Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fox Populi

There was a difference I noticed the constant replaying of the Wright videos between the major cable news outlets. On Fox, they were intended not only as fodder for sensationalism (as they mostly were on MSNBC and CNN), but also to advance the Movement Conservative agenda, which is Fox News’ purpose as a network. Tear down Obama to make him more beatable in November.

Fox (and wider, movement conservatism generally) almost always uses signifiers of the cultural and political conflicts of the 1960s when they are trying to discredit the political left in general, and Democrats in particular.

Thus, the Wright controversy was used to subtly indicate that Obama is some sort of ’60s radical Black Separatist character. This is, of course, absurd; any cursory glance at Obama’s actions and rhetoric shows none of the animating principles or world view of 60’s style leftism. (If anyone doubts this, look up an actual ’60s-era speech by, say, Huey Newton or H. Rap Brown on youtube, and then pull up any speech ever made by Barack Obama. See the resemblance? Neither do I.)

It is, however, useful to outfits like Fox News, and other propaganda arms of movement conservatism, in that it inspires fear in working class whites (of their caricatured enemy: the sissified, latte-sipping, morally snooty coastal upper-class liberal, who want to give their job to a black man and then lecture them, in patronizing tones, about their racism).

Movement Conservatism (Fox News, talk radio, etc.) uses a kind of cultural populism to motivate ground troops. (One of Hillary's most heinous offenses this primary season has been to play this game herself. grrr...)

The Democrats’ greatest strategic error since 1972 has been to allow Republicans to get away with this, mostly by turning their back on their own traditional brand of populism, which was economic in character.

Truman used to talk openly and unabashedly about how the Democrats were “the party of the common man” while the Republicans were “the rich man’s party.” And not just Truman; decrying the economic elites was commonplace among Democrats, once upon a time: Roosevelt talked about the "malefactors of great wealth" and the corrupt titans of Wall Street. As a Democrat, I would love it if the Democrats would start talking like that again. Obama’s background as a community organizer gives me reason to hope that he will be able to revive the economic populism that was a large part of Democratic Party electoral success after 1932.

Here's a snippet of FDR's Rendezvous With Destiny speech, to show you what I mean:

Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

And from his Second Inaugural Address:

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.

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