… for the first time ever.
There are two reasons.
One is the blaring and blasting of political cliches, buzzwords and soundbites instead of thoughtful discussion of viewpoints. I have listened to three 1-hour moderated political debates in the last couple of weeks (for state-wide seats and U.S. House), another hour of a U.S. House candidate talking about his views (again in a moderated forum), and have heard and read numerous other politicians’ comments on issues such as unemployment, health care, small business, immigration, budget deficits, taxes on the top 2%, taxes on the middle class, state taxes and fees, the role of the U.S. Constitution, the success and/or failure of the stimulus and TARP, the wars and national security, etc.
Instead of a clear-minded and thoughtful debate of issues, and respect for other viewpoints, I have heard and read kneejerk reactions based on party affiliation, enthusiastic and unquestioned bias, avid production and repetitive recitation of soundbites and buzz words, and what seems to be a complete inability to consider or respect “the other side’s” point of view. This has been true for both the Democratic and the Republican candidates (and in one case, the Libertarian candidate).
I have not heard one new idea, or one admission that “the other side” is right or has a valid pov — even though the candidates are often directly asked, “On what issue can you agree with or work with the other side?” The response is uniformly an issue that that candidate’s “side” already holds up as one of their own values or goals.
There seems to be a blanket refusal to see anything positive in “the other side’s” views or actions. I have heard a lot of name-calling and derisive, dismissive, derogatory framing of “the other side’s” ideas and values (“Obamacare” and anything with the prefix “Pelosi,” and “teabaggers” and “Bush bailout” are all popular) and the use of intentionally inflammatory words and phrases; the opponent painted as pathetically clueless and/or willfully reckless and dangerous; and heaping blame on “the other side” for all our problems and for blocking the potential improvements “our side” would have made.
The second reason is the simple weight of lies, over time, over many U.S. administrations. By lies, I mean outright political lying, misdirection, omissions, secretiveness rather than transparency, false justifications, and cover-ups. I realise we’re not voting on a president this year, but I feel pretty sure that truth is a casualty not just of war but of political power at all levels.
Presidential lying probably stretches back to the founding of the country but in this century, it certainly took place during times of war, in the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. I just watched the PBS program on the Ellsberg Papers, The Most Dangerous Man in America; those papers, brought to light by former-Vietnam War supporter and U.S. Marine Daniel Ellsberg, along with White House tapes, proved that those five administrations consistently lied to the American public about why we were in Vietnam, when we went into Vietnam, why we stayed in Vietnam, and pretty much everything about the war there. (See also the government-made film, Why Vietnam, narrated by Lyndon Johnson in an attempt to sell the Vietnam war in1965.)
I also recently watched the Nova program, Astrospies, about the astronauts that would have been the first into space operating cameras on spy satellites (had not their funding been axed); in this case, too, U.S. citizens and even others at NASA were not told the true mission of the astrospies — instead, they were told it was a kind of science lab in space.
Last week, the public radio show On the Media had a program about journalist Jack Anderson, who “outed countless political scandals beginning in the 1950s,” and whom the Nixon Administration planned to have permanently silenced — after they had used the CIA illegally to get dirt on Anderson, created fake photos to implicate him in wrongdoing, sent him forged documents hoping he would publish false stories, and “tried to smear Jack Anderson as a homosexual.”
Then there was FDR ‘s administration misrepresenting the Yalta Agreement (secretly giving the Soviets’ control over Eastern Europe) and before that its escalation of U.S. involvement in WWII after France fell while promising publicly that the U.S. wouldn’t enter the war, the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis (another secret quid pro quo with the Soviets to end it), Nixon’s administration and Watergate (Ellsberg’s case is part of this), the Iran-Contra scandal within the Reagan administration (where we secretly sold arms to Iran, which was officially under an embargo, to save U.S. hostages and to get money to support the notoriously human-rights-abusive Contras to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, in violation of U.S. law), the lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by the GW Bush administration that got us into the Iraq War (former Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton’s take on some of those lies), the U.S. involvement in Kosovo precipitated by the Clinton administration’s characterisation of the fight between Albanian and Serbs as genocide and ethnic cleansing — and so on. Last week we learned that the Obama Administration blocked scientist estimates on the BP oil spill to make it seem smaller, for their own purposes. Though this is obviously minor in scope compared with these other events, it’s another example of an expedient presidential deception.
Similarly, administrations time and again ally themselves with non-democratic, repressive and even terroristic groups and states for expedient and personally beneficial reasons while not informing the public that they’re doing so — and denying or justifying it for as long as they can when it’s found out — and while outwardly supporting democracy and freedom. The Eisenhower administration’s Guatemalan coup d’état in 1954 — effected by the CIA with massive propaganda preceding an invasion that was followed by bribery and the installation of an inept and corrupt leader whose repressive policies led to great civil conflict, all to replace democratically elected president Arnemz, deemed by the U.S. administration as too sympathetic to communist principles and whose policies were likely to be detrimental to the United Fruit Company (owned by the Dulles family) — comes to mind, as well as the CIA-backed Chilean coup d’état of 1973 under Nixon (hello, military dictator Pinoche), the CIA-backed overthrow of Iran’s first democratically elected government in 1985 (hello, 25 years of dictatorship under the U.S.-armed Shah), our aid to the mujahadeen and incipient terrorist groups in Afghanistan from 1979 through the 1980s under the Carter and Reagan administrations (because those groups were fighting our arch enemy) and our alliance with and major financial support of Pakistan now.
As Eric Alterman wrote in When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), when public officials “feel free to lie to the press — and, by extension, the nation — with impunity, then democracy becomes pseudo-democracy, as the illusion of accountability replaces the real thing.'”
And lately, the press isn’t inclined to bring much to light for the public. I prefer to watch football with the sound off so I don’t have to hear commentators glorify the team that’s ahead and disparage the one that’s behind, only to reverse themselves moments later when the heretofore losing team pulls ahead, always speaking of the leading team in glowing terms and offering statistics to support that view, and speaking of the flagging team as basically losers, with numbers to support that view as well. Apparently, the news press corps is not much different: Dana Milbank, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, said on the Diane Rehm show today that “reporters are poll-driven: … When a president is soaring in the 70s and 80s [in polls], well, he can do no wrong, and we’re not nearly critical enough of the president, and then there’s this pile-on effect when things get really bad for the president. I think we are following rather than leading public opinion.”