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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Programmed Cynicism

by digby

I had noticed the propensity of the gasbags to characterize Democratic criticism of the Dubai ports deal as a craven political move to Bush's right. Media Matters has gathered together quite a comepndium of quotes, many of them not coming from the openly right wing media. My favorite is this one, from Evan Thomas of Newsweak:

THOMAS: One thing that strikes me is -- it is hilarious to watch the Democrats, who are all against racial profiling except in this case, where they're racially profiling an entire country, and the Hillary Clintons -- there's a lot about Hillary Clinton in the other subtext here. Hillary and the Democrats need to get somehow to the right of President Reagan on something.

Nice of him to confuse Bush with St. Reagan. Those Republican talking points are potent, aren't they?

But let's examine the entire statement for perfectly layered GOP spin, shall we? First of all, the Democrats' response is "hilarious." It's absurd to think that they could be serious about national security. They are, as always, ridiculous. Especially compared to the suave, smoothtalking insiders like Thomas.

Second, the idea that this is racial profiling is right out of the wingnut playbook. It's called the "I know you are but what am I" strategy. They accuse Democrats of being racists/sexist/ageist, whatever, to put them on the defensive. Democrats still care about hypocrisy and second guess what they are doing when this happens. The GOP, on the other hand, has no problem apeing liberal talking points on their own behalf (often with a snide smirk on their face) and pretending to be offended by things they are not offended by. Picture Orrin Hatch going on and on about Democrats being racist for opposing Janice Rogers Brown, the sharecropper's daughter.

Dems could turn the tables if they would get all red in the face and start railing about political correctness and the right's being in the pocket of arab terrorists and racial minorities, but they don't play that game very well. It is, after all, fucked-up race baiting no matter how you slice it. I suspect that we are going to have to find a way to live with this nonsense and have faith that a majority of the American public can see through their little performance. Liberals have built up many, many years of credibility on this issue. We know who we are and so does everyone else. (And the idea of the Republicans defending Arabs from left wing prejudice is guffaw-inducing to anyone who isn't drunk on 151 --- or a member of the DC press corps. This alone clinches the argument.)

The most serious part of Thomas' smug criticism is the part about the Democrats, particularly Hillary, desperate to "get to the right of Bush" on national security. It is evidently incomprehensible to Thomas and the rest of the beltway courtiers that the Democrats might be legitimately concerned about the topic. They persist in this ridiculous assumption even though we are dependent on what even they must finally be realizing is the most incompetent administration in history. Doesn't that make these people, who live in New York and Washington, just a little bit nervous?

As the media themselves have told us ad nauseum, everything is narrative. If that's so then this port deal is emblematic of the larger story of Bush's incompetence in waging the war on terrorism --- the lack of awareness, the wasted money, the wrong strategy, the failed execution --- all of it. iraq showed the world that our intelligence is terrible and that our military is stretched by a simple war and occupation. Katrina showed the world that our response to an emergency is worse than it was before 9/11. For all the talk about loose lips sinking ships, I can't think of anything any whistleblower has done that gives al Qaeda more information about our vulnerabilities than the terrible performance of this administration.

The Democrats have long been complaining about Bush's laissez faire attitude toward homeland security, Hillary being at the forefront. That isn't running to Bush's "right" which makes very little sense when it comes to the war on terrorism. (To really run to his right a Democrat would have to endorse a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Finland.) It's criticizing a very real flaw in Bush's national security strategy. In Hillary's case, if it's politics, it the old adage "all politics is local." She represents New York and there are ample pragmatic reasons for her to take on Bush's lackadaisical approach to homeland security. In fact, I suspect that her constituents demand it, and for good reason. It already happened to them once. She has been talking quite sepcifically about port security for some time --- as was John Kerry, who the media also ridiculed as being a hilarious, flip-flopping opportunist.

Perhaps if they would take their eyes off their mirrors for a minute or two, the elite media could entertain the thought that these Democrats are not talking out of their asses. This is a legitimate issue. The worst terrorist attack in American history took place on the Republicans' watch and they've fucked up everything they've touched since then. Perhaps codpieces and trash talk aren't adequate to the task at hand.

Thomas is one of the biggest purveyors of the smug, cynical conventional wisdom that permeates the political media. Long after it was rasonable to defend this unpopular president's alleged prowess on national security they did it. And they refuse to let go of the notion that no matter how fucked up the Republicans are, the Democrats are worse. Winning elections may not even change this. I'm beginning to suspect that this is a generational identification with GOP political values, where good government or nuanced policy is always pooh-poohed by the these kewl kids who see governance through the lens of the puerile college Republican style of political combat. It may take a new generation of people who haven't mistaken dorky DC hipster cynicism for insight.

Like this guy, for instance.