In what originally promised to be a post-partisan election featuring a Republican candidate that was often at odds with the most conservative elements of his party and a Democratic candidate who’s primary campaign eagerly recruited conservative support, the Obama and McCain campaigns have since settled into the tired but frenetic partisan scripts written by the more extreme elements of their respective bases. Once again, national politics in the United States is being dictated by the fringes, with virtually no coverage for anything and seemingly infinite attention lavished on all the myriad reasons to be against the other guy. Even though a heavy bias in the mainstream media as well as the snarling ideological echo chamber that is the leftist blogosphere have ensured that the McCain campaign has received the majority of the blame, the truth is that both campaigns are currently employed full-time promoting demonizing memes towards each other and are investing virtually no time providing any details of policy proposals that might draw favor.
Responding to the incessant demands of the BDS crowd, Obama’s campaign has sought at every opportunity to obscure the fact that George W. Bush isn’t on the ballot any more. At times, the campaign seems to mention Bush more than their actual opponent. A similar meme dominates the McCain campaign, presenting the appearance that the Democratic nomination must have somehow been switched to a Ayers/Wright ticket.
Core partisan supporters of both candidates have plumbed new depths of despicable behavior to the point that both campaigns must spend what little time they have left after feeding their own demonization machines trying to mount desperate rapid-response efforts to knock down demonstrably untrue rumors like “Obama is a Muslim” or “McCain is a war criminal”. In the case of Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin, rage-fueled partisans even went after family members, with partisan elements of the mainstream media (at least in the case of the New York Times) eagerly acting as enabler and megaphone.
Individually, both Obama and McCain has fitfully sought to tamp down the fires of partisan hatred within their ranks. When Palin’s daughter Bristol was brought out for ridicule and contempt by Obama supporters in the blogosphere, Obama publicly declared family members off limits. And last week at a campaign rally in Minnesota, McCain insisted to booing extremists among his own supporters that Obama was not truly as scary and evil as they present him to be. While laudable as far as they go, however, neither candidate has shown the will to press a campaign for decency or sanity among their supporters. Most glaringly, neither campaign has been willing to directly repudiate the most vicious, inaccurate, and demonic characterizations proferred by their supporters within the partisan blogosphere. Instead, they have simply watered down the extremist scripts a little and hoped to get credit for it without actually offending the wackos in their own ranks.
What this persistent pattern portends for the future of U.S. politics is deeply dangerous. As the country struggles to find effective ways to respond to a historically unprecedented financial dilemma, both campaigns spend their time pointing fingers and calling names instead of engaging the actual issues. And the seemingly infinite heights of vitriol to which partisans are willing to go in their condemnations of the opposing candidate ensures that whomever wins will lack any meaningful mandate to act anyway. The next president will be weighed down with another iteration of “Bush Derangement Syndrome” — a dedicated cadre of millions of opponents willing to believe not only that the object of their hatred is wrong on issues, but is actually a malevolent and evil creature who threatens with each and every act to willfully destroy the country. The fact is that that most of the smugly self-important “new media” seem to care about nothing other than pursuing the next purist partisan “our guy is right 100% of the time and their guy is wrong 100% of the time” meme that pops up. With the final collapse of the New York Times and MSNBC into bald partisanship, the so-called “mainstream media: no longer provides a meaningful check. It was bad enough when partisan spin obscured the news. But now partisan spin — in its most extreme and hateful forms — has actually replaced the news.
Some may feel I am being hyperbolic here. But for evidence, one need do nothing more than review the patterns displayed on the political blog aggregator Memeorandum. It takes very little time to verify some important patterns:
1. Every anti-McCain story will be quickly linked by a large raft of rigorously leftist blogs that will compete to one-up each other for the most vulgarity-strewn commentary demonizing not only McCain, but every single conservative who dares to continue living and breathing. Few rightist blogs will even note the story.
2. Every anti-Obama story will be quickly linked by the somewhat smaller raft of rightist blogs that will compete to one-up each other with dreadful tales of the looming communist dictatorship that will be established by an Obama administration. Few leftist blogs will even note the story.
3. By only noting stories that criticize the other guy while ignoring stories that criticize their own side, both leftist and rightist blogs will tacitly embrace blatant double standards whereby behavior they condemn as outrageous and evil from the other side passes without any objection or comment whatsoever from their own side.
Few of the larger political blogs seem able to avoid descent into pure political partisanship. Even the blog that calls itself “The Moderate Voice” blog has, in recent years, become relentlessly one-sided and increasingly vicious in the means several of its authors use to demand precise, zero-exceptions ideological conformity. The few islands left in the relative center — and PoliGazette seeks to be one of these — struggle to compete in a blogosphere where conformity with one of the camps buys you attention and promotion and acts of dissent are seen as betrayals worthy of blacklisting.
Studies have shown that the politically engaged and semi-engaged public increasingly uses individualized sources of online information as the basis for making (and reinforcing) their political decisions. The fact that the available base of information providers is so polarized and so infested with dishonesty, misrepresentation, and spin ensures that the voters thus influenced will be reduced to anti-intellectual drones capable only of regurgitating the mandatory talking points and incapable of actually analyzing anything. More importantly, our online political culture is creating an environment where accountability is impossible — every charge (no matter how spurious or disingenuous) is automatically true to one camp and every charge (no matter how well-supported or serious) is automatically seen as vile slander by the other. And neither side is capable of even finding information that might challenge their assumptions within the hermetically sealed ideological echo chambers patrolled by post-modern kommissars that quickly harass, demonize, and blacklist any observed acts of dissent.
Even the real political fringes — zones of ideological and logical incoherence that often nonetheless sometimes manage to generate useful questions and challenges — are being captured by the anti-intellectualism and mindless rote disciplining of public discourse. For example, members of the “Ron Paul revolution” often pride themselves for their rejection of conventional wisdom and their willingness to separate themselves from the “sheeple” that converge around the major political parties, but any perusal of blogosphere threads dedicated to discussion of Ron Paul shows the exact same mindless rote repetition of purist talking points that dominates the larger movements. The only “revolution” Paul’s “movement” produced was a geometric increase in the amount of spam in comments threads. Ron Paul’s dedicated bands of zealots may have departed from the blind partisan herd, but all they did then was immediately form another partisan herd that was both blind and deaf. No improvement there, and certainly no basis for a genuine challenge to a debased political culture.
In three weeks, someone will will the presidential election. Someone will control Congress. A few governorships will change hands. But the Republic will continue, even as it continues to struggle with serious problems, particularly in the military and financial sphere. Neither presidential candidate or party wil single-handedly destroy the country, world, or universe.
But the maniacs that increasingly rule the blogosphere will keep saying they will.
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