Monday, September 24, 2007

Check the Kerning! or, The Irony: It burns, it burns!

Marty Kaplan is right; almost.

Yes, I fully appreciate the corrective power of the netroots, and the imperative to challenge propaganda, and the alarming susceptibility of the beleaguered American electorate to fear and demagoguery. But I'm afraid that, while citizen-activists have embraced the understanding that media = politics, the Washington political class has made the mistake of believing that politics = media.
I am left wondering, though: what "corrective power"?

Right blogistan is still credited with bringing down Dan Rather, although that claim is based on nothing but air and exaggerated (i.e., invented) data. Left blogistan has been looking to get back some of its own ever since, and loves to whoop and holler about it's mighty corrective power in the face of the "mighty Wurlitzer." But I'm still looking for people in the "real world" who have heard of Eschaton or Daily Kos and who actually care what gets posted there, especially among all the dross at the latter (on any given "open thread" at Eschaton you can find any number of links to comments and diaries at DailyKos outlining all manner of dread conspiracies against, well, usually against the political stance of posters at DailyKos. Yeah, like they're that important!) Frankly, given the record of the past 7 years, and especially since the last Federal elections, I'm not seeing any exertion of power at all. Washington is still the same as it ever was, politicians still making obeisance to their "base" and still doing the bidding of the moneyed class or still trembling in fear over the perceived reaction of the reptile-brain, Id-driven voters they are sure exist.

The Washington class has believed "media=politics" since JFK trounced Richard Nixon. Everyone agrees that if you listen to the audio tapes of the famous Kennedy-Nixon debates, Nixon won. He ran circles around Kennedy. But watch the first TV broadcast, and Nixon looks like the shifty, dubious character we all (now) remember him to be. The lesson wasn't lost on Nixon: The Selling of the President was written about the '68 campaign, when Nixon repackaged himself as a statesman, not an anti-Communist bomb thrower. We've been treating media as politics ever since, if not long before. Karl Rove didn't invent this; it was handed to him on a silver platter.

So, does politics=media? Only if you want to give media all the power. Is the media the message? Are we all McLuhanites now? Well, it's a convenient excuse for a whipping boy, that's for sure. But I'm still not convinced it's any more than that.

Thoreau's observation is still right: there are a thousand hacking at the branches of the tree of evil, for every one hacking at its roots. And if that isn't the definition of the powerlessness of power, it's the best metaphor we've got.

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