Four More Years of "Change"
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice etc. 9/11/08
More and more, every election season, when we tune into the media it seems like someone keeps hitting the “replay” button. Take this year’s Republican coronation of John McCain. We’ve seen this dog-and-pony show before. Specifically, we saw it in 2000, when George W. Bush ran for president—the same slogans, same promises, and same candidate packaging.
A Bush 2000 campaign brochure described W. as “a reformer with results.” McCain, despite voting to support the unpopular incumbent George W. Bush 95 percent of the time, brands himself as a reformer, too, though it is increasingly unclear exactly what he thinks needs reform. The corporate media readily acquiesces to the McCain “reform” script, however, and has adopted McCain’s campaign’s moniker of “maverick.”
McCain also claims the adjective “bipartisan,” vowing to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats. Candidate George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign literature likewise promised he would “work with Republicans and Democrats to pass a bipartisan reform” program. The reality of Bush “bipartisanship,” his administration’s 40-something percent “popular mandate,” and his party’s utter refusal to dialog with Democrats until it lost control of Congress, is now our nation’s sorry history, resulting in record deficits, a recession, a stupid war, a collapse of the dollar, and the loss of international clout and respect. Despite a handful of media-celebrated collaborations with Republican-leaning Democrats, McCain’s nearly 30-year record in Washington, doesn’t give any indication that he’ll stray far from the Republican line.
How about the slanderous, cheeseball attacks that dominated most of the high-profile speeches at this year’s Republican National Convention, where Obama was the main topic, eclipsing any discussion of the economy, healthcare, education, or the environment? This nasty Republican pit bull style of politics was supposed to end with the election of George W. Bush, who, in 2000, promised to “elevate the discourse,” specifically telling the press, “I’m not going to participate in the old Washington, D.C., game of gossip and slander.” Bush went on to promise that he’d be “a uniter [sic], not a divider,” explaining that he’d “refuse to play the politics of putting people into groups and pitting one group against another.”
Since then our political lexicon has expanded with new terms like “swiftboating.”
McCain, too, brands himself as elevating the political discussion. And his record so far during this election cycle indicates that his word is just as good as George W. Bush’s. Let’s look at last week’s Republican Convention. Sarah Palin did the heavy hatchet work for the campaign, leaving McCain to play the role of “good cop.” Palin was joined by Rudolf Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, quisling Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson, and a host of others, who spent their time on stage talking not about the Republican Party’s failed leadership in Washington and its disastrous policies, but instead launching factually questionable attacks against Barak Obama.
Specifically, Lieberman claimed that Obama never “reached across party lines” to work with Republicans, yet when you look at the record, it turns out he teamed up with Republicans Richard Lugar and Tom Coburn to pass bills combating nuclear proliferation and promoting government accountability. Lieberman claimed that Obama voted to “cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield.” It turns out that Obama, to his shame, voted in favor of every war funding bill except for one that removed the withdrawal date provisions supported by Democrats and re-election-weary Republicans, but vetoed by Bush at John McCain’s urging.
Either Lieberman is very confused about goings-on in the Senate where he serves, or he intentionally lied about Obama’s record, knowing the lie would be broadcast unchallenged by most media outlets.
Fred Thompson claimed that Obama’s economic proposal would bring about “one of the largest tax increases in American history.” In actuality, Obama’s proposal would restore some taxes charged to families making over a quarter million dollars per year while reducing taxes on middle-class incomes by, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, about $2,200 per family. Under the Obama plan, approximately 81.3 percent of Americans would receive a tax cut, not a tax increase.
Arkansas’s dominionist governor Mike Huckabee launched one of the strongest one-liners of the convention, boasting that McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin, got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than the Democratic VP pick, Joe Biden, got running for president in the Democratic primary. The crowd reveled in that stat. The truth, however, is that Palin received a total of 651 votes in her 1996 run for mayor, and 909 votes in her 1999 bid for re-election. Joe Biden received 79,754 votes in Democratic primaries before dropping out of the race nine months ago. If the idea of the speech was to stress that Palin’s executive experience in Wasilla prepares her for the White House, opening the can of worms that eventually could show how puny Wasilla actually is (you can win an election with 651 votes), would have been a dumb idea, if we lived in a country where the media fact checked the lies they broadcast.
Despite three days of non-elevated discourse, it was Sarah Palin’s speech that emerged as one of the most factually challenged. Palin claimed that Obama did not author “a single major law or even a reform,” not in the US Senate and not in the Illinois Senate. As mentioned above, however, he was in fact instrumental in co-authoring bipartisan legislation addressing government reform and weapons proliferation. In Illinois, Obama authored historic ethics legislation concerning the use of campaign funds. On the energy front, Palin claimed that “America needs more energy; our opponent is against producing it.” Hmm? You think that’s the Obama plan: “Produce less energy because I hate America”? Palin also reiterated misleading claims about an Obama tax increase, specially threatening that Obama would “raise income taxes.” McCain himself raised the bar on misleading statements about Obama’s tax plan, claiming that the Obama plan would place “painful tax increases on working Americans.”
With a rabid pack of attack dogs on the loose, McCain himself got to play the good cop role. But he didn’t play honest cop. In his acceptance speech, McCain claimed that Obama voted to give the now hated oil industry “corporate welfare.” In reality, Obama voted to raise oil industry corporate taxes by $300 million and use some of that money to fund alternative energy research. McCain, by comparison, according to an analysis of his corporate tax cut plan by the Center for American Progress, actually plans to cut oil industry taxes by approximately four billion dollars. Perhaps he confused Obama with the guy in the mirror.
McCain also claimed that he would increase the use of “wind, tide, and solar” energy, though his energy plan has no new funding for alternative energy research or development, focusing instead on expanding the doomed strategies of nuclear energy, coal, and offshore oil. “Alternative energy,” according to a July McCain campaign speech, will not be “as much of the solution as some people think.”
On the healthcare front, McCain claimed that Obama’s health plan would force small businesses to “cut jobs and reduce wages,” ostensibly because they wouldn’t be able to provide mandated healthcare to their employees. The Obama plan, for better or worse, exempts “small businesses” from having to provide healthcare for workers. McCain, however, only raised the healthcare issue to attack Obama with false charges. He chose to ignore mention of his own plan which would tax employer-funded health care contributions as “income,” costing middle-class workers thousands of dollars per year in tax increases—this from a candidate who falsely claimed that his opponent would be raising taxes. Some things are better left unsaid, which, interestingly enough, at the Republican Convention, included almost the entire Republican platform.
Beyond Orwell and Gore Vidal
When you add up all the speeches, the slogans, the ads, and the Fox News skits, the McCain campaign, like the Bush 2000 strategy on which it is modeled, amounts to a full frontal assault on reality. Except McCain has gone one step further. Never before has an incumbent party campaigned so hard on the theme of “change.”
Put down the Kool-Aid and think about this for a minute. The Republicans, the party that runs the White House, commands foreign and economic policy, exercises veto power over Congress, and has in fact run the Congress and locked Democrats out of policy discussion for most of its own Republican presidency, is now asking the American people to vote for “change” by keeping them in power for four more years. The party in power is the party of change. Vote for change by returning them to power. This is beyond any doublespeak that Orwell conceived of.
Gore Vidal calls our country “the United States of Amnesia” because of how quickly we forget who did what, who gave us failed policies, and so on. But this is one step beyond Amnesia. We are supposed to forget that Republicans ran the White House, even while that are still running the White House.
Restoring honor and dignity
Take the Republican Party’s quasi-official noise generator, Fox News, for example. Fox has hired Karl Rove, the man critics call “Bush’s Brain,” because he was Bush’s top advisor and allegedly choreographed most of the Bush presidency. Rove’s job at Fox is to analyze the election. He appears on the air just above a red, white, and blue Fox branding banner that reads, “Restoring Honor and Dignity to the White House.” Are we supposed to forget where honor and dignity went—that the man on the screen is probably more responsible than anyone else on earth for befouling the White House?
The answer is yes. This goes beyond the Big Lie theory advanced by the Nazis. Not only are we supposed to forget that it was Bush and the Republicans who stole that honor and dignity, we are supposed to play dumb to the fact that they continue to steal it every day, and we’re supposed to return them to office to keep stealing it. That’s how we’re going to restore it. We’re going to leave the wolves in the chicken coop and feed them more chickens.
So what did Rove have to say on Fox News? He attacked critics of Sarah Palin, arguing that she gleaned great executive experience both during her two years as governor of Alaska and, before that, running Wasilla, Alaska, which has a population of 8,000 or so. Before praising Palin’s experience, however, he appeared above the same “Restoring Honor and Dignity” banner, attacking potential Obama running mate, Virginia Governor Tim Kane, for lacking experience, pointing out that he was only governor for three years and before that his experience was limited to being mayor of tiny Richmond, Virginia, whose population is only 200,000. Rove specifically jabbed at Kane for being mayor of “the 105th largest city in America,” going on to name a half dozen larger cities most Americans never heard of, all as evidence that Kane was not qualified for the VP slot due to lack of experience. The bar must have recently dropped.
Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly appeared over the same “Honor and Dignity” banner, defending the Palin family on the question of Sarah Palin’s teenaged daughter’s pregnancy, correctly pointing out that it is a family matter and should be off limits to the media. O’Reilly, however, earlier weighed in on the pregnancy of Brittany Spears’ 16-year-old sister, labeling her parents “pinheads,” exclaiming that the blame for her pregnancy belongs with her parents, who obviously “had little control” over their daughter.
Or how about McCain’s senior policy advisor, Nancy Pfotenhauer. She spent a lot of face time last week poised over the “Honor and Dignity” banner, defending Palin against what she described as sexist attacks from Democrats and the media. According to Pfotenhauer, questions about Palin’s experience “belittle the accomplishments of women”—all women. Pfotenhauer previously appeared on Fox News over the same banner, at that time attacking Hillary Clinton for “playing the gender card” and for “playing the victimology card” by asserting that attacks against her were sexist. Get it?
Nation of zingers
These people will say anything, and with the exception of Comedy Central, the media will allow them to lie and flip-flop around unchallenged. Comedy Central? That’s right. The analysis of the Rove, O’Reilly, and Pfotenhauer reversals come from replays of their recent speeches compiled by Comedy Central. The McCain presidential team’s hypocrisy, apparently, is a joke. It’s hysterical. But it’s not news.
And what can we say about political discourse in a country where some of the only serious news analysis provided by the corporate media is on its comedy programs—framed with nasty one-liners? It’s no wonder that most of the high-profile speakers at the Republican Convention this year had their speechwriters lace their performances with nasty, biting zingers a la The Late Show.
When you don’t want people to know what you’re really about, when you want to repackage stagnation as change, when you want four more years after failing for eight, put Rudy Giuliani on stage to tell a few jokes. When the reality of what your party has done and what it plans to continue doing is unpalatable, lie. Lie about yourselves and lie about your opponents. Buy 30-second TV spots and lie some more. Play the American people for idiots. And above all, don’t worry about journalists holding you to task. They’ll just roll over and play dead for fear that you’ll lie about them as well.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State Collge. His previous Artvoice columns are available at artvoice.com, archived at mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
Return to mediastudy.com