Friday, October 3, 2008

The Media, Palin, and the "Great Debate"

by Norman Markowitz

I watched the Biden-Palin debate off and on after 9:30 Eastern Standard Time yesterday. The Cubs-Dodgers playoff game came on after 9:30 and I was frankly much more interested in that, as a "proud and self-confessed" Dodger fan since 1951, whose loyalty to the team has never wavered through world historic events for some as traumatic as those that have been seen in the world movement for socialism. Later, out of a sense of political duty, I saw the debate replayed and listened to the the media commentary, as always made up of market research chit chat, focus groups, performance criticisms, etc.

The Dodgers won 10-3 and Palin lost by any objective standard, in that Joe Biden (whose comments I could criticize on various issues) showed that he had command of the issues from his perspective, which was within the ideological framework of the liberal wing of the Democratic party and could confidently and forcefully articulate his positions. I had some sympathy for the Cubs, a team that I believe, because of their world historic suffering ,deserves a break, although I was unashamedly happy for the Dodgers. I had no sympathy for Palin, whonot even right-wing Republicans deserve to have in the Vice Presidency
one frail life away from the White House.

Palin smiled and talked in cliches and smiled and talked in cliches and was unresponsive to the interviewers' questions and pretty much told the interviewer that she would be unresponsive to interviewer's questions Biden and the interviewer were both very very soft on her.

The commentary, both in on TV and in the press, would probably be considered surreal in any "modern democracy." Palin came through because she didn't talk like a complete idiot,a religious fanatic, speak in tongues, or start tap dancing. As ah historian who always looks to U.S. history for insights, I thought of a moment in the campaign of 1884, when an independent reformer, supporting Grover Cleveland over the corruption ridden Republican James G. Blaine but disgusted completely with the entire campaign said, "Cleveland does not steal. Good God, has it come to this?" He meant that the fact that Cleveland was not a known grafter and thief qualified him for the presidency. That Palin did not have a Dan Quayle moment (saying that she wished she had studied Latin to help her in her trip to Latin America or pointing or misspelling oil the way Quayle famously incorrectly spelled potato, qualifies here to be a serious candidate for Vice President. McCain, as the media asserted, could now not "be defensive" about his choice for Vice President. Once more the GOP "base" might be energized Good God has it come to this.

In the Dodgers-Cubs baseball game, those watching could see the Cubs in the second inning make a number of crucial errors that led the Dodgers to score five runs and take over the game. Those watching the debate had no score card, but if they did they would see and count Palin's ignorant (meaning she was wrong on the facts) or stupid(meaning she wasn't thinking straight statements). When She accused Senator Obama of advocating programs that would raise taxes on low income families (families with incomes below $50,000) she was either lying consciously or simply booting the ball. Senator Biden corrected her by making the point that the Obama proposals would raise taxes on the wealthy significantly after three decades of detaxation and objectively reduce taxes for the overwhelming majority of working families.

I also thought of the late Alfred M Lee's classic 1930s study, the Fine Art of Propaganda, which looked at the pro fascist radio priest, Charles Coughlin and used him to analyze more broadly mass media political propaganda. Lee's purpose was to help citizens understand and not fall for reactionary and fascist propagandists, who identified themselves with the nation, ordinary people, sometimes raised real questions about economic and social injustice, but answered them with calls for action against minorities, foreign powers, Communists, socialists and others whom they scapegoated for the problems.

Political demagogues, Lee showed, used techniques which advertising media had made people comfortable with, techniques to sell them fascism by both appealing to existing prejudices and pretending to give them facts to support and intensify those prejudices.As I looked at Palin(and I am not calling her a fascist) that is exactly what she did, and that really isn't funny. First she used the "plain folks" strategy, talking about a candidate representing "Joe Sixpacks and Hockey Moms" portraying herself as the embodiment of the plain folks of Alaska, their "common sense" wisdom and understanding which towers above the economists, sociologists, trade unionists,
people in the arts, sciences and professions connected to social policy and most of all the "other plain folks,"that is working people who want to see the rich taxed, an end to foreclosures, policies to protect jobs and create greater economic equality in the country.

Then she used "negative transfer" to connect Senator Obama and the Democrats generally with policies that will raise taxes, hug trees instead of seeking "energy independence," "wave the white flag of surrender" in Iraq, and in general exploit and oppress the "plain folks of Main Street America whose best friends are the Republican party leaders, plain folks themselves, along with the corporate leaders, plain folks also except for the few greedy rotten apples, who John McCain will stand up and get rid of, because John McCain is the People and the People is John McCain.

The last part, which I caricatured in my last sentence, Al Lee called,"glittering generalities," and there Palin was throwing everyone that she could. McCain the maverick, McCain the reformer, McCain who would work for America in a bipartisan way, McCain who would stand up for "America" against his own party leadership, greedy and corrupt Wall Streeters, you name it. If there is no evidence to support the glitter in those generalizations, there is John McCain and John McCain is the People and the People is John McCain and he and we with Palin by his side will win the war against terrorism, make America energy independent, and ride off into a warm Alaska sunset. If you question any of that, negative transfer tactics will be pulled out immediately to question your credibility.

Joe Biden said it best when he said that over the last eight years Americans have seen their economy decline greatly along with the country's credibility in the world. Palin had no answer. We would say that the issues involved go back much longer than eight years and that the Democrats since the beginnings of the cold war have been a part of the problem, not the solution, but Obama today, like Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s has to win and win with a congressional majority that will begin to roll back thirty years of reactionary rule if we are to overcome this crisis. The debate didn't show that the Democrats will do this. But it did show that the Republicans can't and won't and will continue to pursue policies that will reduce the living standards of the people and isolate the country through the world.