But now along comes Jack Shafer, at Politico, to argue that Bartlett is mistaken because Fox is merely a profit-seeking enterprise that has no effect on our politics. That's ridiculous as well.
Shafer argues that, because Fox can't win the GOP presidential nomination for its own employees (Palin, Gingich, Santorum, Huckabee), or for Roger Ailes's dream candidates (Chris Christie, David Petraeus), and because the GOP keeps losing presidential elections, the channel can't possibly have any influence whatsoever on any level. I'd like to ask Shafer why he thinks Gingrich and Santorum, two clownish has-beens, punched way above their weight in 2012, and why frequent Fox guest Donald Trump was able to succeed in any polling at all in the 2012 race (and might be doing well enough to get a debate slot this year). Yes, all these guys lost to Mitt Romney -- but the Fox Effect at the presidential level is not in the GOP nominee's identity as much as it's in the rightward drift of the nominee's positions. Why did the architect of Romneycare have to identify himself as a sworn enemy of Obamacare? Why did he advocate "self-deportation"? Why, along with all of his fellow Republican candidates, did he find it necessary to reject even a ten-to-one ratio of budget cuts to tax increases?
The Republican Party had been fielding “Foxy” presidential candidates for decades before the network’s 1996 launch, such as Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968 (Ailes, by the way, was his media consultant), which suggests that the network isn’t leading the right-wing parade but has only positioned itself at the front of the procession.... After wounding Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential campaign, Reagan completed the reset of the GOP as an ideologically driven conservative party in 1980, and there it has largely remained.But why has the party "largely remained" the Party of Reagan for 35 years since his first election? Why, in fact, is it now to the right of Reagan on immigration, tax increases (Reagan didn't reject them absolutely), and negotiating with enemies? For that matter, why couldn't the social-moderate wing exercise any influence over the national party in that time? That wing included quite a few stars: Colin Powell, Christie Whitman, William Weld, Condoleezza Rice, Rudy Giuliani -- and, for that matter, Mitt Romney when he was a governor. Why, in recent decades, have the only options for ambitious social moderates in the GOP been recantation or banishment?
Shafer also writes:
Another Foxy candidate on the 1968 general election ballot was George Wallace, who collected 13.5 percent of the presidential vote as a third-party candidate. Wallace traversed the sort of outré political frontiers that have become Fox territory. His politics make the Tea Party’s look like a very weak brew.But Wallace in 1968 wasn't an across-the-board litmus-test wingnut. (Neither, of course, was Nixon, who gave us the opening to China, the EPA, the eighteen-year-old vote, and wage and price controls.) On economic issues, Wallace could sound at times like the New Deal Democrat he was. Here's some copy from a 1968 Wallace for President campaign leaflet:
ACCOMPLISHMENTSAnd from the platform of Wallace's American Independent Party:
EDUCATION...established a new university, 14 junior colleges, 15 trade schools and raised teachers' salaries....
ROADBUILDING...invested over $549 million in the greatest 4 year roadbuilding performance in Alabama's history -- without any hint of graft corruption or swindles.
WELFARE...record high help to the aged, the handicapped, mentally and physically ill. Old age pensions at highest level in Alabama history....
AS EXPRESSED IN HIS OWN PUBLIC STATEMENTS
Issued executive order incorporating minimum union wage rates in all state contracts. Increased Workmen's and Unemployment Compensation benefits 37%. Promoted and passed legislation that reduced firemen's work week from 72 to 56 hours and substantially increased retirement pensions.
We pledge to restore the Social Security Trust Fund to a sound financial basis and by responsible fiscal policies to insure the following:And regarding the Vietnam War, Wallace sounds a lot more moderate in the following ad than Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham sound now:
1. An immediate increase in Social Security payments with a goal of a 60% increase in benefits.
2. An increase in the minimum payment to $100, with annual cost of living increases.
3. Restoration of the 100% income tax deduction for drugs and medical expenses paid out by people 65 and over....
Medicare should be improved. It should be strengthened in conjunction with medical care provided at state and local governmental levels and by private insurance. Through sound fiscal management we set as a goal the following improvements in Medicare:
1. Relief to persons unable to pay deductible charges under Medicare.
2. Relief to persons unable to have deducted from their Social Security checks the monthly fee for physician service coverage under Medicare.
3. Providing for uninterrupted nursing home care for those with chronic illness who require such care.
4. We will encourage low-cost insurance programs for the elderly and will assist the states and local communities in building hospitals, nursing homes, clinics as well as medical and nursing schools.
In this land of plenty, no one should be denied adequate medical care because of his financial condition....
The concern of this Party is that the gains which labor struggled so long to obtain not be lost to them either through inaction or subservience to illogical domestic policies of our other national parties.
We propose and pledge:
To guarantee and protect labor in its right of collective bargaining;
To assert leadership at the federal level toward assuring labor its rightful reward for its contribution to the productivity of America;
To propose and support programs designed to improve living and employment conditions of our working men and women....
To support programs and legislation designed to afford an equitable minimum wage, desirable working hours and conditions of employment, and protection in the event of adversity or unemployment....
I'm cherry-picking the aspects of Wallace's rhetoric that weren't crazy -- but the point is that he would have been deemed too much of an economic moderate (or liberal!) for the contemporary conservative movement. The same is true for Nixon.
You can argue about the degree to which the right-wing media is to blame for the across-the-board extremism of current Republicans, but the extremism wasn't across the board even in the days of Nixon, Wallace, and Reagan, and it's not a law of nature now. It could be reversed. But Fox is at least one major impediment to that.