Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of Barackamania

As I've written before, though they perpetrate more than their share of outright falsehood, a lot of what is wrong with corporate media is distortion, tone, and viewpoint. Even Noam Chomsky, a harsh media critic, insists that many journalists are serious, professional, and competent; what gets in their way is the structure of corporate media -- though that structure does include hiring many incompetent hacks. Many media figures are determined to force the news into predetermined tracks, as shown by the remarkable video clip Joan Walsh posted at Salon today.

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As Walsh wrote, Matthews apparently expected her and Clarence Page to disagree with one another vehemently: that Walsh would call for bankers' heads on pikes and taxing the rich under the bridge, while Page would urge Obama to "compromise" with the Republicans -- "populism" versus "centrism", as Matthews put it. When that didn't happen, Matthews talked over both of them, complaining that he wasn't getting the ideological divide he wanted. Page said mildly that Obama "should be seen as getting something done or trying to get something done and if he fails at least he'll be able to say he fought hard." That's actually been Obama's strategy for most of his term so far, though I think Page had something more forceful in mind; Matthews interpreted it as "trying to cut a deal with Republicans", which is not what Page said.

Something weird, though: in a clip of Obama early in this segment, the President tells his audience:
If everyone just turned off your CNN, your Fox, your -- you know, just turn off the TV, MSNBC, blogs, and just go talk to folks out there instead of being in this echo chamber, where the topic is constantly politics. It is much more difficult to get a conversation on how are we going to help people than a conversation about how is this going to help or hurt someone politically? And that's part of what the American people are just sick of.
It's not really such a bad recommendation, but it seems to me that anyone who's watched Obama's performance as president would want to ask him why he doesn't take his own advice. His 'town hall meetings' are carefully staged spectacles for Obama the Man of the People, not for the People (Special Interests) to talk to him. And even more: as Walsh argues,

I happen to think it’s a phony dichotomy, asking whether the president should move to the center or the left, because it lets the GOP define the center. A majority of Americans, including moderates and independents, support raising taxes on the rich. In fact, according to “the Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America” conducted by the Hamilton group and sponsored by American Express, released Tuesday morning, three-quarters of wealthy Americans support increasing taxes on Americans making more than $1 million a year, and half support hiking them on those making $500,000.

A solid majority of Americans think Obama should have stuck with jobs and not pivoted to deficits last year. A larger majority opposes any effort, by either party, to trim Social Security or Medicare. A decisive majority thought he should have pushed back harder on the GOP during the debt-ceiling debacle – including a majority of the independents who Rendell and Penn think will be crucial in 2012. Even a majority of Republican-leaning independents wanted the president to fight harder. A fighting populist strategy is good policy, and good politics.

Today in comments at alicublog (under this post) someone wrote that Obama and John Boehner belong to different parties and have different goals. Different parties? Yes. Different goals? I don't believe so. Both Boehner and Obama have the same basic goal, to which everything else is subordinate: to be re-elected.

See, professional politics is a lot like pro wrestling. The principals have to pretend they're mortal enemies, so they learn to fake eye-gouging and body slams, and they strut around huffing and puffing and roaring to the stands about how they're going to terminate each other, and the opponent had better pray, because this time there will be no mercy. Another commenter extended the thought for me:
watcha gonna do, big boss boehner, when the barackster with the energy of all his little barackamaniacs behind him, steps into that squared circle tuesday night at the staples center for a steel cage match? you're gonna see the power of barackamania, and the prayers, the vitamins, and training is gonna run wild over you!
But it's really just a performance. After it's over they play golf together. It wouldn't do for them to take their combat in the ring personally; they have to work with each other, after all, and they have more in common with each other than they do with the chumps in the cheap seats. I imagine, though, that pro wrestlers spend more time among the general public than either the President of the United States or the Speaker of the House ever does.

Now, the White House is obsessed with the opinion polls. It is not possible that Obama and his people don't know what most Americans think and want. For that matter, the Republicans must know it too. So, when Obama sold out a public option in his health-insurance bill, when he put the deficit rather than jobs front and center, when he put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, when he extended and escalated US military adventures, he knew that if public opinion meant anything, he was chopping away at his chances of re-election with every budget cut. Yet he avowedly defied his base. Maybe he believes and hopes that he can spend his way into a second term; and maybe he can.

As I've written here a few times, many (most?) Democrats would rather lose to a Republican than vote against the corporate agenda. Judging by the 2010 elections, that is especially true of the so-called Blue-Dog Democrats. Ever since he took office Obama has made it clear that he's no exception. He might even have convinced himself that he's different, but actions speak louder than words.