Friday, June 5, 2009

Rush & Newt Are Winning?

Rush and Newt are winning? When I first read that title by E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post, I was puzzled. Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich winning? If anything their over-the-top antics have mostly backfired. In their attempts to paint President Barack Obama as a socialist, un-American and the dangerous "black other," they have mostly managed to alienate themselves and their party. Obama's approval rating remains high and most seem pleased, or at least comfortable, with his overall performance. So I wasn't certain what Dionne could have meant. If anything, Rush and Newt appear to be losing. But after reading his article, I was left wondering if perhaps Dionne didn't have a good point.

Read more below...

Since the beginning of his presidency, we have been held hostage to acts of reckless stupidity from the GOP and its surrogates. From FOX News to Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing noise machine has been consistent with its outlandish reactionary attacks. In the face of this the GOP has been either silent or subservient, turning themselves into willing accomplices.

E.J. Dionne writes:

The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left end of a truncated political spectrum. He's the guy who nominates a "racist" to the Supreme Court (though Gingrich retreated from the word yesterday), wants to weaken America's defenses against terrorism and is proposing a massive government takeover of the private economy. Steve Forbes, writing for his magazine, recently went so far as to compare Obama's economic policies to those of Juan Peron's Argentina.

The charges and accusations have been so absurd, so beyond the pale, that conservative politics and criticism has seemingly degenerated into a freak show. The problem is that where there are freaks, you can be certain our national media will follow.

Always one for sensationalism rather than substance, each and every charge hurled by the reactionary right-wing makes it into the corporate media cycle. That these criticisms are usually ludicrous and often wholly baseless doesn't seem to matter. Rush Limbaugh could claim Obama had three heads--rest assured mainstream media would trumpet his claim and have on talking heads to debate the number of heads the President has, and how this affects beltway politics.

Entertaining these claims not only reduces serious journalism to the level of the National Enquirer, as Dionne points out it stifles and obscures real substantive discussion regarding the Obama administration's policy decisions. Namely he points out that while the media is fixated on the freak show, and in turn forces Americans to gawk at the bizarre GOP circus, they ignore criticisms such as those leveled by progressives at a recent gathering:
While the right wing's rants get wall-to-wall airtime, you almost never hear from the sort of progressive members of Congress who were on an America's Future panel on Tuesday. Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Raul Grijalva of Arizona....why are their voices muffled when they raise legitimate concerns, while Limbaugh's rants get amplified? Isn't Afghanistan a more important issue to debate than a single comment by Judge Sonia Sotomayor about the relative wisdom of Latinas?

There is also more at work here. By narrowing the discussion over President Obama's policies to fanatical critics like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, media outlets are giving Americans a false choice--either side with the moderate, liberal-leaning but centrist White House administration, or join the shouting chorus at the freak show. The voices of those in the progressive camp, who offer both praise and criticism of policies that range from the escalation of the Afghan war to health care, are left mute. Ironically this benefits no one more than the Obama administration, who can make their moderate centrism look progressive--especially when even the slightest move to the left is met with screams of socialism. No wonder many Democratic strategists welcome the GOP freakouts. Perhaps it's about time all of us--from the corporate media machine to the Democratic establishment to everyday progressives--stopped giving so much airtime, blog time and print space to the circus performers of the right-wing, and realize there are more legitimate voices that have yet to be heard.

E.J. Dionne's full article here.


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