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Princes of the Petty

After a dramatic election that saw Obama and his agenda go down in defeat, and the rise of a new Republican majority based in part on a strong grass roots movement with libertarian leanings, the media has remained surprisingly unwilling to discuss what really happened. It's much easier to find pieces on John Boehner's tears, than it is to read a serious analysis of his policy proposals. Debates on the morality of Sarah Palin's elk shootings are easy to find. A serious response to her statement on the omnibus spending bill is nowhere to be found. The media calls her unserious, and yet it would rather spend hours talking about a vast right wing conspiracy to help her daughter win on Dancing with the Stars, than deal with her take on the actual issues. Contrary to what the Beltway crowd seems to believe, Palin does not have the influence she does because she hunts and fishes, but because of the ideas she champions.

The princes of the petty in the press are determined to avoid dealing with any actual ideas. Instead they cliquishly look for some flaw they can turn into a label, a quirk to focus on, magnify and use as a constant taunt. Republicans did not spend the last two years talking about the size of Obama's ears, his lousy golf game, his wife's ugly dresses or how upset they were when he ruined American Idol. If they had done that for two years, 2010 would have been a Democratic landslide. And deservedly so. But Democrats spend months analyzing Sarah Palin's hunting skills and her daughter's dancing skills-- and actually imagine that they're on the right track to winning in 2012.

There's hardly any discussion of issues, because the media doesn't see that there any issues to discuss. 2010 was not a referendum on the size of government and individual freedoms, it was a national temper tantrum. The innate bias of the press means that they can only try to understand what happened by beginning with the assumption that any opposition to ObamaCare or another stimulus package is completely wrong, and then analyze why people actually think that way. And then they pat themselves on the back for contributing to the national debate, when all they've done is divided everyone who disagreed with them into two categories. Crazy people who believe it because they're out of touch with reality and liars who don't really believe it, but have a profit motive.

When faced with an electoral challenge, they respond like the members of a High School clique suddenly facing competition, with taunts, nicknames and whispering campaigns. The goal is to demonstrate once again how cool they are, and how uncool their rivals are. Taken to the extreme in 2008, this approach entirely took the issues out of politics, and turned it into nothing more than a vapid popularity contest. And while the country has begun to recover, the elite have not. Sally Quinn's meltdown in the pages of the Washington Post over an appearance by Sarah Palin's daughter on Dancing with the Stars, read like something one of Carrie's female tormentors might have penned for the school paper. You can almost hear her screaming between the pages, "She's ruining my prom. Get her out of here. Get her out of here right now!"

It's hard to avoid that click of the clique when dealing with the why's of government. The New York Times and the Washington Post both wrote enthusiastic pieces on the revival of the party circuit in Washington D.C. under Obama. And that party circuit is about more than free cocktails, it's the revival of the club. The insider's club. For all the talk of the Skull and Bones Society, liberalism has become the club of the powerful, its rituals are public, but its ideas are not. The expansion of government means there's more room and money for the club to dole out. Behind the glamor, crouches the political machine. Belonging to the In Crowd means power and money. A ladder to advancement through the leaning tower of government.

The elites are the way they are, because liberalism has become a brand, more than a set of ideas. A brand that marks you as intelligent and upper class, when you reflexively adopt opinions and support policies that are not to debated. The two traditional barriers to the adoption of left of center politics was that they were controversial and hard to understand. But both those have been defanged by a modern liberalism which is non-controversial, because it hardly ever discusses its actual ideas without speaking at an infant's level, and isn't hard to understand, because it doesn't talk about itself anymore. The ideas exist only as policy papers in some Soros funded think-tank, but all that gets put on the table are reflexes and brand identity. The choice between being one of those crazy violent uncool people who talk about the Constitution, or one of the good people who never ask questions and always give to UNICEF. The people who are just like that unstated and undefined "Us". The "Us" of television commercials and politician's speeches. The "Us" who are just like the elite.

The tug of "Usness" is the appeal of the clique. The desire to fit in and conform. To belong to a community whose members know they are better, through the circular justification of their own membership. The one dubious accomplishment of the counterculture was to affix liberalism as the 'cool' brand. And the expansion of government also made it into the endlessly profitable brand. No wonder the people at the top are baffled trying to understand why in the world anyone wouldn't want to be a liberal. The only possible reasons they ever come up with are 'Terminal Uncoolness' (religious faith, gun ownership or living in a rural area) or they've found an even better way make money. Which are also the two common ways that the media elite dismiss Republicans.

And so with an out of control national debt, states at risk of defaulting on their debt and growing public anger-- the media keeps playing the same clique messages over and over again. And so we hear countless times how Rush Limbaugh is FAT and Sarah Palin is a HICK and John Boehner CRIES and Obama is so much COOLER than they are. And Jon Stewart is even COOLER than him. And wasn't that Rally to Restore Sanity so COOL. Too bad no one paid attention. This is a discourse that is taking place at a childish level, unmediated by even a glimmer of adulthood. It's not just that the media is stupid. It's that they think the public is. And they see it as their role to educate the public by indoctrinating them with elementary liberal messaging. Which is so devoid of any content besides the usual shouting about racism and emphasizing the importance of compassion, that it inevitably devolves into the purely petty.

America is facing towering economic problems and military threats. The next decade is likely to be the one that decides if the United States will survive as a global superpower, or begin its decline and eventual collapse, the way that great nations have before it. And like them, we're burdened with a leadership class that is more concerned with its own privileges and keeping an iron grip on power, than with the survival of the nation itself. When Hamlet observed that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, he didn't mean the clerks. A fish stinks from the head on down. So does a country. And the end of public debate, marks the decline of the intellect of its leaders. A leadership class that can no longer properly debate issues, has lost the ability to think, but not to govern.

The liberal side lost the debate in the last two years, without ever knowing or understanding why. Or even acknowledging it, aside from some handwaving at a messaging problem. But their problem isn't the message, it's the reality. You can't message away trillion dollar deficits and a law forcing people to buy health insurance for the crime of breathing. Messaging got them through 2008 and part of 2009, but then the good ship, the S.S. Propaganda ran aground on the shores of reality. A reality that never penetrated into the echo bubble of the clique, that Utopian wonderland of government jobs, politically correct opinions and spending programs for all.

The Republicans won because they addressed that reality and made it the focal point of their opposition. The Democrats lost, for the same reason that they won in 2008. Except this time they were the responsible party. Had they behaved responsibly in office, then the setback wouldn't have been nearly as severe. But they spent money like a dog off the leash, ignored the public and rammed through unpopular legislation that negatively impacted the average voter. And rather than conduct a vigorous public debate, they packed town halls with union goons and dialed the media propaganda up to 11. And like every dictator suddenly realizing that, yes those crowds in the plaza really are serious about overthrowing the government and they might have the numbers to do it, there was nothing left for them to do but stare in confusion at the scene taking place outside. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I thought the people loved me."

Rather than do its job of reporting events, the media abdicated it in order to spend more time focusing on advocacy. And then they abdicated even that job to just pass on White House talking points, and repackage talking points from other trusted liberal organizations and outlets. And when reality contradicted the talking points, they just doubled down on the talking points twice as hard. There was hardly any debate in the media in 2008. There's hardly any debate now. Just puff pieces praising the latest White House sneeze and sermons explaining why some given Republican criticism is wrong based on arguments that could be taken by children and small animals.

For the harder stuff, the arena has been turned over to the Huffington Post, the Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and Maureen Dowd. Their expertise is not in discussing issues, but ridiculing personalities based on out of context, distorted or entirely made up remarks, parodying their speech patterns and generally emphasizing again how 'uncool' they are. That mash up of celebrities, snark and punchlines have come to characterize the new liberal debate. Not so much debate, as an energetic defamation of 'The Other' for the choir of the clique. A telethon by celebrities to raise money for celebrity politicians. New outposts of the "Us" club keeping guard over the media frontier.

It's no wonder then that there's still no debate. That what happens in congress stays in congress. That the media tells us far more about what it thinks of Boehner's tan or his tears, than it does of the Paul Ryan roadmap. That talk of government reform that reduces the size and powers of government is treated like an obscenity in a holy place. And just not talked about. Shunned. Because how do you fight a battle of ideas, when you have no ideas, only a mandate for providing unlimited entitlements. And why would you want to fight a battle of ideas? The elites certainly don't. Their ideas don't exactly play too well with the common man or woman. Petty jibes or even silence works better for them, than actually explaining what they plan to do to the country, and what life will like for the average person after that.

And in place of that debate. That vital debate which we need to have and must have-- we have organized pettiness instead. Calculated pettiness. Media spitballs and washroom graffiti and notes with nasty things written on them. A pettiness overseen by the princes of the petty in the press, who are not capable of a debate and are not used to a debate. The mandate of power is not debated. And so they scream, they insult, they abuse, mock, psychoanalyze, plot, scheme, lecture and undermine-- but they don't debate. Because a debate is the first step to admitting the possibility of their own wrongness. Even such an admission alone would shake the floor of that exclusive club of liberalism, whose gate is stamped with a great big, "Us". It is better and easier for them to throw stones, than to build a building. To carry on smear campaigns, rather than tell the truth. To conduct the debate on their terms, in their own forums and without any ideas on the table. From their high glass and steel towers, the media princes continue to have their petty way.


  1. Very little changes from year to year. The same occurred when Philadelphia was the capital of the nation and the Aurora and its ilk made money being petty.
    Petty sells sadly.

  2. wanumba4/1/11

    You really described this dangerously vapid media personality.

  3. mindRider4/1/11

    Once a great nation is on the decline, due to the critical mass of "negative"in all possible aspects having overshadowed "positive" viability, thru history it never ever has been possible to create enough counter momentum by those that foresee this decline to stop the actual downfall. I therefore am afraid that no amount of rationalization of the reason why shall be able to reverse the in-evitable.

  4. Very observant. But did I miss something? Rush and Hannity, etc.are just the "conservative" side of the same coin. Politics has become a spectator sport, like football, for many years. No discussion of the real issues, winning the election is the goal. Part of the answer might be term limits.
    Reminds me of your column referencing Cincinnatus several months ago. We need politicians who are interested in advancing the interests of the citizenry, not of themselves and their dynastic political careers.

  5. mindrider, you may be right, but I'm not prepared to accept that just yet

  6. Harby4/1/11

    I dunno bout the first line,
    "After a dramatic election that saw Obama and his agenda go down in defeat"

    Obambi has already passed historic legistation, even managed to get Congress to agree on the last one. That's better than what Bush managed. Don't underestimate him or the Democrats

  7. Harby:

    I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

    As for Obama's historic legislation a Republican congressman is already talking about repealing Obama's health care reform legislation.

    Here's my chief concern:

    Obama is now urging the Republican to not start the election process until 2012, not in 2011. Odd since he began his own election about two years before the election.

    But what bothers me about his statement is that he wants the country to lower its guard for another year.

    I think Obama can see the writing on the wall. He knows he won't be reelected, and has even said he'd rather be a good one term president than a mediocre two term president.

    Long story short, I just wonder what he'll try to do to the country in 2011 before he gets booted out. Again, my fear is that he'll do something drastic to the constitution, the basic framework of the country.

    Already liberal pundits are complaining about having the Constitution being read at the opening of Congress. Maybe I'm reading too much into this but this contempt and ridicule and dismissal of the constitution is downright scary.

  8. Harby5/1/11

    Keli, you may have a point, but I don't think the repeals will get anywhere, and i'm not throwing in my towel, but I do wonder is the alternative any better? I find myself questioning what is the difference between the Republicans as they are now and the Obambi lot?

  9. I'd have to agree with you about the Republicans not being much better than the Obama crew.

    We really do need an alternative to the Republican party as it stands now. I personally don't think the Tea Party is the answer, but I do believe we need to pressure the Repblicans to become more conservative. They fail to deliver in the their first term? Vote 'em out.

    I just wonder how practical and effective it would be to form an entirely new political party. The other parties are pretty much on the fringes and rarely succeed in getting elected.

    The Tea Party could boost a reformed Rebulican party, but I don't know if they could stand alone to become a major party.

    It's very discouraging to see the public repeatedly voting for politicians who make the same blunders. Over and over we do it.


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