ON THE OTHER HAND: Obama and the media
In a country of pervasive and entrenched political illiteracy, like the United States, it’s the media narrative that shapes what people think and how they’ll vote.
Cable news coverage drives the American media narrative, and politicians strive to shape the terms of the debate. Repeat a lie often enough and cable news will pass it on. Example: the claim by Republicans that the new health care bill would authorise government to set up “death panels” to decide whether grandma should be put down or not.
This lie soon became a commonplace.
All Obama’s achievements as president are politically useless in the face of a hostile media narrative and a depressed economy.
Ever since the Reagan era, the Republicans have been more successful than Democrats at shaping the media narrative. So much so that Bill Clinton had to move to the right to compete successfully on Republican terms.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has championed the Republican cause. Now having bought the Republican Party (all likely Republican candidates for 2012 except Romney are on Fox’s payroll) Fox has been relentlessly distorting the news in a virulently anti-Obama direction while trumpeting its Orwellian slogan “fair and balanced”.
CNN just regurgitates a blander blend of the vile Fox spew.
One of Obama’s objectives most forcefully and clearly articulated during the 2008 campaign was to recast the political debate in terms favourable to the progressive cause and to transcend the ideological conservative/liberal divide that has been so corrosive a force in American politics. Hence his incessant repetition of America being not “red states and blue states but the United States”, and it not being a question of “big government or small government but smarter government”.
Obama succeeded in shaping the media narrative and was elected in a landslide, despite his being black. But since then he has too often assumed his blackness is his Achilles heel.
In Dreams from my Father, Obama recounts how he’d learnt that around white people it was best to smile a lot and not make any sudden moves. This has led him to calmly ignore most of the vileness from the right, and gave the Republicans a free hand in shaping the media narrative.
But the darker slurs mouthed by Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and the Tea Party wackos about Obama being a secret Muslim and a foreign-born socialist bent on destroying America, have one subtext: he’s black. And they’re issuing coded invitations to rednecks with guns to deal with Obama in the good old Southern way.
For most people – Americans and others – Obama is a post-racial person (let’s face it, nobody’s going to mistake him for Al Sharpton), so that he needs to stop being so cautious and fight back fiercely against the right and its corporate financiers.
The irony is that the Republicans understand the transformative potential of the Obama presidency much better than the “liberal” wing of the Democratic Party.
If Obama succeeds, he will lay the basis for future prosperity through genuine entrepreneurship rather than financial manipulation, and will create a more innovative and fairer society.
But the right’s nightmare is that he’ll shift the political debate from “free”, that is, unregulated markets versus “big government” control, to how best to manage a market economy so as to champion the public interest and protect the vulnerable while fostering private economic growth.
This will reduce the right to a fringe group.
Should the Fox Republicans win control of Congress in the November mid-term elections they will try to dismantle not only Obama’s health care achievement but also every facet of the social safety net.
Obama has nothing to lose. He should come out swinging in the few weeks remaining before the elections.
If he does he stands a good chance of changing the media narrative.
That way Americans will see the stark choice they face.
* Peter Laurie is a retired diplomat and a commentator on social issues. Email [email protected]