Worse than Swift Boating, worse than Willie Horton, and even worse than the racist push polls Karl Rove used against John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney is running the most craven, dishonest, and hypocritical campaign we’ve seen in contemporary American politics.
The Romney campaign is engaging in “situational demagoguery,” a kind of sophisticated messaging that is always shape-shifting, which allows for truly twisted “communications” to move freely through the news cycle and hit its intended target audience. Situational demagoguery cares not about ex post facto refutations coming from corporate media. They can be dismissed as “partisan” or, more commonly, simply ignored.
A great example of situational demagoguery can be found after 9-11 when the chattering classes expressed their admiration of the courage and selflessness of the “first responders.” As Susan Faludi points out in The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America, a book that should have gotten more attention than it did, this love of the firefighters and police officers served the jingoistic purposes of the George W. Bush Administration in silencing its critics. Fast forward 7 years and these same heroic fire fighters and police officers became the goats of the financial meltdown with their “lavish” pensions and public employee unions mercilessly attacked as if they were responsible for the housing bubble. When Bush and his ilk needed a narrative to justify war and revenge the first responders were heroes; when these same powerful elements needed to blame their political enemies for the economic collapse they were responsible for they shifted gears and sent Governor Scott Walker and the rest of them out on the offensive against public employees, including fire fighters and police officers. Pretty tricky, uh?
The news media are so overpopulated with conscious (and unconscious) shills for the 1 percent that even when criticisms are raised about the Romney campaign’s more blatant lies these concerns quickly evaporate into a vapor of faux “balance” and are blandly rolled back into the dominant political discourse.
In this sense, the most dangerous elements of the corporate media are not found at Fox News or on AM talk radio but those who pretend to be calling “balls and strikes” when in reality they’re framing the major issues on taxes, “entitlements,” education, and foreign policy in terms that reinforce the Right’s grand narrative.
For example, when people like Mark Halperin and Joe Klein and Chuck Todd, all mainstream to the max, accuse the Obama campaign of using “unfair” partisan tactics against Romney they’re facilitating, albeit indirectly, the Romney campaign’s lies and hypocrisy (while sounding like “serious people.”) There’s a simple reason for why they show such solicitude in wearing their “balance” on their sleeves: It helps their personal careers and is in their self interest.
While it’s important to point out the blatant propaganda spewing forth from Fox and talk radio the non-Republican corporate media seldom do so; therefore it’s left to comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black, Lizz Winstead, and Bill Maher to pick up the slack and point out the conspicuous “imbalance” of our political discourse, where people on the Right can say any goddamned thing they want while the rest of the corporate media mask the fact that our discourse has been yanked so far in the Right’s direction it’s not even recognizable when compared to the period when the common sense of the New Deal still cast its shadow.
(And before we congratulate ourselves for rebuking Michelle Bachmann’s latest racist attack on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, let’s observe that the other less high-profile Representatives who joined her apparently have suffered little pushback, and Newt Gingrich has stepped in to muddy the waters about the nature of her McCarthyism.)
And forget about turning to “public intellectuals” for our salvation. Posers like David Brooks and Michael Gerson and the rest are no better at discerning the rank hypocrisy and demagoguery dripping all around us than any of the other shills for the 1 percent who defile our airwaves.
So during this drawn-out, insufferable campaign season I’ll be tuning into the comedians and combing the alternative press on the web for any source that might perchance challenge Romney’s situational demagoguery. It tells us something (although I don’t know what) about our politics when the only people who seem to understand what constitutes the responsibility of citizenship sandwich their political commentary in between dick jokes.