Four More Nightmarish Years
This rant appeared immediately following the stolen election (the one in 2004, not 2000), and we haven't altered it since. (There was no urgency to do so, as John Kerry and his fellow Democrats rolled over again.) But the essential points made here remain true, and our hope is that this rant will, in its small way, help to avert further disaster in 2006 and 2008.
(This "update" appeared in December: It now appears probable that the Republicans stole the election through vote tampering, especially in Ohio and Florida; given the shocking statistical anomalies and evidence of widespread racist suppression of the black vote, one can only hope that the Democrats have the guts this time — we're not holding our breath — to force a thorough investigation of this seeming massive fraud, an investigation that not even the lap-dog corporate media can ignore.)
An apparent majority of those who bothered to vote in the U.S. presidential election have graphically demonstrated that they're too stupid to appreciate even their most basic self-interest or that of their children, and that they approve of the useless sacrifice of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of economic-conscript U.S. soldiers on the altar of George W. Bush's megalomaniac, imperial ambitions. (And let's not even get started on their implicit endorsement of further assaults on civil liberties and the perhaps catastrophic — and deliberate — degradation of the environment).
Bush piled up over 50 million votes by appealing to the absolutely worst aspects of the American character: fear, bigotry, an arrogant, preening nationalism, a child-like desire for a "strong" daddy to protect against evil, brown-skinned foreign monsters, and an appalling stupidity that must appear incredible to those living outside this madhouse of a nation. That anyone, let alone a majority of the electorate, would vote for a man who lied in order to involve this country in a brutal, ill-planned war of aggression — and who would all too obviously be, at best, an assistant manager at a Circle K but for his family's wealth and influence — is simply astounding.
All we can say to the slack-jawed, drooling goose-steppers who voted for Bush and the useless snuffing out of tens of thousands of lives is, "enjoy it suckers — especially the loss of your jobs, your declining standard of living, your constant state of fear, and the coming terrorist attacks."
Over two centuries ago Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential freedom to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Well, you Bush-worshipping cretins, you've just given up essential freedom while sacrificing your own safety and that of your children. You richly deserve every horror that's coming down the pike (even though your children don't).
The Role of the Media
The U.S. corporate media's role in creating the 2004 election debacle cannot be overstated. While one could strongly argue that it began with the media's miserable performance in reporting (actually, near complete failure to report) how Bush stole the 2000 election, let's begin with the media's roll-over-and-play-dead performance after 9-11. Following that horrendous event, criticism of Bush (in the media) essentially ceased for nearly two years, and he and other members of his administration took full advantage, ramming through the grossly misnamed, civil liberties-demolishing "Patriot Act" and posturing endlessly for the cameras. The hiatus on criticism was so pronounced that even Bush's extremely tasteless, gloating remark to his budget director, Mitch Davis, that he had "hit the trifecta" with 9-11, immediately after the tragedy, received essentially no notice from the press. Bush later recycled this "joke" at many GOP fundraisers, with equally little notice. One can only speculate about public reaction — let alone reaction of relatives of 9-11 victims — to this "joke" if it had been widely reported. Really, what kind of a man could — let alone would — make such a horrifyingly callous remark, and make it repeatedly? (One might also note that Bush's disgusting remark fits in well with his record; one need only think back to his mocking of Carla Faye Tucker prior to denying her appeal for clemency and allowing her execution. There are terms to describe this type of behavior; the one that comes immediately to mind is "sociopathic.")
The media's nearly complete surrender — in fact, its conversion to Bush's willing tool — following 9-11 led directly to its promotion of the Bush Administration's pre-invasion lies about WMD's in Iraq. It was used to being a lap dog, and it acted like one. The most disgraceful example here is almost certainly the series of sensational, front-page articles "exposing" the "evidence" of WMD's in Iraq by Bush Administration shill and New York Times "reporter" Judith Miller. That "evidence" was supplied in large part by Ahmed Chalabi, convicted embezzler and thief, alleged Iranian intelligence agent, and, prior to the invasion, Bush's Iraqi golden boy (who was being groomed to head the "free" U.S.-installed Iraqi government after the invasion). In one particularly egregious example from Miller's disinformation campaign, her Sept. 13, 2002 article in the Times, "White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons," repeated White House-supplied disinformation about the "threat" of Iraqi WMD's — and the next day Dick Cheney cited Miller's article as "evidence" of the WMD "threat" (using the Times, the national "paper of record," to lend credibility to his self-manufactured "evidence").
Throughout the following months, the Bush Administration continued its disinformation campaign and fearmongering, with its watchwords being Condoleeza Rice's famous and endlessly repeated soundbite, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Another significant part of the Bush/Cheney disinformation campaign was the deliberate confusion of Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda and the events of 9-11. Bush and Cheney seemingly couldn't mention 9-11 without mentioning Saddam in the same breath; but they carefully avoided saying directly that Saddam was responsible for 9-11 — they simply wanted to give the impression that he was, without being held responsible for their words. (When directly questioned about this, after the invasion, Bush admitted that he had no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with 9-11; but he was successful in his deception — even after this admission he continued to disingenuously tie Saddam to the 9-11 attacks, and even today a majority of Americans believe that Saddam was connected with the events of 9-11.)
The corporate media not only let Bush & Co. get away with this exercise in sleaze, it by and large actively abetted Bush by giving him and his minions endless free airtime while they whipped the gullible into a state of hysteria, by hardly ever asking Bush hard questions at his rare news conferences, and by doing very little real investigation of the highly dubious claims of the Bush Administration, such as Bush's lie in his State of the Union address about Iraq attempting to obtain yellow cake uranium from Niger. (In this case, some members of the corporate media reported on this, but their debunking of Bush's lie came months after he uttered it before a national audience; as well, the relatively small amount of debunking garnered very little attention in comparison with Bush's well-trumpeted lie.)
As well, in the buildup to the invasion, the U.S. mass media gave a huge amount of airtime to pro-war commentators. A study of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS in January and February 2003 by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) found that only 17% of guests on their news programs were opposed to or skeptical of invasion, while 83% favored it. In sum, the corporate media rolled over and allowed the Bush Administration to use it to stampede the country into a war of aggression.
And once the stampede was on, the media joined in whole hog. The "embedded reporters" didn't report; by and large they cheerled. One pertinent example is the Jessica Lynch "rescue" from an Iraqi hospital, which virtually the entire U.S. corporate press jubilantly reported, and which (to much smaller notice, with much less air time) was later debunked as mostly if not entirely staged. The pulling down of Saddam's statue in Baghdad in front of supposed masses of cheering Iraqis is another example. While the videos and photos of the event circulated by the corporate media were carefully cropped to give the impression of a mass event, a long-shot photo from Reuters proves that there were no more than 200 people in the square when the Marines pulled down the statue. Unlike the Jessica Lynch story, this staged photo opportunity was not debunked by the corporate press — only by a relatively few independent journalists.
Thus the corporate media provided the stage for Bush's triumph in the 2004 election: it aided and actively abetted him in presenting himself as a "tough, courageous leader," a "square shooter" who would "stand up to terrorism," when in reality Bush was (and is) a sleazy, dishonest opportunist who took shameless advantage of a national tragedy and who repeatedly, deliberately (and demonstrably) lied in order to precipitate a bloodbath.
Add this all up and a pattern emerges: that of cynical manipulators playing a compliant corporate media like an organ.
One way it works is like this:
- Bush, Cheney, and other administration mouthpieces make outrageous, deliberately misleading statements (though, importantly, not outright lies — most notably their repeated and successful attempts to falsely tie Iraq to 9-11);
- The media (especially TV "news") gives prominent airplay to the initial misleading statements;
- The media does nothing to point out that the statements are misleading (doing so would be "bias");
- Bush & Co. repeat the misleading statements at every opportunity;
- The media continue giving wide airplay to the misleading statements, while providing little if any commentary indicating that they are misleading (again, doing so would be "bias");
- The misleading impression is accepted as true by a large part of the population;
- In the rare instances that anyone calls Bush & Co. on their slimeball disinformation tactics, Bush et al. indignantly deny that they lied (technically true), and their attack dogs accuse the critics of being mean spirited, of character assassination, of lack of patriotism, or even of treason — thus diverting attention away from Bush & Co.'s slimy, deliberately misleading statements.
The second way this media manipulation works is:
- Bush, Cheney, or other administration officials tell an outright, outrageous lie (most notably that Iraq had massive amounts of WMD's and was an "imminent threat");
- The media give massive airplay and front-page, above-the-fold headline coverage to the lie;
- The media do no immediate fact checking and do not point out that Bush, Cheney, et al. are lying;
- Bush, Cheney et al. repeat the lie at every opportunity;
- The lie is accepted as true by a large part of the population;
- The media belatedly does its homework and discovers (surprise, surprise) that Bush et al. are lying;
- The media points this out in an editorial buried on page E-28 or in a small notice on page 8 of the front section — and even when the exposure of the lie is front-page news, it always gets far less coverage than the lie itself received;
- Bush, Cheney et al. continue to repeat the lie;
- The media give them more air time to repeat the lie while often failing to point out that the lie is in fact a lie (pointing this out repeatedly — i.e., whenever Bush et al. repeat the lie — is yet another sign of "bias");
- The lie continues to be accepted as true by a large, only slightly diminished percentage of the population.
- Finally, when reality intrudes to such an extent that the lie becomes obvious, Bush, Cheney et al. deny that they lied in the first place (or claim that "everyone else" also believed the lie when they first uttered it), and their attack dogs accuse critics of being mean spirited, of character assassination, of lack of patriotism, or even of treason — thus diverting attention away from the deliberate lies of Bush & Co.
As anyone with even a passing knowledge of history will notice, Bush & Co. have been employing variations on the Nazis' "big lie" technique: tell a lie loud enough and long enough, and people will eventually believe it. Of course, there are differences: the Nazis had the advantage of a completely controlled press, while the Bushites have had to deal with a press that has at least a pretense of independence, and some of whose members occasionally do their jobs.
The innovations of Bush and Co. were: 1) In some instances, to merely mislead (always leaving themselves a trapdoor) rather than outright lie; 2) To rely on the corporate media to self-censor (remember the shocking scene in Fahrenheit 9-11 in which Bush delivers a dire warning about terrorism and then says, "Watch this drive" immediately before teeing off? — he did that because he knew that the corporate press would self-censor); 3) To rely on having more airtime and press space for their lies than for the corrections which sometimes follow, essentially swamping the corrections with lies; and 4) To have attack dogs (such as "hillbilly heroin addict," Rush Limbaugh — to borrow a phrase from The Rude Pundit — and "bimbo for Bush," Ann Coulter) viciously attack anyone who points out Bush & Co.'s lies, drawing attention away from the (endlessly repeated) lies.
And of course these techniques worked all too well. There's almost no other way to explain how more than 50% of the electorate still believe that Iraq was connected to the events of 9-11. The only other explanation that leaps to mind is that the U.S. is a nation of morons, which, however, is also an explanation of why Bush & Company's big-lie tactics have worked so well.
Iraq — Bush's Tar Baby
As mentioned above, Bush & Co. played the (very willing) corporate media like an organ during the propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion, and while the invasion was in full swing. But then things began to go horribly wrong, so horribly wrong that even the corporate media was forced to take notice. First, there were no WMD's. Bush & Co. responded by insisting, for months and months, that they were there and that eventually they'd be found. Then, as more time rolled by, they switched tactics: they began to insist that they had invaded Iraq to "liberate" its people, while continuing to disingenuously tie Saddam to 9-11. How did the press react? Did they fearlessly confront this shameless exercise in political misdirection? Did they raise a hue and cry over Bush's deliberately lies that plunged this nation into a shameful bloodbath? No. By and large (with the exception of a few columnists and commentators such as Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and Amy Goodman), the media simply provided more airtime for Bush & Company's lies, including the new lie that everything was going just fine and according to plan — but with the videos of the ever-widening chaos and carnage as background.
Then the horrors at Abu Ghraib came to light. Bush reacted as one would expect: with still more lies and with a cover up, with an insistence that he, Cheney et al. had no knowledge of the torture, were in no way responsible for it, and would never condone it — and all this despite the fact that Bush's White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, wrote a memo to Bush on January 25, 2002 arguing for the torture of prisoners in the "war on terror," and that Bush himself had blustered repeatedly about "getting tough" with terrorists. Bush et al. argued that there was no connection between their swaggering boasts, the Gonzales memo, and the torture of prisoners, and instead attempted to pin all the blame on low-level security personnel such as chinless, genderless war criminal, PFC Lindy English, and her sadistic simian boyfriend, corporal Charles Graner. The press reacted as was predictable: they let Bush get away with it.
Which brings us to the 2004 election campaign. In the interest of brevity, we won't even bother to deal with the media's demolition of Howard Dean (who would probably have been a stronger candidate than Kerry, simply because of his consistent anti-war stance), and will instead comment only briefly on media coverage of the campaign itself.
During the campaign, the media showed signs of beginning to do its job, although it continued to give Bush & Co. ample airtime to lie about Iraq and to continue its disinformation campaign linking Saddam and 9-11. (It's a mark of how poorly the press did its job that John Kerry's finest moment of the campaign was when he caught Bush linking Saddam and 9-11 during the first presidential debate; if the press had done even a semi-responsible facsimile of its job, Bush would have been shamed into stopping this dishonesty months before.)
But perhaps where the press played most into Bush's hands was in its attempt to be "even handed." It did this by giving as much time to Republican charges (and lies) about trivialities as to very serious questions about Bush's competency and honesty. Did Bush lie and fabricate "evidence" in order to stampede this country into a war of aggression? And was Dick Cheney's Halliburton — from which he's still receiving significant money — profiteering on the war? While there was some discussion of these questions, the press, in its attempt to be "fair," gave at least equal time (probably considerably more) to such burning questions as whether John Kerry was merely hit by shrapnel, rather than shot, prior to receiving a purple heart. And while Kerry's past was subjected to microscopic examination in the corporate press, the silver-spoon-up-his-nose chickenhawk's checkered past was, to put it charitably, under-reported.
The whole "flip-flopping" controversy also illustrates how the corporate press served Bush. Rather than explain the nature of congressional votes and how apparent but not always real contradictions inevitably arise, the press merely gave Bush a platform for his charges. And it did essentially no reporting on such major, real Bush flip-flops as the Texas Patients Bill of Rights, which Bush opposed when it came before the legislature in 1995, then allowed to go into law without his signature when it passed with a veto-proof majority, then campaigned on it in 2000 as if he had supported it, and then had his "Justice" Department file a brief opposing it when it went before the Supreme Court.
Finally, the corporate press is still continuing to serve Bush by refusing to investigate the very real evidence of major vote fraud and vote suppression in both Ohio and Florida. (In fairness, there is one voice in the corporate-media wilderness: Keith Olbermann at MSNBC.)
In sum, and to repeat, it's almost impossible to overstate the role of the corporate media in creating the 2004 election debacle.
How the Democrats Screwed Themselves
(and the rest of us)
GUTLESSNESS, n. According to the savvy political strategists who have guided the Democratic Party for decades, a certain route to victory.
—The Devil's Dictionaries, Second Edition
Of course, the idiot-bootlicking nature of Bush voters, vote tampering, and the bend-over-and-grab-'em stance of the corporate media only explains so much. The Democrats themselves bear much of the blame for blowing what should have been a landslide.
Many thanks for the recent disaster must go Bob Shrum, Mary Beth Cahill, Bill Clinton, and other Kerry advisers and campaign strategists, who advised John Kerry to go after the very few sub-moron "swing voters" (come on — given the evidence, what type of person could have been "undecided") by playing to the center, by carefully trying not to offend anyone, rather than saying what he really (well, probably) believes — in other words, they advised Kerry that the route to victory was via gutlessness.
Perhaps even more "thanks" should go to John Kerry himself, for listening to the Clintonistas and for his spineless record regarding the Iraq invasion. Kerry voted for the resolution authorizing war even though he must have been aware (as tens of millions of us were) that Bush & Co. had cooked the "evidence" of WMD's to justify their dog-in-heat lust for blood, oil, and invasion. Almost worse was Kerry's later campaign statement that he would have voted for the Iraq invasion even if he had known that there were no WMD's in Iraq. What a profile in courage. By voting for the invasion authorization, he put himself in a box. And with his later statement, he nailed the lid shut.
Even when he was handed what should have been a killer campaign issue — Abu Ghraib — Kerry did nothing with it. He could have denounced it as degrading and disgusting, and dangerous to U.S. troops because of the precedent set by the torture there. He could have demanded a rigorous investigation and that Bush, Rumsfeld et al. take responsibility for the actions of those under their command. Instead, he did essentially nothing.
As well, Kerry wasted a golden opportunity at the Democratic convention. In his acceptance address, did he focus on the present, on the very real, very serious problems (read Iraq, the economy, and the environment) facing the nation? Did he use it to show how Bush has made all of these problems worse? Did he use it to reveal Bush's lies and media manipulation? No. Instead, he used his address with its huge audience to highlight his service in Viet Nam, about which his core constituency doesn't give a rat's ass, which almost certainly attracted very few militaristic, nationalistic types (the Republicans having the goose-stepper vote locked up tight), and which gave Bush's attack weasels the opportunity to divert attention from the very real issues facing us, and Bush's very real failures.
As well, Kerry ceded the "moral" high ground to Bush and his deluded fundamentalist followers. (Three quarters of Bush voters believed that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 attacks, that Saddam had close ties with Al Qaeda, and/or that Iraq had WMD's at the time of the invasion.) Instead of taking Bush and the fundies head on, Kerry mumbled about his Catholic faith, how he too believed in God, and how religion was important in his life. He could have, instead, confronted them by asking: What's moral about lying in order to justify a war of aggression? What's moral about bombing and killing tens of thousands of civilians? What's moral about torturing prisoners? What's moral about imposing your "morality" on others via laws, police, and prison? What's "moral" about teenage girls dying from loss of blood following the back-alley abortions your "morality" would brink back?
Kerry didn't have the courage to ask any of these obvious "moral" questions. He didn't even have the courage to state — before, preferably, an audience of religious loons — that he has fundamental differences with fundamentalists. Instead, he rolled into a ball, hands protectively cupped over his crotch, whimpering, "Please don't hurt me. I'm really like you. Please don't hurt me."
Another factor in Kerry's self-inflicted loss was his idiotic support of an assault weapons ban. In the first place, the issue is a red herring. Assault weapons are used in only two-tenths of one percent of violent crimes, and roughly 1% of gun crimes. In the second place, what is the cause of probably a good majority of murders in this country? It's not assault weapons. It's the "war on drugs." Eliminate drug prohibition and you'll eliminate the (profit) motive for much gang and all drug-traffic-related violence, and you'll eliminate the motive for the violent crimes of users. (How many tobacco addicts — who are hooked harder than heroin addicts — pull off armed robberies or stick up convenience stores to maintain their habits? End drug prohibition, and gun violence will drop drastically and almost immediately. Banning weapons doesn't keep them out of the wrong hands, just as banning drugs doesn't keep them out of the wrong hands.)
And from a purely tactical standpoint, support of an assault weapons ban is incredibly (and obviously) stupid. Gun owners tend to care deeply about gun ownership, and a great many allow their votes to be decided on this single issue, while those who favor gun bans tend not to be single-issue voters. Through his loud, appalling support of an assault weapons ban, John Kerry almost certainly lost untold numbers of votes in such crucial states as West Virginia, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado (not to mention the entire South). If he had only come out strongly against the assault weapons ban, it's entirely possible that Kerry would have won the election.
Still another boneheaded, almost unbelievable screw-up by the Kerry campaign was its failure to spend all of the money at its disposal. On the day of the election, the Kerry campaign still had $51 million in its coffers. Why it didn't spend this on advertising and get-out-the-vote drives in key states — or court challenges and recounts in the states that Bush apparently stole — remains a mystery.
But this was a minor matter in comparison with Kerry's other blunders. His waffling on Iraq, his support of an assault weapons ban, and his refusal to address "moral" issues were enough to doom him. And is there any doubt about what will happen in future elections should Democrats continue to be so spineless?
Kerry and his "centrist" advisers (who'd be considered moderately rightist in saner parts of the world) managed to blow what should have been a landslide. As evidence, simply look at the election results in Oregon, where forthrightly anti-war Senator Ron Wyden, who voted against authorizing Bush to invade Iraq, won by over 30 points [63% - 32%], while Kerry carried Oregon by only 4 percentage points. Other anti-war Democrats, such as Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, scored similar victories, though by somewhat smaller, though still significant, margins. It's also worth noting that pro-war "Democratic" Senator Tom "Doormat" Daschle, a man (and we use the term advisedly) so craven that he used a photograph of himself and Bush in his re-election campaign, went down — more accurately, crawled on his belly — to a well-earned defeat. And yet the prescriptions for Democratic victory in 2008 now being trumpeted in the corporate media (and by the corporate lackeys of the Democratic Leadership Council) call for the Democrats to become still more "moderate," that is, still more gutless.
Finally, let's not forget to thank John Kerry for abandoning us to the tender mercies of Bush & Co. when, at the very least, there are grounds for criminal investigations of vote fraud and criminal violations of the Voting Rights Act in both Ohio and Florida. When it came down to it, did Kerry stand up and fight? No. He conceded immediately (when there were already serious doubts about the validity of the vote), and since then he has been eerily quiet about the mounting evidence of vote fraud and vote suppression. If Kerry had spoken out, the timid corporate press would have been forced to look closely at these issues. But Kerry didn't speak out. With what passes for American democracy being rapidly supplanted by what looks more and more like theocratic fascism, John Kerry has betrayed us through his silence.
What We Can Do Now
As can be seen from the above, there were three primary reasons that a grotesque political figure like George Bush was (more or less) elected: 1) The near-complete failure of the "independent" media to do its job; 2) The expert manipulation of that media by Bush, Cheney, et al. (presumably with puppet master Karl Rove pulling the strings); 3) The ineptness and gutlessness of the Democrats, particularly John Kerry. Let's consider these in reverse order.
First, the plight of the Democrats. I'll leave it to others to point out the obvious, how the Democrats can win, because for several reasons (see the next section, "The Usefulness [or lack of it] of Electoral Politics"), I can't recommend that anyone invest any real time or effort into electoral politics, especially within the Democratic Party. So, let's skip ahead to . . .
Exposing Bush & Co.'s Media Manipulation
Obviously, media manipulation works only as long as those being manipulated are unaware of the manipulation. So, a prime task of progressives of all stripes is to unmask the manipulation and the manipulators. Some good work is being done now (by, for instance, Noam Chomsky, FAIR, and Norman Solomon), but it would be helpful if there were more media analysis in the progressive press (which, for our purposes, includes electronic media and the 'net). But even if the progressive press did pay more attention to media and its manipulation, the problem remains that the progressive press has very limited reach in comparison with the corporate media. Chomsky, Solomon, et al. have produced devastating, unimpeachable critiques of the corporate media, but probably no more than one or two (let's be generous and say five) people in a hundred have even heard the names of the critics, let alone the substance of their critiques.
So what, if anything, can be done about the performance of the corporate media? Given present circumstances, not much. Pressuring the media via e-mail and letter campaigns, boycotts, etc. is not a solution. At best, such campaigns can win temporary, minor concessions (and often for only as long as the pressure lasts). But in the long run, as long as ownership doesn't change, there will be no fundamental reform of the corporate media.
One reason for this is that wealthy right-wingers have targeted the media for decades and have achieved control of significant portions of it. Sinclair Broadcasting, Fox "News," Clear Channel, and the Moonie-owned Washington Times and United Press International (UPI) are only the most prominent examples of this control. (If you've been wondering, the disreputable ownership of UPI and its extreme right-wing bias are almost certainly why UPI reports [probably] vanished from your local paper several years ago.) The remainder of the media is largely in the hands of a few mega-corporations, whose bottom line is the bottom line. Naturally, these corporations want to do nothing to upset the cart, nothing that would endanger their profits. And, of course, their news reporting reflects that priority. So, what we have in the U.S. is a mix of rabid right-wing corporate "news" sources mixed with bland, profit-is-our-priority corporate news sources.
To put this another way, the conservative profit-driven media (CNN, CBS, etc.) have done nothing to challenge the wacko right-wing mass media, and have essentially allowed it (and the right-wing politicians it supports) to define the terms of political discourse in this country for decades. One rather startling example of this is that a great many people actually believe that there is such a thing as "the liberal media." (It's perversely amusing that they see nothing ironic in parroting the line — "the liberal media" — endlessly spoon-fed to them by nearly all-pervasive right-wing hate radio.)
Suggestions for Rich Progressives
If by some miracle George Soros is reading this, George! get off the dime and buy CNN or MSNBC, and have them do some actual reporting! Those with less money but with significant means could do a tremendous amount of good by simply buying radio stations and having them do honest local and national reporting (e.g., carrying Pacifica News and Democracy Now!). In many smaller markets the cost of stations is as low as a few hundred thousand bucks, and in terms of outreach radio stations provide the best bang for the buck. Another advantage of radio stations is that in most places owning a station is like having a license to print money (as long as the station is properly managed). (One huge irony of recent years is that leftist moneyed types have tended not to invest in media, but rather to bankroll electoral campaigns — e.g., medical marijuana initiatives — in which their cash, at least in part, goes to the right-wing media.)
Suggestions for the Rest of Us
What can those of us who don't have much money do? We can continue to pursue smaller-scale media projects. IndyMedia is a good example of what can be done with energy, commitment, and very limited funds. There are many other good progressive web sites providing real news — e.g., AlterNet, Truthout, and Common Dreams — but there are room for many more.
For those with a few bucks, print media avenues are open (though constricted): book publishing, magazine publishing (though the competition and economic realities in both fields are murderous), and community newspapers (again, economic realities are harsh) are all projects that can be launched with limited funds.
For those on the edge economically, there are still alternatives to web-based media: pirate radio stations (cost, a few hundred bucks), xeroxed (or offset-printed) 'zines, cable-access TV, street theater, video production collectives, store-front performance spaces, billboard correction, graffiti. The possibilities are endless. While it's often hard to see the effect of individual projects, collectively small progressive projects can have great impact. If you're doing anything to wake people up, don't underestimate the value of your work.
And even if you don't have the time, energy, or interest to initiate or participate in a progressive media project, please consider supporting these projects economically, no matter in how limited a way. No one is getting rich in progressive independent media, and every dollar helps to sustain valuable, independent voices.
(Because we've been addressing only the reasons for the recent electoral catastrophe, we won't deal here with any of the myriad of worthwhile, nonmedia progressive activities.)
The Usefulness (or lack of it) of Electoral Politics
There was unprecedented citizen participation in the electoral process in 2004 via groups such as MoveOn, Punk Voter, and the innumerable 527-funded voter registration drives. Other than the already mercifully forgotten hangovers and suicidal thoughts, what are the likely consequences of the disaster on November 2nd? First and foremost: discouragement, depression, and withdrawal from the political process. Probably 80%, maybe 90% of those actively involved in the 2004 campaign will now lapse into inactivity — probably for years, maybe forever.
This, like nothing else, points to the futility of relying upon the electoral process as the primary, or the only, avenue to change. It eats up huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm; it blinds people to other avenues to social change; and at best it delivers only mild reforms. If Kerry had won, the best we could have hoped for would have been an early withdrawal from Iraq, saner fiscal policies, less environmental destruction, and, perhaps, expanded healthcare coverage. (And it's well to remember that regardless of whether Kerry had won or lost, the vast majority of his supporters would have lapsed into inactivity following the election, due to their tunnel-vision obsession with electoral politics as the only avenue to change.)
Again, if Kerry had won, nothing would have fundamentally changed. With Kerry as president, the U.S. would still have spent as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. It would still have continued to arrogantly interfere in the affairs of other nations. A large part of its population would still have continued to live in near-third-world conditions. Millions of people would still have been thrown in jail annually for victimless "crimes." And mega-corporations would still have continued to dominate the economic, political, and cultural life of the country. Put more basically, if Kerry (or any other "progressive" candidate) had won, there would still be rich and poor, there would still be those who give orders and those taking them, and those giving them would continue to screw those taking them.
And what about voting? Is it a waste of time? Not quite. It can sometimes serve to remove dangerous lunatics from office or to defeat destructive initiatives or referendums. Very occasionally, it can help to pass minor reforms that ameliorate the worst excesses of the present dog-eat-dog system. But by its very nature, voting cannot basically alter the political/social/economic status quo. It simply selects new rulers who dominate the rest of us, while leaving intact the structure of domination (government). Even in the many cases in which European social democratic parties (all considerably to the left of the Democrats) have held state power, they simply enacted relatively minor reforms (universal health care, the dole, free higher education — all of which the Democrats are too gutless to advocate) which left intact all of the structures of power and privilege.
Still, was there a reason to vote in the last election? Yes. If Kerry had won, he'd have been under tremendous pressure to withdraw from Iraq very quickly. (Nearly 90% of his supporters opposed the war.) And if he had withdrawn U.S. forces, it would have saved the lives of thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis. This in itself was enough reason to vote for Kerry. Of course, a Kerry victory would not have ended U.S. military interventions overseas, but it almost certainly would have ended this tragic intervention in fairly short order. Kerry's election would also have at least temporarily put a roadblock in the religious right's drive to destroy reproductive freedom, and it would have ensured that the government would have pursued less damaging environmental policies (not that it would have done anything to address the basic reason for environmental damage: the profit motive).
In this light, the recent election essentially gave us the choice of being kept in chains (Kerry) or kept in chains and tortured (Bush). More generally, voting never offers an appetizing choice — it's sort of like being given the "choice" of being sodomized with or without lube. Unfortunately, staying away from the polls does absolutely nothing to prevent the sodomy, so it's probably best to put on your hip boots, slog through the slime to the voting booth, hold your nose, and vote for the apparently lesser of the numerous evils.
In other words, be realistic about voting: it can't be the vehicle to substantive change; but it can be a means of enacting minor reforms. As such, and since it requires little effort, it's (barely) worth doing. (To be fair, staying away from the polls, while totally [probably worse than] useless in effecting change, does provide dogmatic anarchists and other conscious abstainers with a pleasant feeling of moral superiority over the rest of us.)
Still, the relatively few conscious abstainers are right about one thing: those who want fundamental change must look beyond electoral politics. All of the truly great social advances in American history have been the result of non-electoral social forces: the civil rights crusade (propelled by civil disobedience), the abolition of slavery (inspired by the abolitionist movement), the emancipation of women (brought about by themselves) — all of these advances came about through non-electoral means, and it's a good bet that all future social advances will, too. Progressives should keep this in mind before tossing their time and energies down the rat hole of electoral politics.
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