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Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 14, 2009

Agenda-setting

I’ve complained before about all the attention that the angry liberals—Air America, Keith Olbermann, The Huffington Posties, etc.—are paying to the nutters on the right, and I’m going to do it again. Not only does this obsession absolve them of developing and selling an agenda, and put them in the position of being mouthpieces for a centrist, business-friendly administration—it reinforces the role of Glenn Beck as an agenda-setter. Just as Olbermann can’t let go of Cheney, Obama’s clearly still in the discursive grip of Reagan.

I’m no fan of economic crises as offering opportunities for political transformation—they could as easily, maybe more easily, break to the right as to the left, and they cause lots of suffering—but I had hoped that the near-meltdown of the financial system might lead to new ways of seeing, thinking, talking. Not yet.

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Responses

  1. Exactly, Sarah Palin says something outrageous, the liberal blogs foam at the mouth and run the story constantly. She has them well-trained.

    This is a Saul Alinsky tactic. Have been re-reading and blogging about him. The Right most definitely has read and used Rules for Radicals. The Left needs to re-read it again. (Limbaugh was recently quoted saying that videographer at ACORN was using Alinsky’s rule #4.

    “Rule 4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian Church can live up to Christianity.”

    Both sides are screaming at each other while libertarian financial blogs like Zero Hedge and Naked Capitalism are the ones doing the real research and digging into the financial scandals, and have in some cases helped to force the issues into the mainstream and Congress.

    So how do we grab back the agenda?

  2. They may not be able to tell their people what to think, but they damn sure tell them what to think about. As you have noted before, the more outrageous the Republicans, the more reasonable the Democrats. It is not credible to describe this recurring behavior as a failure–it is their function. The failure is the embrace of the progressive machine as a popular movement.

    My pet theory: Voting for the opposition is both easier than a primary fight and more powerful than simply staying home. But not everyone is willing to vote for the opposition. The voters _least_ likely to vote for the opposition party are the ones _most_ likely to cause an upset in the primaries. (Their only other option would be to stay home, which could injure the essential efforts to get out the vote.)

    The threat of primary revolts, according to David Sirota, mortifies the DC leadership. Any outfit that can mollify such voters is of service to the Party leadership. Managing expectations is a basic part of governance. The Party leadership will engage with such outfits, which in turn provides the proggie orgs with access. The seductions of access to elite power should be obvious to anyone paying attention to anything. (Funding for the NGO-centric left is another factor.)

    Many careers have been made by convincing the Party base that the Party leadership agrees with them. For many, massaging the perceptions of the base (as they do with the electorate) is a game. The better an outfit plays the game, the greater their value to the Party leadership. The greater the outfit’s access to Party leaders, the greater the outfit’s sense of their own power.

    The machines rationalize their service to the Party leadership, even at the odd expense to the base, with appeals to their increased relevance. Relevance to whom, well, they don’t like that question. The very structure of their machine (see MoveOn.org) shields them from having to answer. Besides, the most reliable gain from a seat at the table is the fear of losing it.

    Simple careerism won’t explain everything. But without a better account of why the same crap continues to be fed to the same grumbling majority, decade after decade, careerism is the first place to look.

  3. In a way it seems the Republican figures like Palin, et al with their “death panels” and all that are helping Obama push through a dreadful healthcare bill.

    If the Republicans really wanted the bill killed all they’d have to do is tell everybody the truth; the bill will force everyone to buy private insurance or be fined appx $4000. Instead, by focusing on phantoms and being very loud, they’ve got “progressives” sticking up for an extremely regressive bill that will do nothing to make the delivery of health any more rational or affordable. It will make the insurance industry very happy though.

    Regarding “I had hoped that the near-meltdown of the financial system might lead to new ways of seeing, thinking, talking. Not yet.” I agree, but I don’t think any corporate sponsored networks want to have that conversation. A nightly spitball fight with right-wing lunatics is better for the bottom line.

  4. Not the networks, but what about the liberal blogosphere. Some of them are whining about Obama, but not enough of them, and not loudly enough.

  5. I agree. And the whining tends to take the form of “Obama is being misled”, or those darn Blue Dogs, etc. etc. etc.

    As to why? I wish I knew!

  6. […] reinforce the role of the right as agenda-setters Mon Sep 14 2009 1:30 pm by Bob Morris. I’ve complained before about all the attention that the angry liberals—Air America, Keith Olbermann, The […]

  7. Liberalism has been dead for years, it’s a spent force ideologically. They’ve got nothing new to say.

  8. I wish that spokespersons for the left would organize physical protests against the “fringe” fascist movement that has seized the cognitive, emotional, and political domain by savvy use of theatre, drama, protests, and the media.

    This would be more effective than hurling rhetorical bombs at Obama and the “liberal” media, in my view.

  9. In an interview on Pacifica radio’s “Uprising” program on September 9, 2009, Bill Fletecher, Editor of the Black Commentator, provided the best analysis I have yet heard regarding the position the left must take at this historical juncture.
    http://uprisingradio.org/home/?p=10018

    It might also be a time to revisit Lenin’s “Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.”

  10. Just what are you saying? Are you not paying all the attention to the nutters on the left?

    It just might work both ways.

    Who starts to fix it first?

  11. Just as Tom Friedman perpetually contended that “we” needed to wait six months to see if the situation in Iraq would correct itself, Bill Fletcher has made a cottage career of forever insisting that “it’s just about time for the independent left to put pressure on Obama, but not quite yet…”

  12. I’ve been reading you for fifteen plus years and I still don’t know what hurts worse, agreeing or disagreeing with you. I’ll split the difference.

    The increasingly engorged rightwing isn’t a distraction. And it’s not an object of envy. The passion you see is mean and ignorant. That passion is fueled by a self-defeating resentment at century of social justice gains. And it’s passion that is relieved of any responsibility for getting the story, the facts, the history straight. In its most positive poise, it’s the most aggressive, almost belligerent, assertion that the best of all possible worlds involves pushing one’s head deeper into the sand. I think that’s the mystical yet manly burkean thus ambivalent over the enlightenment randian-cum-libertarian yale quad world about which you remind us of your apostasy.

    The least repugnant consequence is that these mad fools win back power through elections 2010. Josh Marshall at TPM had an interesting observation based on new polling in the New Jersey governor’s race. Likely voters broke to the Republican Christie while registered voters went to Corzine. In an off-year election like 2010, the intensity of public opinion will matter.

    The alternative is an ugly descent into a new political world where gasbaggery and buffoonery gets both more tragic and more farcical. Glenn Becks and tea baggers get real traction in swaying public opinion, at least among the most stupid and the most independent voters. All the while those who have supported social justice gains for the past half century lose out to a fearful, feckless, feeble, and fucked Democratic Party.

    And I think we’re getting to the point where it’s going to be difficult to separate the racism from the “principled” objections to whatever it is they’re objecting to. Watching Breitbart’s cute white kids take on those big black monsters of ACORN, all the while doing so under the pretext of opposition to big bad government is a case in point. ACORN isn’t a government agency (tho I’m sure there are thousands who regard it so). And the hypocrisy these kids are revealing is parlayed into advancing the main gripe: ACORN’s voter registration efforts.

    But ACORN is also a case in point in your lectures about passivity and cooptation of liberals and pinkos. ACORN has gotten lazy and sloppy. It’s so accustomed to playing the underdog that it can’t see the enemy coming for it. It’s not the cops, not government, not big bad business, not local political elites. It’s the ‘burbs. People can call out the Astroturf phoniness of the organizations behind the tea baggers, but that passion and energy (and confusion) has Perot-voter, soccer mom and retiree written all over it (and the outsourced, off-shored, downsized, and deindustrialized worker as well).

    I think a good chunk of what’s unfolding was pretty predictable. The left-to-liberal opposition to Bush had only one thing in common and that was their disdain for Bush (and Bush-rule). But beyond that and some broad philosophical positions (don’t stomp on baby kittens), its all mass nonmovement inertia, confusion and division. What kind of agenda could be set by ideological anorexics, loopy-the-earth-would-be-better-without-humans crowd, marxist mash-ups (all arguments, all one-liners), feminists against racism, antiracists against sexism, glbt against cap and trade, inorganic elites for whole foods, anti-globalists that actually support globalization (just not the capitalist kind), anti-imperialists (who oppose empire but like global cops), caffeinated anarchists, anti-zionists, human rights activists, just war (or intervention or invasion) theorists, anti-terrorists pro-insurgents, give peace a chance hippies, and on and on. And on top of that, the ruling elites haven’t quite given up their stranglehold on power. Add to that a political system and a civic culture that can’t quite advocate for progressive change.

    I kinda don’t blame Obama penchant for moderation. All those crowds that seem to be delivering the messiah vanished by last Christmas. If there was ever a progressive chord in Obama, I think he’s now humming ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.’ Hello Wall Street.

  13. Obama’s penchant is not for moderation,it’s for wage slavery, slaughter, subjugation and empire. It’s long past the time for persons on the left to abandon illusions. If Obama was sending the drones in to your neighborhood, instead of his chosen southwest asian neighborhoods, would we be calibrating the slightly better choice for the Supreme Court, or debating his ‘health care’ plan?

  14. Comrade, from each according to his/her hyperbolic rhetoric, to each according his/her illusions. An inclination to slaughter and subjugation is just a pedantic way of calling him a murderer. The guy’s a suit, I’ll say that much. But I prefer the company my illusions keep. Yours keep slipping and sliding across the boundaries and end up with all kinds of residue.

    You want Obama to do something. I suspect he would if there was anything like public support beyond answering telephone polls and leaving blog comments. Isn’t that DH’s point. GOPsters in Congress may well become emboldened to demand Obama submit to circumcision review precisely because the tea baggers in the street.

    On the other hand, I forget. What’s the alternative to wage slavery? Being underemployed, I’m always open to new opportunities.

  15. Since the top 10% owns 70% of the USA and the top 1% owns 37%, the mouthpieces on the left are afraid to criticize the ultra-rich because they might lose some temporary privileges.

    So they go after the safe targets- mouthpieces on the right, public servants, and faceless corporations.

    Meanwhile Rome burns from sustained inbreeding and mutation of the ruling class.

    Commandment #1 for all public figures (on the left or right)- the American ruling class shall remain nameless

  16. sycophantasitic’s reference to my assertions as “hyperbolic rhetoric” is just a posturing way of avoiding the assertions. I note there was no challenge to their substance.

    For those whose thinking processes don’t automatically revert back to the teabaggers when challenged, the question stands: “If Obama was sending the drones in to your neighborhood, instead of his chosen southwest asian neighborhoods, would we be calibrating the slightly better choice for the Supreme Court, or debating his ‘health care’ plan?”

  17. To Id:
    Bill Fletcher, in his recent interview on Pacifica, took a different tact. He said that it’s time the Left took on the right wing – that the right is essentially unopposed because the Left has decided to view Obama and Dems as the enemy or not communist/socialist enough and therefore not worth fighting for.

    Fletcher made the point that many on the Left are fearful of showing up to challenge the right, so they attack Obama since it is so much easier to do so. Facing down committed, angry mobs of fascists takes courage and a level of organization and committment that is currently absent on the Left.

    So too is any analysis of the threat the fascist movement poses. Rather, it is downplayed and liberals like Maddow and Olbermann are criticzed for allegedly exaggerating the threat…after all if the threat is serious, and Fletcher believes it is, then the Left has an obligation to organize against this challenge…

    But alas, that is far more difficult than shooting the messengers…

  18. Important analysis by Eric Boehlert of Media Matters:
    http://www.truthout.org/091909C

  19. “Reaction to Carter, Pelosi comments show media reluctant to discuss racism, extremism in Obama attacks.” –Media Matters http://mediamatters.org/research/200909180047

    “A President Was Killed the Last Time Right-Wing Hatred Ran Wild Like This” – Media Matters http://mediamatters.org/blog/200909180004

  20. If one regards the Obamamonster as a ruthless imperialist oblivous or intent on inflicting pain and suffering on Southwest Asian innocents and at the same time a compliant stooge of finance capital then one productive suggestion is to join in the tea bagger parades and shoutdowns. They seem to be having a greater impact on Obamamonster than pinko intellectuals and stern and earnest horny-handed sons and daughters of toil. And since they’re already hollering at the Obamamonster as a fascist, you can save yourself the trouble.

    One alarming sign of the right’s success is it’s takedown of ACORN. That’s a grassroots outfit with organization and commitment that has been significantly hobbled. That should wake people up. Will it?

  21. Still no challenge to the substance of my assertions, just more posturing. It’s now a matter of how ‘one regards’ Obama that determines whether those people have been slaughtered? The carnage tells the story. How hip you are to be so much smarter than those yahoo teabaggers.


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