Tuesday, October 12, 2004
I still haven't watched the 2nd Presidential Debate, but I have it on tape and am going to do so today. In the meantime, there is a ton of juicy material to comment on from news sites this morning.
I am sure that everyone has already heard that the Sinclair Broadcasting Group is forcing its affiliates to air an anti-Kerry propaganda video (if you haven't, Josh Marshall has a good discussion). This is a little different from Fahrenheit 9/11, since the latter was in the theaters and you could choose to go or not. The former is beamed directly into people's houses. Sinclair's course of action is only the latest and most blatant evidence that the concentration of media outlets, corporate domination of the Republican party, and ethical collapse of contemporary journalism is a threat to the health of our democracy. We have to stop these people.
There were so many appalling articles in the New York Times and Washington Post this morning I almost couldn't finish my coffee. The problems were of two kinds: the papers accurately reporting bad news, and shoddy reporting. On the first front, the New York Times reports that the Congress has passed a pork-laden extravaganza and has failed to concentrate homeland security money in threatened states. In case I haven't mentioned it, I live in New York (although I am not a native New Yorker). To say that I have some interest in homeland security money is putting it mildly. Both of these articles point to the continuing disfunction and lack of seriousness in our Congress. I wish I could blame it all on the Republicans, but I know that Democratic members of Congress are just as guilty. When this election is over, we need to start holding our allies accountable for what they do.
Another worrisome NYT article reports that a group of Catholic bishops is mobilizing against Kerry. This just makes me sad. You would think that the church (any church) would realize that politics and religion just don't mix. A fair proportion of their parishoners are going to be driven away if they press this pro-life stuff, and the Catholic Church just can't afford any more defections. I also believe that this intervention betrays a real misunderstanding of the nature of democratic politics. A candidate's personal opinion has no necessary relationship to his political stance, because politics is not about imposing our personal conception of right and wrong. It is furthering the legitimate interests of ALL Americans. In this regard, Kerry is a more serious "pro-life" candidate than Bush. And the singleminded focus on procreation issues distorts the real core of Catholic doctrine. So this is a foolish move both from the point of view of a Cathloic and as a democrat (small D).
Now I will turn to shoddy reporting, courtesy of that fallen giant, the Washington Post. In two articles the Post demonstrates how it is becoming just another rag. In the first, the Dana Milbank discusses the differences between Bush and Kerry supporters. According to Milbank, Bush supporters are more enthusiastic because Bush caters to his base, while Kerry's supporters are less committed to him because a)Kerry is reaching to the middle, and b) Kerry is just a vehicle for anti-Bush sentiment. To be fair, there is some truth to this. But I wish Milbank wouldn't wait so long to point out that Bush's crowds are screened so that only supporters can attend. So it should be no surprise his audience is more enthusiastic. It would also be nice if Milbank noted that candidates that are consolidating their base in October are usually doomed candidates. I also think that after the first debate, much of the anti-Bush sentiment metastasized into pro-Kerry sentiment. Finally, I would dispute that there is any real difference at the moment between a moderate and liberal message, since liberals are mad about Bush policies, and so are swing voters, for very much the same reason: they are bad policies that have manifestly failed.
Even more disappointing, but less overtly political, is the Post piece on people returning home to spend time with their kids (see see here). This is a classic "trend" piece familiar to anyone who has read Susan Faludi's Backlash. It notes a few isolated instances and personal interviews to suggest that American (women) are returning to 1950's mindset. There are two problems here. Now there may indeed have been a decline in work force participation by women, but I would guess it has more to do with the weak labor market than a return to the mythical golden age of 1955. And it is worthwhile to point out that the women didn't leave the home in the 1970's because they experiened a feminist converion. They got jobs because their husbands' wages has gone into decline. Given that middle incomes are not going up, this means that if women leave the work force, their family income goes down. This might be fine for high-income professionals that the Post article highlights, but it is disastrous for middle and working class families. A conservative might read this article with a fuzzy coccoon of nostalgia, but for someone raised by a single mother, this article reads like a bizarre mix of propaganda, insult, and upper class elite bias. But I don't know why I'm surprised- I have come to expect all these things from the Washington Post.
To change gears, there is an interesting article in Mother Jones. Apparently corporate America is getting involved in voter mobilization. Now some liberals might find this a scary thing, but I find it quite comforting. Why? Well, first of all, liberals are at a handicap when politics is money-driven and advantaged when it is labor intensive. The more politics moves in the direction of mass mobilization, the better we will do. There is also the amusing fact that the white-collar voters corporations will try to mobilize are not even sure bets to vote Republican. It puts a smile on my face to think that IBM might be getting secret Democrats to the polls.
The last nit I have to pick is with David Brooks. In today's op-ed, he suggests that the Bush and Kerry differences in foreign policy are also reflected in their domestic policies, and indeed reflect legitimate differences in their philosophical approach to politics. While Bush is focused on individual freedom, Kerry's emphasis is on security and cooperation. This is true as far as it goes, although Brooks typically infers that Kerry is not concerned with individual freedom (Hello! Patriot Act!). Brooks also suggests that the red states are more independent and "Goldwateresque." He neglects to mention, of course, that the red states are the ones sucking off the government teat at the expense of the blues.
But I really don't want to harp on such minor points. What really bothers me about this editorial is that it reveals conservatism's hypocrisy and undemocratic character. The "freedom" that Bush and Brooks laud is the freedom of the strong to oppress the weak. It is the state of nature in all its Hobbesian glory. What our opponents fail to realize is this simple fact: politics is a cooperative endeavor. Politics only makes sense in the context of joint communal activity. An emphasis on individual liberty is important of course, but it serves a limiting function on what that community may do. Bush & Co. also fail to realize that liberty is not merely formal, it must be substantive. We must preserve the fair value and equal worth of liberty (I'm following Rawls here). Bush uses the words "freedom" and opportunity" but he takes no action to guarantee them for anyone who does not already have them. Bush's liberty in foreign policy is nothing more than American imperialism with a human face, and his freedom in domestic affairs is just more corporate cronyism.
Ah, it's good to be back.