NARCISSISTIC NAVEL-GAZING DISGUISED AS SELF-AWARE INSIGHT
So is this going to go viral? A New York Times Magazine essay by Steve Almond titled "Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One"?
So far it hasn't, and that's good, because what Almond writes is preposterous. His thesis is that liberals are so obsessed with victimization by right-wing media blowhards that they -- we -- enhance the clout of those right-wingers.
This is one of those clever, witty arguments that seem to make a lot of sense until you spend about thirty seconds testing them against the facts.
This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment.
If this sounds like a harsh assessment, trust me, I'm among the worst offenders. Yes, I'm one of those enlightened masochists who tune in to conservative talk radio when driving alone.... I can't help myself....
Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence....
Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?
Actually, the truth is almost exactly the opposite. Back in the early 1990s, a Democratic president was elected, and he immediately set out to enact a few liberal and left-centrist changes (national health care, gays in the military, tax increases on the well-to-do). He was cut off at the knees by, among other right-wing forces, a talk-radio assault from Rush Limbaugh -- a guy who, at the time, practically every non-right-winger ignored. Certainly everyone in the mainstream press largely ignored Limbaugh. Most liberals ignored The American Spectator and books from Regnery that said the Clintons hung sex toys on the White House Christmas tree and the Web sites and videos that accused Bill Clinton of being a drug-dealing cokehead murderer.
But all this had an impact. A Republican Congress was elected in 1994. The government was shut down not long afterward. And the president was reelected, but then he was impeached. This was the template for modern political life: crazy, intransigent Republicans, conspiratorial demonization of Democrats, with the whole thing fueled by right-wing media figures who dominated their time slots not because liberals were tuning in, but because they'd found a large and willing audience of disaffected lumpen wingnuts.
It's happened more recently. The right-wing media talked for months about the "Ground Zero mosque" before anyone else paid attention; eventually, the story broke in the mainstream media -- and broke in exactly the way the right wanted it to break. This wasn't because angry lefties were paying attention -- it was because the story go a chance to fester and grow while we weren't paying attention.
Is someone mainstreaming this stuff? Yes, but it isn't the left -- it's Fox News. You know, Fox News -- the highest-rated news channel on cable, by far? The one owned by a media empire that dominates news throughout the English-speaking world?
Lefties don't have the clout to push this stuff into the mainstream. Fox does, because it's mainstream and crazy. Almond doesn't know what he's talking about.