17 Feb 2006

The Democrat’s MSM Political Game

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Daniel Henninger identifies the cynical political game that’s being played in the MSM:

Have you ever noticed how on a scale of one to 10, every untoward event in the life of the Bush presidency goes straight to a 10?

The Abu Ghraib photos? A 10 forever. Dick Cheney catching a hunting buddy with some birdshot? An instant 10. The Bush National Guard story? Total 10. How can it be that each downside event in this presidency greets the public at this one, screeching level of outrage and denunciation by the out-of-power party and a perpetually outraged media?

There was a time when what’s been called news judgment would deem some stories a five or six and run them on page 14, or deeper in the newscast. Back then the Senate minority leader wouldn’t bother to look up from his desk. Not with this presidency. Every downside event — large, small, in between — plays above the fold on the front page now. And when Dick Cheney accidentally pops Harry Whittington, old Harry Reid jumps up from his Senate leader’s desk faster than a Nevada jack rabbit to announce, one more time, that this “is part of the secretive nature of this administration…

If it all seems more than a little tiresome, if you wish it would all just go away, well, maybe that’s the point — their point. Induce swing voters to seek respite from the Bush experience.

As the chart nearby indicates, the public’s allegiance to the two parties is remarkably tight. Thus, anything the Democrats can do to push up their number or push down the Republicans’ materially enhances their chances in this November’s elections and in 2008 — and prevents the onset of a long majority for the GOP of the sort McKinley triggered in 1896. Yes, there will be no Bush-Cheney in 2008, but they’re useful as a wedge to redirect voter preferences.

Absent any fresh or positive message for voters, why not try winning by turning politics under the Republicans into an experience of unrelenting discomfort? The substance of any given issue falls in importance. Connecting Jack Abramoff to George Bush personally was always a stretch. So what?

The most telling evidence of a strategy of discomfiting the body politic was the January bonfire over terrorist wiretaps. Here the opposition shrieked for days about a “constitutional crisis” even as polls were indicating public support for the Bush program, including 28% who would OK tapping anyone’s phone “on a regular basis” to catch terrorists.

Parties don’t sail against the polling winds. Why this time? Because come November, the “wiretaps” will sit in many voters’ minds not as a debate over Article II but as part of what feels to them like endless “bad news.” The press’s supersizing of the Cheney shooting may look like excess. So what? No matter how voters feel on any one issue — terror, the courts, values — the Democrats, event after event, are building the feeling that the Bush-Cheney presidency and GOP Congress have somehow been 40 miles of bad road…

..collaborating with a willing media to market the opposition party as a haunted house is a cynical, wholly reductionist strategy, with nothing in it for the public good. It dumbs down our politics. As shown with Social Security reform, the system ceases to function. A major U.S. foreign-policy initiative like the Bush Doctrine has to be delegitimized with no serious opposition support at any level. This is the strategy of the phalanx, not politics. If it works, the other side will surely run the same tar-and-pitch strategy against a new Clinton presidency. It deserves to fail.

The democrats have been out of ideas for a long time, and are permanently tied to a radical base reliably functioning as an electoral albatross. The rise of alternative media (AM talk radio, Fox news) and the conservative blogosphere were important blows to their information monopoly, but Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina proved the MSM could still utilize moving images to frame reality in their own terms, and to inflict serious political damage.

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