What Democrats are up against

From Gene Lyons of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Many Democrats still don't grasp what they're up against in today's Republican Party. Naive souls, they prefer to see national politics as a giant PTA meeting, and to comfort themselves with civics text bromides about the virtues of compromise and bipartisanship. Even in the face of the Clinton impeachment and the naked power play that decided the 2000 presidential election, they have trouble comprehending the sheer ruthlessness of the GOP political juggernaut. This is nothing new. Even during FDR's presidency, Will Rogers joked that he belonged to no organized political party: He was a Democrat. Today, however, the party simply must learn to effectively counter the well-organized army of think-tank, opinion page and cable TV propagandists who parrot the GOP party line, no matter how illogical or preposterous.
In effect, organizations like FOX News, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh and right-wing talk radio are simply adjuncts of the Republican Party. To this add scores of Washington pundits often employed by tycoon-financed "think tanks" such as the American Heritage Institute, Cato Foundation, etc. For all the braying about "liberal media bias," which may be the most successful GOP "spin point," Democrats simply have no equivalent propaganda machine.
Unlike Democrats, typically all over the place, Republican-oriented pundits agree almost all the time--and not just substantively, but tactically, too. Faxes and e-mails go out from the Republican National Committee, and GOP sophists jump into line like the Rockettes.
According to David Brock, the onetime Republican "hit man" whose book, "The Republican Noise Machine," explains exactly how the system works, the White House's "explicit goal is to get us to the point where there are blue [state] facts and red [state] facts."
Judging by my e-mail, it's working. Hardly a day passes that I don't hear from perfectly decent, intelligent citizens who believe that there's proof Saddam's WMD were smuggled into Syria or that documents implicating him in 9/11 have been found. This was Orwell's great fear: that the very concept of objectivity would disappear from political discourse. "Collective solipsism," he called it; the ability to convince people that 2 + 2 = 5.
A few recent examples:
George W. Bush nominates a black woman as secretary of state, and pundits who have spent their careers decrying "political correctness" argue as one that Democrats opposing her must be hypocritical bigots.
He nominates for attorney general a guy who rationalized torture, and that man's ethnicity, too, becomes his only necessary credential. Only after Alberto Gonzales is confirmed by the Senate do some GOP pundits rediscover their consciences.
A former male escort infiltrates the White House press corps via the buddy system, and the very pundits who just months ago warned that Democrats would enshrine the "homosexual agenda" go silent. Or they pretend not to understand the difference between a gay reporter and a gay prostitute. No fatwa issues from radical clerics like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; James Dobson keeps railing about the imagined sexual proclivities of a cartoon sponge.
What do such examples tell us? First, that neither the Bush White House nor most GOP pundits actually give a flying filigree about "political correctness," " family values, "" moral clarity" or any of it. What counts is winning. What counts is power.
One more example: Last week, I wrote that Howard Dean, recently elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, appears capable of giving his party a wake-up call because he's scrappy, smart and fearless. Hence, the GOP party line on Dean is that he's a snobbish elitist and an advocate of cultural decadence. Also crazy, because, as we all know, anybody who sees through Bush must be consumed by anger and hatred.
A GOP columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took offense. On cue, he described Dean supporters as "shrill," " radical-left" "wacko," etc. "[W] hen Dean bemoans the success of Republican appeals on ' God, guns and gays, '" the fellow chided, "he forgets that most Americans still believe in God, don't want gay marriage and do want to keep their guns." Now anybody dumb enough to think Dean (or any American politician) has declared himself anti-God quit reading long ago. But it's a fact that Dean was the only Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 to get an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He jokes that Vermont has only two gun laws: You can't take a gun to school, and you can't carry a loaded gun in a car because it's unfair to deer. As Vermont governor, Dean opposed gay marriage. "Marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "... Most Americans aren't going to support gay marriage, but most Americans will support equal rights." Know what? I'd wager that my antagonist, a college professor, knew all that. (I'd also entertain a side bet that this particular left-wing elitist owns more firearms than he does.) But in the fashion of Republican pundits everywhere, he played his audience for suckers.


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