The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Perlstein's Bush apocalypse a tad overdone - but Dems are spooked

Unlike the Yankees last night, a poorly-performing Bush is still managing to the keep the game tight: Ohio and Florida are still a tie. But that still makes him at best evens to lose [1].

For Rick Perlstein in the Village Voice (October 19), the tone suggests a thousand year 43rd Reich - under the apt hed and dek The End of Democracy/Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way.

As with most such pieces - which pride themselves on identifying some historical step-change - there's a lack of perspective.

For instance, Perlstein mentions Joseph McCarthy - as I regularly do - as an example of institutional media stenography from well before the era of Jodi Wilgoren and Nedra Pickler. And there are shout-outs for Nixon, Barry Goldwater and wartime Japanese-American internment.

But no analysis to justify the assertion that Bush's MO represents the end of an unbroken tradition.

For which one would need, firstly, to establish the essential components of the democracy that Bush was supposed to have ended, and, secondly, to demonstrate the continuity of those principles in the practice of previous administrations.

When, for instance, would he say democracy started? Surely not from the beginning of the Republic, when the president was chosen without reference to any popular mandate: but from which later date [2]?

And, again, how could such democracy have co-existed with Franklin Roosevelt's national machine, reliant as it was on criminal city and state machines and votes bought with public money through the WPA and the like?

Without this sort of historical grounding, one gets the equivalent of those Best Movies Ever polls - which regularly skew horribly towards recently released movies because those are the ones that most people remember most clearly.

Perlstein's piece is valuable, though, for the quotes from Democratic operatives on the generally supine Dem response to the Bush media operation.

Amazing how it seems generally to be impossible to get a pol to tell a journo the time of day without seeking the protection of anonymity - whereas these guys are happy, weeks away from the election, to put their names to some pretty abject white-flag waving.

For instance,
"It's what the folks in this business, we call an 'elite argument,' " says Jeff Shesol, who was a speechwriter for President Clinton and whose firm, West Wing Writers, develops messages for some of the most prominent Democratic campaigns. "It pitches too high to reach the mass electorate."

And Julian Epstein:
Most people would rather vote for the guy that stole the other guy's lunch money, rather than the guy who complained that his lunch money was stolen.

Perlstein calls this
self-fulfilling defeatism

But I'm reluctant to buy: even before the famous influx of Clintonistas at the beginning of September, the Kerry campaign was hardly staffed with girl scouts. The Swift Boat coup - and the Dem silent treatment it provoked - needs better explanation than this from Jeff Shesol:
"How is it that a month's worth of airtime is sucked up by the Swift Boat Veterans?" he asks, bewilderment in his voice. "How is it that a month of our national attention is consumed by this, and not some of these other questions, is a very difficult thing to explain. And until we can really understand how that happens, I don't know that we can effectively respond to it."

The stenographic media standard (he said, she said) would have worked for a Dem blow-for-blow response to the Swifties, for instance.

Another explanation, of course, is that these apparent fainthearts are anticipating a Kerry victory; they have every intention that a President Kerry will use exactly the same methods of media manipulation as Bush has done; and they don't want to come off as hypocritical when this becomes apparent.

(Pols? Hypocritical? Perhaps that one needs some work...)

  1. Leaving aside new registrants, the supposed tendency for undecideds to break for the challenger and other such factors which would tend to favour Kerry.

  2. As to freedom of the press - surely a key element of any definition of democracy - I noted only recently (October 12) that prior restraint had only been declared unconstitutional as late as 1927.

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