Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Politix Update: Secret Of The Political-Media Industrial Complex Revealed

The big problem has been hiding in plain view for years, but becomes more obvious with every election cycle and this year with every new poll showing Donald Trump still in the ascendancy, every new round of commentaries from pundits who fulminate that Donald Trump is doing so well because Donald Trump doesn't play by the rules, and every pronouncement to the effect that if everyone would just hold their breath, Donald Trump will go away.
Donald Trump will go away, although not fast enough for a lot of people's taste, including my own. But in the meantime the celebrity gadzillionaire has quite unintentionally set off a seismic event that goes right to the heart of the smug complacency of what I call the Political-Media Industrial Complex, the mutually backscratching relationship between the political class and the news media, as well as a truth too few dare speak, least of all card-carrying members of the complex: One of the two major political parties is intellectually bankrupt, morally bereft and suffering -- perhaps terminally as a national entity if it doesn't wise up -- from a rigor mortis of orthodoxy.
The truth few dare to speak is that politicians and the media have become so mutually reliant.
Politicians rely on the media to grease the skids of the primary campaign-convention-general campaign cycle (as well as performing side jobs like aiding and abetting anxious Republicans who want Trump gone by repeatedly predicting without a shred of evidence that he soon will be) and the media relies on politicians to justify their existence, indirectly remunerate them for their coverage and reward them with celebrity and stature. 
The consequence is that the relationship between pols and media is so incestuous that they have become intolerant of the people who sustain the complex.  That's us.  It's all about them, and pious political pandering and lofty journalistic ideals to the contrary, it hasn't been about us for a long time.
The political party is, of course, the Republican Party, which is well on its way to fulfilling the kind of dystopia that the Lee Atwaters and Karl Roves could only dream about as they manipulated, maligned and dirty-tricked their way into the bloodstream of the Party of Lincoln, a term that is so obsolete, as well as deeply offensive in a contemporary context, as to be ludicrous.  (The Democrats, by the way, aren't off the hook.  They just look good by comparison.)
To give credit where it's due, it was Joan Didion, that diminutive American woman of letters, who first revealed the Political-Media Industrial Complex, although not by that name, in all its awfulness in Political Fictions, a wonderful and frighteningly prescient collection of essays published in 2001 that should be mandatory reading for anyone needing to be disabused of the notion that the system works.
An excerpt:
"The piece I finally did on the 1988 campaign, 'Insider Baseball,' was the first of a number of pieces I did about various aspects of American politics, most of which had to do, I came to realize, with the ways in which the political process did not reflect but increasingly proceeded from a series of fables about American experience. . . .
"At a point quite soon during the dozen-some years that followed . . . it came to my attention that there was to writing about politics a certain Sisyphean aspect. Broad patterns could be defined, specific inconsistencies documented, but no amount of definition or documentation seemed sufficient to stop the stone that was our apprehension of politics from hurtling back downhill. The romance of New Hampshire would again be with us. The crucible event in the candidate's 'character' would again be explored. Even that which seemed ineluctably clear would again vanish from our collective memory, sink traceless into a stream of collapsing news and comment cycles that became our national River Lethe. . . .
"Perhaps most striking of all, it was clear in 1988 that those inside the process had congealed into a permanent political class, the defining characteristic of which was its readiness to abandon those not inside the process. All of this was known. Yet by the time of the November 2000 presidential election and the onset of the thirty-six days that came to be known as 'Florida,' every aspect of what had been known in 1988 would again need to be rediscovered, the stone pushed up the hill one more time."
Prior to election "reforms" in the early 1970s, party hacks operating out of smoke-filled rooms pretty much determined who the presidential nominees would be.  Today it is the Political-Media Industrial Complex that determines the nominees, and there is no better example than Iowa.
Iowa, in all its Norman Rockwell America-ness, has a process of choosing delegates to the national political conventions through local caucuses.  That is exactly as the media wants it: An easy to cover and manipulate story line with 200,000 or so actors in flannel shirts with high cholesterol levels who are vested with disproportionate say about who the next occupant of the Oval Office will be. It almost makes one nostalgic for those smoke-filled rooms.
The big problem that has been hiding it plain view is baring its ugly Hydra-head this political cycle because there are too many people too fed up with the system to ignore.  There is a reason why Donald Trump is lapping the field at this point and Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are coming up fast.  None of them have never held elective office; their appeal is in not being professional politicians, and this is terrifying to political and media establishmentarians alike because as fun as it was covering a wingnut like Trump may have been at first, he and Carly and Ben are messing with the story line and not playing by the rules.  Their rules, not ours.
I have a prediction that, for someone like myself who was a longtime, dues-paying member of the complex now covering his 12th presidential election, is ridiculously easy to make: This too shall pass.  Trump will founder.  Fiorina and Carson will become even smaller footnotes than The Donald.  For the Political-Media Industrial Complex, this moment in history will have just been a horrible dream from which they mercifully awoke.  For the rest of us, the nightmare will continue.  
For the Political-Media Industrial Complex, this moment in history will have just been a horrible dream from which they mercifully awoke.  For the rest of us, the nightmare will continue.
Beyond Donald Trump giving new meaning to the old news media aphorism that "If It Bleeds It Leads," I continue to have a pretty good case of the grouchies about the way the wannabes dumped on women in the Fox News presidential debate.
While Trump's language was coarse (and would the apologists who claim he was talking about Megyn Kelly's nose please go shoot themselves in the head?), the rest of the field validated the Republican Party view that women are little more than chattel who should be punished for having sex.  Whereas Jeb!, Scott, Marco and Company can get Old Doc Higgins to write a script for boner insurance any time the want to put the little woman in her place, which is to say her back, and that's okey-dokey, right?
There is a whiff of desperation in the decision of Jeb Bush to refight the Iraq war. 
While President Obama has pulled the rug out from under Jeb! and his presidential wannabe rivals because of his strong stewardship of a now fairly robust economy, there isn't a whole lot on which to attack the administration in general and Hillary Clinton in particular.  But assuming -- or perhaps praying -- that voters have short memories and would somehow forget that his big brother ignited the fire in the Middle East, fed the resulting conflagration, and then dumped the smoldering debris in his successor's lap after nearly 5,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis had given their lives is wishful thinking, as well as a pretty piss-poor effort to rewrite history. 
And so Bush's assertion in a speech last night at the shrine of the Great Conservative God Reagan that Obama botched Iraq and terrorism issues and Hillary Clinton "stood by" as secretary of state as the region devolved into the chaos leading to the birth of ISIS is a little bizarre at a time when voters seem more interested in looking ahead than looking back. 
Did Bush and his handlers really think that a speech about a five-alarm fire in which the arsonist is only mentioned in passing will win votes? And while Obama and Clinton have some vulnerability, many voters will recall that the real culprit was indeed George W. Bush, while Jeb's proposed fix in most respects resembles what the U.S. already is doing and runs the risk of replicating his big brother's legacy of a war without end.
"If Jeb Bush wants to spread blame for the situation in the Middle East, he doesn't need to look much further than his next family reunion," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Correct The Record, the organization running Clinton's rapid-response operation.  Indeed.
It took a few tries, but the New York Times finally got the crux of the Hillary Clinton email controversy right:
"Whether Americans believe Mrs. Clinton's decision to use only a private email account for her public business is a troubling scandal well worth an FBI inquiry, a pragmatic move blown out of proportion by Republican enemies, or something in between, may depend more on their partisan leanings than the facts of the affair itself. . . .

"Mrs. Clinton, who has said she now regrets her unorthodox decision to keep private control of her official messages, is not a target [italics mine] in the FBI's investigation, which is focused on assessing security breaches. Against the backdrop of other current government computer security lapses, notably the large-scale theft of files from the Office of Personnel Management, most specialists believe the occasional appearance of classified information in the Clinton account was probably of marginal consequence."
I happen to think teachers are a big deal.  While I had my share of mediocre ones in high school and college, the better ones have substantially shaped my life for the better.  So when Republican presidential wannabe Chris Christie suggested the other day that a national teachers union deserved a "punch in the face" because it endorsed Hillary Clinton 16 months before the election, I was thankful that the campaign of the portly vulgarian is pretty much DOA.
As it is, the New Jersey governor's handlers are working overtime to say he "misspoke" every time he's caught out in a lie, a recent one being Christie's claim during a Why I'm Tough on Terrorism digression in the Fox News debate that President Bush had appointed him a U.S. attorney the day before the 9/11 attacks.  As it is, Bush didn't announce his intention to nominate Christie until December 2001. He was confirmed in January 2002. 
Iowa Republican Representative Steve King is insane, but he outdid himself in attacking the Supreme Court's validation of same-sex marriage as being constitutional at a rally for Mike Huckabee.
"I had a strong, Christian lawyer tell me yesterday that, under this decision that he has read, what it brings about is this," King said.  "It only requires one human being in this relationship -- that you could marry your your lawnmower with this decision."
As one pundit observed, "First it's men marrying men. Then men marrying dogs. Then lawnmowers. You might ask, Where does it end? I'll tell you where it ends: With every man in American being ordered to marry a dog that's riding a lawnmower."

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates. 


Anonymous said...

I like the line about the guys in flannel with high cholesterol. And, of course, I'm pretty upset that I hafta marry a canine lawnmower, when I thought marrying my hand would be sufficient.

nib said...

Zinger maestro Mullen does it again!!

Let's not forget the guy who,while in the throes of a combat mission was shot out of the sky only to be captured by a brutalitarian enemy waiting on the ground,then to endure five excruciating years of torment-never bending,never breaking-returning home to honorably serve his country some more in yet another way,being panned by a guy who didn't get as far as boot camp,deferred instead to ride in the back of his father's limo.