Monday, October 12, 2009

Democrats are (mostly) calling the shots in Washington - but we can't ignore Republicans, either

Happy Columbus Day, everyone! Or, as Liza Sabater (blogdiva) posted on Twitter: "today is "Columbus Day" in the US or as i like to call it, 'First Illegal Immigrant Amnesty Day' :) "

Glenn Greenwald makes an important point, that I mostly agree with - say, 60% agreement - in Gay issues, the "Fringe Left" and the liberal veal pen Salon 10/12/09. The "veal pen" is a term that liberal activists and netroots liberals have been using to describe the liberal groups that coordinate closely with the Obama White House on their priorities and messaging. I believe it may have been Jane Hamsher that invented the term, or at least was the main blogger to popularize it. The group that Glenn has particularly in mind in the Human Rights Campaign, which LGBT activists like John Aravosis criticize for letting Obama posture as a partisan of LGBT rights but not pressuring him to deliver on his promises, notably abolishing the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) rule for the military.

Glenn makes the important point that the Democrats have the White House, a "veto-proof" 60-vote majority in the Senate, and a large majority in the House. Decisions made by the national government are either made by Democrats or, in a real sense, permitted by Democrats.

As he puts it:

It's often forgotten or obscured, but the central political fact now is that the Democratic Party controls everything in Washington -- from the branches of government to favors doled out to lobbyists to the policies that Congress and the President enact. Wars that are fought and bills that are or are not passed and policies that are maintained are, by definition, Democratic actions. The dreaded Right can't dictate or stop anything. That's the burden of having massive majorities in all areas -- everything that happens is the result of what the Democratic Party does, and that's why the divisions and conflicts that truly matter are ones with the party itself. The "right v. left" and even "Democrat v. GOP" drama dominates most of our discourse, yet at this point it is a distracting and largely irrelevant food fight. It's the Democrats who have won the last two elections by large margins and wield all the power, and increasingly the defining conflict is between those whose overarching allegiance is to Obama and the Party as ends in themselves, and those who see those things as mere means to more important ends. [my emphasis]
He also has a memorable quote from Bill Mayer about Obama, "He's your president, not your boyfriend."

The reason that I say that I agree with him 60% - the same as the Dems' Senate majority - is that Glenn's comment that the "'right v. left' and even 'Democrat v. GOP' drama dominates most of our discourse, yet at this point it is a distracting and largely irrelevant food fight," is giving the Republicans and their Might Wurlitzer network of propaganda, publicity, think tanks and front groups far too little credit. Because, for one thing, the Republicans dominate the federal courts. And the Cheney-Bush appointees were all vetted by the highly ideological Federalist Society. There are also a lot of career Justice Department officials that were hired in violation of the law according to political criteria. Those are not trivial places for the Republicans to have major beachheads.

And the Mighty Wurlitzer also in tremendously influential in shaping the news agenda of the Establishment press. And the Republicans' messaging carries great weight among the punditocracy. Even more seriously, the national press is dysfunctional in a genuinely weird way. Some of them are kissing up to the Obama administration, sure. And MSNBC is pitching its generally mediocre-to-poor coverage and commentary toward Democrats these days. But the problems with the press are not some form of ideological bias, despite what Republicans have mechanically charged for decades. The Beltway Village has a very strange groupthink process going on.

Bob Somerby in his Daily Howler column of 10/12/09 reflects on the choices of topic for three of our leading national columnist this past weekend: David "The Dean Of All The Pundits" Broder, Maureen Dowd, and Gail Collins. They wrote, respectively, about fat politicians, fantasies about Bill Clinton, and fat politicians. For a democracy to function as a democracy over the long term, there needs to be a decent press. We don't have one right now in the United States. And the trend is for a decline in quality, not an improvement.

We also can't afford to ignore the degree to which the Republican Party itself has embraced genuine extremism. I highly recommend Michael Tomasky's Something New on the Mall New York Review of Books 09/24/09 (10/22/09 issue), in which he gives a good picture about how the Party "fringe" (the Tea Partiers), the Republican-affiliated media, and the elected officials of the Party work together closely. They do have power to derail constructive legislation, because there is the corporate Blue Dog wing of the Democratic Party that can use Republican obstructionism as cover for their own efforts to gut progressive legislation. Meaningful health care reform is not yet a done deal.

Amanda Marcotte's interview with Dave Neiwert, a podcast of which can be found at The Source of Right Wing Terrorism RH Reality Check 10/11/09 is a timely remind of why we can't afford to just ignore far-right extremism or the influence of ranters like Republican Party head Rush Limbaugh or Glenn "black-helicopters-are-coming" Beck. Not only to they have clout in driving the Republican Party agenda. Their more extreme rhetoric also creates a climate which encourages violent extremists to act out.

I was struck by something Michael Scherer wrote in Calling 'Em Out: The White House Takes on the Press Time Online 10/08/09. There have been definite indications, including some since Scherer's article was written, that the White House has decided to stop pretending that FOX News is anything other than a partisan propaganda outlet. That's obviously what FOX News is, so that part is no surprise. And, even more importantly, they are recognizing that the "major news outlets" are stumbling badly in that they are picking up bogus rightwing talking points like the "death panels" and reporting on the controversy without making it clear that the accusations are phony. Scherer writes:

All the criticism, both fair and misleading, took a toll, regularly knocking the White House off message. So a new White House strategy has emerged: rather than just giving reporters ammunition to "fact-check" Obama's many critics, the White House decided it would become a player, issuing biting attacks on those pundits, politicians and outlets that make what the White House believes to be misleading or simply false claims, like the assertion that health-care reform would establish new "sex clinics" in schools. Obama, fresh from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, cheered on the effort, telling his aides he wanted to "call 'em out."

The take-no-prisoners turn has come as a surprise to some in the press, considering the largely favorable coverage that candidate Obama received last fall and given the President's vows to lower the rhetorical temperature in Washington and not pay attention to cable hyperbole. Instead, the White House blog now issues regular denunciations of the Administration's critics, including a recent post that announced "Fox lies" and suggested that the cable network was unpatriotic for criticizing Obama's 2016 Olympics effort.
Now, it's nothing new for a White House to try to encourage its preferred spin on the news, obviously. What's striking to me is that the staffers who spoke to Scherer on the record made it sound like it took them eight months to realize how seriously screwed up the major press organizations have been in reporting the most basic facts about major issues. The sad part is, I really can believe that it took some of them this long!

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