5 things that scare the crap out of me about US politics.

This flag used to stand for the good guys.

This flag used to stand for the good guys.

There’s a scene in one of those 1980s action movies when US commandos are sent in to rescue some hostages. At first, the hostages, not all Americans, I don’t think, are frightened by the arrival of group of heavily armed men. Then one of the men pulls back a velcro anti-glare patch to reveal a US flag underneath, and the hostages are relieved. The good guys had arrived.

That scene always stayed with me, even after I had forgotten the name of the film, because it reminded me that for years the US and her flag were a symbol of good in the world. It’s much more ambiguous now, and the main reason for that has been the troubling direction that US politics has been heading. In that spirit, I thought I’d put together a few of the things that really worry me about the state of US politics today.

1. The presence of hate in politics. There’s an argument that George Herbert Walker Bush, the dad, was the last president that the overwhelming majority of Americans accepted as “their” president. When he was elected in 1988, the Dems controlled Congress, and it wasn’t seen as a big deal. They worked with him, he worked with them. Yes, they were Democrats and Republicans, but they were all sent to do the people’s business, and respected each other for that. Compare that with Michele Bachmann demanding investigations into how American the Democratic Party is. To see Jon Huntsman getting attacked for agreeing to serve his country as US ambassador to China was not only deplorable. It was terrifying to think that having foreign policy experience in dealing with America’s greatest rival is regarded as a liability in the GOP, because you served under President Obama. Does that mean he’d be a better president if he didn’t have that experience? Seriously? The danger is that every election is turning into something equating a civil war, where the other side beat us this time, so let’s fight a guerrilla war for the next four years, questioning their legitimacy and try to paralyse their ability to govern until we counterattack at the next election.

2. Money matters too much. It’s too simple to say that whomever spends the most wins. If that were true, we’d have had a President Perot and President Forbes, and Arianna Huffington would probably still be a Republican. Also, the web has been proven by both Howard Dean and President Obama as being an effective way for small donors to have a very serious impact on a campaign. Having said that, the truth is that big corporate donors do have a serious impact on politics in a way that their numbers as voters simply do not warrant. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that poor people just don’t have the same sort of disposable income to spend on politics campaigns as, say, the Koch brothers. Does that mean that one working joe’s vote should count less than the vote of a Koch brother? After all, the US Supreme Court effectively equating one’s amount of free speech to one’s disposable income seems to make that call. By that logic, why not just let voters buy as many votes as they can afford? Campaign finance reforms that have, at their heart, an aim of ensuring that voters get to hear a reasonably equal contribution from each candidate are not a restriction on freedom of speech.

3. Refusing to even listen to the other guy. When I was in New York last year, I watched MSNBC, and was shocked at how biased it was. I’d read that they were effectively the liberal version of Fox News, but it was really quite disturbing to watch an entire news operation filled with people agreeing with each other, and absolutely savaging, in this case, a Tea Party activist who, in my opinion, was making a valid if disagreeable point. Now, Fox is no better, and as a liberal, I’m obviously going to be biased against Fox News. But I do watch it, just to hear what the other guy is saying, because sometimes the other guy is right. Yet when I hear Sarah Palin et al almost taking pride in only listening to news (she doesn’t seem to read) that comes from a standpoint she agrees with, I find that disturbing. How on Earth can voters make a rational choice in an election when they don’t even listen to what the other guy is saying?

4. The micro managing of politics. It happens in every Western country, but the Americans are so far ahead that democracy is actually being hollowed out from the inside. What do I mean? Take redestricting, where both parties can now use technology to such a degree that huge tranches of the House of Representatives or lower state offices are effectively one party states, where the general election is just a rubber stamp election. Or what about the presidential debates, where nearly every phrase has been polled and focus tested? Or what about candidates arriving to pre-screened crowds holding up “handmade” signs that have actually been manufactured by the campaign, misspellings and all? The fact is, US politicians now have access to so many manipulative tools that it is now possible to elect to office people who 20 years ago would not be deemed fit for that office, whether it’s Sarah Palin or Oprah Winfrey, because emotional manipulation of voters, although not a new thing (ask Goebbels) is now at a technical level unprecedented in human history.

5. The disparaging of experience and learning. Ask yourself this: If a candidate calls another candidate an “intellectual”, is he or she being nice about their opponent? Sarah Palin has taken insular parochialism to a new level. Is she really that ignorant of the world, or is she such a savvy politician that she recognises that in today’s America a candidate who admits to being able to speak French is actually doing himself an injury? The other curious development in politics (it started in the 1970s, probably with Reagan and Carter, although George Wallace in 1968 made his contribution too) is the “elitification” of one’s opponents, where actually having worked in Washington, or actually knowing how the political system works is now held against one. The irony is that these anti-politics campaigns tend to be run by professional political operatives and consultants who have done little with their lives other than professional politics.

Don’t get me wrong: US politics has many strengths. But this is the ugly stuff, and where America goes…

12 thoughts on “5 things that scare the crap out of me about US politics.

  1. Listen to yourself: you’re aligning yourself with an argument that tries to shun opposed opinions out of the acceptable limits of speech. What they proposed VERY CLEARLY was government management, starting with “single payer (100% state,)” and falling back to the point where they will grin and bear the idea of insurance companies remaining in operation, (for now).

    The scheme is to construct a structural collapse in private health insurance to the extent that what they imagine to be a metal-lunchpail-carrying, cloth-cap-wearing, card-carrying majority will demand that 12% of the economy be channeled through the federal government for distiribution to all socially preferred constituencies.

    The scheme is clearly intended to have private insurance pools groan under the weight of new requirements and either leave the business or go bust, dropping their enrollees into a national “default system” where the they will have to play the grateful proletariat.

    We went through all of this at work. Basically, if it isn’t repealed, all we can do is drop everyone, pay the $2000/person/annum penalty, and we will all have to go and seek out our own private coverage.

    The problems are these:
    – it discourages the free market in medical innovation to have one less part of the world that acts as a market for that innovation, and a generator of innovation. European drug-makers don’t make a nickel at home compared to the global market where the drugs which MAY BE dispensed is not curtailed for the sake of social cost to the degree that it is under nationalized schemes.
    – IT ALREADY IS socialized. My mother, who has been kept alive by treatments for her cancer for the past 3 years pays a third of what I do each month. The indigent that she often finds herself chatting with in the Cancer clinic are being aided by charity if not family to cover the gap between medicaid, medicare, and out-of-pocket costs, benefitting from something which may not be perfect, but is actually as good, if not better than a free-shit-for-everyone nationalized scheme.

    To say that it doesn’t work requires that you find a comparable society where rates of death from illness are somehow magically higher by large margins, to say that it doesn’t work.

    And where does this fit into things? Well, because lefty wants to define the vocabulary of the news, and somehow “humiliate” the use of terminology that doesn’t support it, and then indicates this Orwellian-Oceania to get siezed up on the words “fair and balanced”. And they’ll bang their spoons on their high-chairs with phrases like “Faux News” and other packaged, trained in stuff for help prop up their belief that it’s somehow “for a good democracy” to eradicate points of view that makes them want to cover their eyes before they will listen to.

    Popular leftism indulges people and organizations who have the most vulgar intolarance that you can dream of.

  2. I recommend a reading of Tim Groseclose’s “Left Turn”.


    That caracterization is only presented as a way of undermining a conservative argument. It’s what “scares the hell out of me” about virtually everything opposite that of what “scares the hell out of” virtually ANY bien pensent European commentator. The argue without fail with ideas handed to them by political parties, and argue for a ideological monoculture. They indulge notions of permanently silencing those who don’t agree with them without feeling a chill.

    I lived behind the iron curtain. I can tell you exactly where that kind of social revision and characterization of ideology into a leftist monoculture can take you.

  3. Joe: My apologies. I didn’t see the “Fair and balanced (except for Bill and Sean)” logo. Hmm. I wonder though, if someone had only ever watched Fox News, what’s the probability that they would ever have voted for any of the last four or five Democratic nominees for president?

  4. Jason –

    what did I say? His is an OPINION PROGRAM. He is not PRESENTING NEWS. Ed Schulz and Rachel Maddow do the same thing. Are you making an argument for the regulation of speech?

    That Europe is to the left, right, behind, or in front of the US is not relevant to the US, in the exact same way that where Europe is philosophically is not relevant to Brazilians or the Japanese.

    As to “spinning” using a phrase like “public option”, the used of the term itself is spin to promote the notion, and highly inaccurate. It is not a public option – it’s a subsidy larger than the one we already have, combined with progressive nationalization, and its’ purpose was to create more public dependency so that a single political party can appear to serve it and apparently own a permanent vote. In fact the more the public knew about any given form of the insurance reform proposal, the less they liked it.
    I present that example for one reason: it drives the rather personal way that Europeans discuss America. On one level it’s affectionate, but more frequently it’s laced with cendescention and a sense that others in the world should somehow follow what Europeans think and do, and pretend that they own the US. In the course of this kind of discussion, say, over drinks, I get to the point where I say: “you might be shocked to discover that we actually wear shoes!” just to get them to notice their own words. This is because it usually devolves into an endless tirade involving one thing they’ve been told to believe is an American social horror-show after another – all thoroughly unrelated. It actually seems like you’re listening to someone whose been through some kind of cult programming, because the phrases and “proofs” used are so consisitent from person to person.

    Sometimes I just wish I could reach around behind them, find the little ring, pull the cord, with the hope of hearing something different.

    Again – what Europeans would choose in an plane of debate among Americans is only notable to them for their own entertainment puroposes.

  5. I watch Fox News from time to time and it is clearly anti Democrat and anti Obama. The vast majority of their news pieces favour a Repulican of some sort and usually end up blaming Obama for pretty much everything. They do seem to feature some Democrats in some debates but they are usually shouted down by the host or surrounded by two or more Repulican supporters.

    There is nothing wrong with having a right of centre station but it is an obscene distortion of the obvious truth for them to claim their news as ‘fair and balanced’.

  6. Before you paint Obama as an icon of small-money campaigns, please remember that:

    1. He set the all-time record for corporate contributions.
    2. He’s doing it again, with more than 1/3 of his 2012 haul so far coming from the finance and real-estate sectors alone.
    3. He passed the chance to correct the trend in 2008 by not following the McCain/Feingold prescription on campaign finance reform. He did this because…
    4. …in spite of earlier promising to abide, he realised during the race that he could attract megabucks from Wall st. So he broke his promise, even though…
    5. …he was running against the co-author of the campaign-finance reform bill, who stuck to his own pledge to conform.
    6. He continues to entrench the trend. His “bundlers” (campaing fundraisers) include the likes of John Corzine, former CEO of Goldman Sachs.

  7. Joe: Watch the link beneath, and tell me that Bill O’Reilly is not taking a clear position in opposition to President Obama. It’s true, Europe is to the left of the US, but if a television broadcaster (outside of Italy) took such a biased stance, even in support of a left wing party, they’d be fired. Can you show me a link to a regular mainstay anchor on another network (excluding MSNBC, which is biased towards liberals) openly campaigning against the GOP nominee in 2008 like this?


  8. “Presenters” – obviously we aren’t talking as Americans here, which comes with two things: a lack of familairity about those things that invective is thrown at, and the expectation that they are “presenting” to a European audience.
    Fox News is extremely fair in it’s news reporting. It actually provides news items that it articulates to some complete level, unlike the network news where one can watch the news and have no idea what they’re really reporting on, especially when it comes to reporting on the economy. Fox, unlike the networks, does not suppress stories either.

    As to their opinion programs, they are openly conservative. They don’t do the “we’re just normal common sense folksy people here”, and slide ideology in, as if Ma and Pa in Hanibal, MO really have gay marriage on their minds 24/7 – on Fox News, hosts and commentators state their conservatism. They are rarely abusive.
    They frequently set up discussions in a point-counterpoint format with voices from the left. A great many of those commentators are quite responsive to Fox News, despite demonization campaigns a la “Faux News”, because they know how it works everywhere else: an essayist or figure with mild conservative reputation is brought on to the networks such as ABC or CBS, and are made to play the goat. Fox doesn’t do this. This is how they get Pat Caddell, Bob Beckel, Juan WIlliams, Alan Colmes, Susan Estrich, etc. It’s called inhabiting civilization. Unlike the nets, they even report bad news in a straightforward manner about those connected with the ideology that they are closer to. Otherwise, you can watch MSNBC or CBS, and not even get a clear report on the new unemployment claims number because it makes the editor “feel bad”.

    Even Europeans have been programmed through repetition to think that Fox is some sort of provisional wing of satan. This, despite the fact that it’s hardly available anywhere on the continent, and Europeans aren’t even the intended audience. I mean, are they staying up late for a rund-down of the College footbals scores? Come on, already.

  9. Mike Sanders.
    You are nutz. Fox news does not report the news as fair and balanced and there are no liberal presenters. Yikes! I am a liberal and try to listen to the other side. I even listen to Limbaugh but to say fox presents the left and the right. No… not true

  10. You are absolutely correct in your analysis of MSNBC. But as for Fox News, you are too biased against them. Fox nearly always presents both views by interviewing guests from both the left and the right. As for their straight news, it is always timely and accurate.

    Their ratings tell everything. MediaBistro, Wednesday, August 24, 25-54 demographic, total day: FNC: 342; MSNBC: 152; CNN: 188; HLN: 96.

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