Monday, December 24, 2007

The Emperor's Tailors Are Naked, Too

Just one political post, then it's on to the wrapping, church services (my wife has three, from 4:30 until midnight), turkey, and a LLLOOOOONNNNGGGG day tomorrow. May God richly Bless and keep you safe. And remember, it isn't the third package of blue socks, it's the love behind them that matters.

I saw this yesterday over at Crooks and Liars, and wondered how it is possible for Bill Kristol to speak so clearly, when his head is so far up his ass. Dick Cheney wins a brokered GOP convention, and goes on to win in November? No matter who the Republicans nominate, it will be a Republican year in 2008? Huh?

There's delusional, and then there's just batshit insane. Bill Kristol is the new crazy guy wandering down the street, muttering to himself.

I think I should make it clear that I know Kristol is not a journalist, even though he plays one on TV and as editor of The Weekly Standard. While it should be clear that this kind of nonsense is meaningless to everyone but Kristol himself, so in love with his own vast powers of analysis and insight that he has no idea how absolutely wrong about everything he has been, and will continue to be.

Yet, is Kristol so different from the rest of the chattering and typing classes? Perusing this post by Glenn Greenwald, I was led to re-read this from digby. It is one of her great gifts that she knows how to find the nonsense our current Emperor's courtiers and courtesans continue to spill out in to public, revealing less about our politics than about their own petty obsessions and childish preferences. To be as fair as it is possible to be - in the Spirit of Bob Cratchit's wife, for the day's sake if not necessarily for their own - by revealing their own weaknesses, foibles, and biases (let's hang out with this cool kid!), we do see quite clearly that the issue isn't ideology, or at least not all ideology. There is nothing wrong with saying, "This guy or gal is pretty likable," as long as one does not forget that one has a professional responsibility to move beyond such nonsense. None of the most influential Washington-based journalists, however, seem to feel they should do so, or have an obligation to inform their readers and listeners on issues of substance. Like Maureen Dowd acting surprised that someone might think she should write about welfare reform, the rest of them continue to believe that their role is to inform the public who is, in the oft-repeated phrase of George W. Bush, "a good man." What the "good" means is, apparently, a secret known only to those in the know.

I think, however, the historical epoch when Washington-based journalists and insiders actually influenced American public opinion is over. Of course, it is arguable that it ever actually existed, and that might be a subject for serious historical study; for the nonce, it will be assumed that journalists had a role - not the role, not even prima inter pares - in shaping general public opinion towards major candidates (and ignoring also-rans) for national office. From Walter Lippmann and Joseph and Stuart Alsop and their many imitators and wannabes, some journalists have recognized that journalists can, and occasionally do, have a role, an "in" with the powerful. I doubt whether Lippmann ever overcame the heady role he played with Wilson and Wilson's eminence gris "Colonel" House in developing domestic policy as an unofficial adviser after the American declaration of war on Germany in April, 1917. Like many who came later, who discovered that the attractions of power often lead to awful places (Bill Moyers as LBJ's press spokesman is a great example), Lippmann was very hard on Wilson, feeling that the latter had "betrayed" the ideals for which war had been declared. In fact, it was Lippmann who was used, and tossed aside, by House and Wilson, and only Lippmann's tremendous ego and naivete, not a great combination, could shield the facts from him.

The process accelerated with the emergence of true American Imperialism after the Second World War; every Empire needs its chroniclers, and there was no shortage in supply as America became the only superpower on the planet. Journalists lunched with Presidential advisers, sat in on private meetings with major legislators and Presidential aides, attended parties, weddings, and other social events with them. Despite obvious professional conflicts, they could be considered of similar social standing - they were "players". By seeing themselves as players, their professional roles changed subtly over the years.

I do not know, for sure, if there was ever a time when Washington-based journalists were as influential as they believed themselves to be. They surely influenced the ways the powerful in Washington acted; yet one wonders how far that extended once one moved beyond the precincts of suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. With the emergence of television, these same folks could be said to reach a wide audience, certainly - yet having a big audience (or potential audience) is not the same thing as influencing such an audience.

With the many changes our country has been through since January, 2001 (and, perhaps by extension, going back to December, 1998, when the House of Representatives voted to impeach Pres. Clinton, even as one Speaker and his designated successor had to step aside because of behavior for which they were seeking to remove the President), I do believe the clownish behavior of our major media-types will be less than meaningless. It is one thing to see that our Emperor is, in fact, naked. It is another thing altogether to see that his entire retinue, including those who have wrapped him in the mantle of power and prestige, are not only similarly adorned, but are blissfully ignorant of their own nakedness before the American people.

In 1932, the opinion of the major press barons and the few reporters who were "national" was that FDR was a sure loser. They all knew his polio had left him a cripple; they all knew his wife was ugly, the couple estranged due to his long-time affair; they all knew his policies were nothing but Americanized Bolshevism, and that Roosevelt was little more than a traitor to his class. Hoover was solid, confident, refused to call the economic and social disaster all around everyone else what it was (to do so would be to legitimize it in the eyes of the American people; the Depression was nothing more than a crisis in American confidence); his wife, Lu, was among the most popular women in America. When Maine (which actually voted in Congressional elections two months early back then) went Democratic for the first time since before the Civil War, a few paid attention, but then, Congress had changed hands in 1930, so that was one thing. All the press thought Hoover was just the bees knees, and would walk away with a second term, because FDR couldn't.

So, maybe, they've always been both ignorant and wrong.

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