"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Can we survive circus aspect of politics?

What would Theodore White think of today's presidential campaign? We'd probably be embarrassed to show him, just like we'd be embarrassed to show Frank Capra a movie like "Bad Santa."
There used to be a basic civility behind politics. Serious people who understood the political system sought the highest office. We still have such people, like our current president.
Barack Obama was able to withstand the slings and arrows of our current process. Heaven help us when such people no longer want to get under the microscope.
The biggest change, I feel, is that conservatives no longer show any restraint. The ones who suspend reality to become (verbal) bomb throwers get the attention. What would Theodore White think of Glenn Beck? How would he begin to write about this sneering self-promoter?
We still have writers who attempt to do what White did. White, you'll remember, wrote the "Making of the President" series. He appealed to the tastes of the Greatest Generation. It was the days when Walter Cronkite gave us the evening news in a restrained and sober fashion.
Those brands of news ignored the carnival barkers. They looked at the extreme right wing as a curiosity.
The rhetoric from the right has a chafing quality. At its worst it's dangerous, reinforcing jingoistic tendencies. That's why it's concerning that the political right of today has a platform like Fox News.
You might say Fox was begat by Rush Limbaugh. Obama deserves a medal for navigating through the minefield that Fox threw in front of him. There was no issue too minor or trivial to try to throw at him. They groped for anything that might discredit him or even his wife.
They tried getting some traction with a rumor about how Michelle once allegedly used the word "whitey," perhaps just once and at a party or some such trivial setting. A college party? If offhand comments made at college parties are going to be taken seriously decades later, we've truly become the clown show.
I use the term "clown show" because this is precisely the term used by Chris Matthews to describe the Republican race. Is it possible that our media environment of today brings out the worst and ugliest of conservatives? Does it attract the most impulsive, incendiary and megalomaniac conservatives?
Do these goons then just run roughshod over more sensible and realistic rivals?
Mitt Romney is probably the consummate gentleman. I'm certain he has conservative sensibilities. He also knows he needs to get elected. Toward that end he drifts to the center and sometimes appears self-contradictory. It's not that he's disingenuous, he's just a politician.
The Cronkites of the world extended courtesy to these people, knowing they were realists.
A tenet of my own political outlook is that conservatives (the pure ones) are meant to act as a voice of restraint, and in that role can serve a useful purpose. But it scares me to death to think that such individuals could seize a majority in government. People who would elect this ilk know not what they do.
But they are led today by a pied piper known as Fox News. Theodore White seemed conservative but I don't think he'd recognize Fox News. I think he'd wrinkle his forehead. I think he'd worry about the health of the country.
When we had three TV networks and news was a public service rather than a profit-generating arm, there was an overriding sensibility. But then the media universe exploded. Not only could we watch three NFL football games on Sunday, we could watch Australian rules football on ESPN.
We could watch "It's a Wonderful Life" seemingly every day in December. Remember those days?
The media became like a vast frontier, much of it unsettled or rough-hewn like the old west towns. Then it got settled. This meant that the most rabid, paranoid and irrational conservatives could find a home. Fox News was born, nurtured by people who saw the success of Limbaugh and the audience that awaits such stuff, salivating.
In order to criticize Fox News we must understand it. I have no doubt the executives are ideological conservatives but this is not the wellspring of what they do. Fox News is a corporation that makes money. It devises a formula. There's a little bit of "Mr. Spacely" in Roger Ailes.
Fox News doesn't exist to help guide the U.S. into a healthy and prosperous future. It exists to serve that large and angry audience of people who feel government at all levels simply oppresses them. These are the people of whom Thomas Frank writes in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
And it becomes a heckuva business model.
The people who speak to this crowd, like Glenn Beck, were never meant to actually lead. They are more properly in a role of circus sideshow. If they stay that way, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The danger is when such voices get more traction. Fox News is the vehicle for just such a trend to start.
Conservatives know that making people scared works. We must fear Obama because of his past associations. We must attach "socialism" to him, even though European style socialism hardly looks like the menacing specter that crazies on the right suggest.
Conservatives have a bastion in the frontier principle of self-reliance. It's easier to argue for conservatism in its purest form than the alternative.
Government so often looks like the boogeyman. And the likes of Beck seize on such inclinations to create a huge audience of admirers. In the process they pocket a ton of money for themselves.
Can you imagine Cronkite and his peers talking seriously about the tea party? Can you imagine them discussing the tea party in terms other than being a novelty out on the fringe, a here-today, gone-tomorrow type of statement?
Can you imagine that deep and authoritative voice of Cronkite giving any sort of credence to Sarah Palin? Palin is receding into the background now, content with her saddlebags full of the gold of appealing to her crowd.
Mitt Romney is the type of conservative Cronkite would have respected. Romney isn't afraid of the political center. He knows you can't lead through a narrow ideological lens. He compromises not because he is weak but because he is realistic.
It's not "expedient" to want to lead based on reality. The reality is that we cannot all live by our ideals. That frontier principle of self-reliance, viewed with such reverence, breaks down in the face of messy realities.
European style socialism doesn't look so bad when you go to the dentist's office and find that your checkbook had better be fattened up.
Let's let Republicans get their way with "entitlement reform" and see how much support they have left.
I don't want to see my tax dollars going to support wars of choice. We need help here (in the U.S.). We need to develop such things as high-speed rail regardless of what the Chip Cravaacks of the world think.
When conservatives lead it's like a big wrecking ball. They win because they can play to our fears. The puppetmasters know the script. That's how we got the Willie Horton TV ad that propelled the elder Bush. At least the elder Bush was the epitome of the Greatest Generation so we could trust him to a certain extent.
These new conservatives are an entirely different story. They are on the warpath. They want to knock down a lot of things but it's uncertain what they really want to create. They want ideas that bother them to just go away.
A lot of them still pound down gays even though that battle seems to be behind us now. The regressive voices lost as they always do. But the regressive voices have a dangerous platform in Fox News.
Brett Baier may have singlehandedly taken down Romney's candidacy. To review, he did a combative interview of Romney about a week ago. It did lay bare some of Romney's seeming inconsistencies, as if such a trait were poison in politics.
Crafty people in the media can wield tremendous power. And the people at Fox News know all the nuances. They may be leading us out of Kansas and into oblivion. And do they care? Their loyalty is to their company's bottom line and not to the future of the nation.
I'll bet you $10,000 on it (LOL).
If only we could all wake up and just smell the coffee. That's not all we'd smell, based on Donald Trump's efforts to climb past Beck in the far right poster boy sweepstakes.
A Trump-organized debate? Among Republicans, of course, presumably the most screeching ones with conservative rhetoric.
We need that (umpteenth) debate like we need (two parts of the anatomy that excrete solid waste).
(I learned that expression from a trombone player, LeRoy - parenthesis not used.)
How would Theodore White write about Trump? White would throw up his arms, befuddled, and decide he'd be better off writing fiction. Which is what the reportage on the Republican candidates seems like now - an alternative universe where Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and others are taken seriously despite the loony reality.
What's to become of this country? Can we get a grip on ourselves?
We must have faith that the answer can be "yes."
"Yes we can!" redux.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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