Saturday, June 24, 2006

Them misguided Dems: Iraq, the media, and the success of White House "happy talk"

About a week and a half ago, as some of you may remember, the Carpetbagger wrote about "the new media narrative," the one where "Bush and the GOP have momentum and are on the upswing". He argued that, in truth, there is no such "comeback" or "resurgence" for the Republicans.

I responded here at
The Reaction, referring to "the shame of America's free press". What's going on here, I argued, is that the White House's "happy talk," the key communications element of Chief of Staff Josh Bolten's six-month campaign to resurrect the Bush presidency and Republican electoral fortunes, is working. The media, even major news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, are buying it. If they don't buy it, of course, they'll be tagged with the liberal label, which, given the success of Fox News and the influence of the right-wing spin machine, no one wants. Which is why they buy it. Or, at least, which is why they make every appearance of buying it.

And so, we are informed, Bush and the Republicans are back. Similarly, for the sake of "fairness" and "balance," we are informed that the Democrats don't have a plan. Democrats are divided, what with that crazy Dean guy running the DNC and the unstoppable Hillary out in front for '08 and Kerry bitterly sniping from his perch in the Senate and, well, all the other dysfunction that seems to be weighing down the party (which now probably also includes
the Kos-TNR feud).

More than anything, though, it is Iraq that divides Democrats, and Democrats from the American people. At least according to the news media. At
Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell outlines what the media are up to and why they're getting it all wrong:

The new efforts by Republicans in Congress, and in the media, to use Iraq to their advantage by branding Democrats as favoring a "cut-and-run'" policy, has received wide coverage in the past week. Often pundits, and even reporters, have suggested that this is working, because Americans are not in favor of a "hasty" withdrawal. Democrats are in shambles, they report, as they fear that proposals for setting a timetable for withdrawal put forward by Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Murtha will prove disastrous for the party in the November elections, due to the alleged unpopularity of this stance.

This conclusion, however, flies in the face of surveys by all major polling firms…

It's one thing when polls are dismissed, ignored or twisted by political or media spinmeisters. But when journalists in their news stories do it, it is downright misleading.

Misleading indeed. Which is precisely how Republicans win (and govern).

Bush and the Republicans get what they want from all this, which is the perception of a divided and largely ineffectual Democratic Party, justification for their disastrous Iraq policy, and an electorate, or at least a huge chunk of the electorate, that remains just ignorant enough, because misled by the "fair" and "balanced" news media, to mark an X next to the name of whatever candidates the GOP machinery upchucks onto a ballot.

I'm rarely one to join the blogospheric assault on the much-maligned MSM, but, more and more, I cannot help but be disturbed and enraged by its refusal to do its job properly. The shame continues.


On a related note, I find this from
Andrew Sullivan:

The Democrats, alas, seem hopeless to me. Their ambivalence about the war before and during it makes them seem unreliable stewards of a fight we have no choice but to join. Their flirtation with withdrawal only reinforces this impression. But they do have an opening, if they only had the conviction. If a Democratic candidate emerged who promised to stick to the Iraq war to victory, but conduct it in a more aggressive, ethical and competent way than the current crew, Americans would be more than receptive. Such a position would also help them expose the scandalous incompetence in the White House, while not being vulnerable to charges of defeatism. It won't happen, alas. And Rove will ruthlessly exploit the war for partisan gain, as he has from the beginning. He has no scruples. For him, national security is simply part of a political game. I should therefore break the news to my liberal and Democratic readers: Rove is winning this game for now. If you stick to your anti-war position, you are left with hoping for catastrophe, which a great political party should be above. Until the Democrats confront this, the rest of us are left with the hope of McCain - but not much else. Well: prayer, I guess.

I like Andrew quite a bit, not least for his condemnation of the use of torture and for his ardent support for same-sex marriage and other basic liberties, but I'm not with him here. Democrats have different views on what to do about Iraq, but they're not, I think, "hopeless". A parliamentary opposition party may need to stand united against the governing party, but in the American system the "opposition" party needn't coalesce uniformly around common policies until a presidential campaign (and perhaps not even then, given simultaneous races for different levels of government).

In addition, there must be some alternative to McCain or a McCain-style Democrat. With respect to Iraq, McCain is just a more competent and compelling Bush. That isn't the mean between the extremes of the incompetence of the Bush Administration and the "cut-and-run" inclinations of some on the anti-war side. While Cheney et al. continue to believe in their own infallible righteousness, as well as in the unwavering righteousness of their war, Democrats, in seems to me, are engaging in a healthy debate over what to do about a situation that has spiralled out of control. That isn't hopelessness, it's thoughtfulness. And it's what precedes effective and visionary leadership.

I have nothing but confidence that Democrats could be reliable stewards of American foreign policy — not just of the "fight" in Iraq but of troubles around the world, including Iran and North Korea. They should absolutely be given that opportunity once again.

(For more in response to Andrew's anti-withdrawal argument, see
Kevin Drum.)

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