James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Ignorance and the electorate

Posted by James McPherson on July 7, 2008

My conservative buddy and I share one thing in common–both of us are consistently surprised by the ignorance of many people on both sides of many political arguments, and even more surprised at how willing many of those folks are to prove how little they know. One example, a variation of which shows up repeatedly on conservative blogs, is this one, which I came across today on a Fox New blog (I changed nothing, including spelling):

“Why isn’t anything being mentioned about Obama raised as a musilum achooled with terriorists and the FACT that during a democrate ralley he ‘REFUSED’ to salute the flag or say our anthem??????????? Please advise me. And the people want him as a President!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Versions of that comment continue to circulate via email. Aside from the fact that you “say” the Pledge of Allegiance and “sing” or perform the Anthem, if people keep spewing the same ignorance (admittedly, Fox News anchors did the same before being forced to “clarify” the false report)–despite the fact that credible sources on both sides (including even the less-credible Bill O’Reilly)–have repeatedly disputed these lies, what hope do we have that they’ll understand the intricacies of policy debate? It’s no wonder there are so many folks who consider anyone with an education (even a high school education, judging from the comment above) to be elites.

Four recommendations I’d humbly offer for would-be political pundits:

  1. Read at least ten times as much as you publicly write (even if you have to move your lips and trace along with your finger while you read, it will pay off in the long run).
  2. Get your information from a variety of sources, conservative and liberal.
  3. Not every thought need be quickly shared (to paraphrase a quote attributed to many: “Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”).
  4. Exclamation marks do not enhance an argument, even if you add an extra dozen.

Obama leads the Pledge of Allegiance

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Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2008

The Fourth of July weekend is an appropriate time to discuss patriotism and its ultimate icon, the American Flag. Barack Obama and liberals draw considerable criticism for failing to honor the flag in ways deemed appropriate by conservatives, while some self-defined patriots apparently can’t wait to find new ways to use the flag to break the law.

As fearful as some conservatives and weak-willed legislators are about flag-burning liberals, I’d be willing to bet that more conservatives than liberals will engage in unlawful flag-related behavior this weekend–in many cases an unfortunate byproduct of combining patriotism with ignorance. And that would be true even if flag burning were made illegal, rather than just being the legally proper way to dispose of a worn flag.

Part of the problem comes because many people seem to consider the flag a religious symbol. Most don’t go as far as the Ku Klux Klan, which may offer the most extreme version of conflating patriotism and Christianity (its two “guiding principles) with its three primary symbols, “the Flag, the Constitution and the Holy Bible”–though for some modern variations of the Klan (others here and here), the Stars and Bars flag seems to be more important than the Stars and Stripes. But while most conservatives have little in common with the Klan, the various apparel versions of “these colors don’t run” T-shirts also fetishize the flag. I’m no Jehovah’s Witness, but I do appreciate the Witness’ Supreme Court-approved stance that saluting the flag (which I do, incidentally, though I don’t own a flag pin) might be deemed idolatry.

George H.W. Bush campaigned in front of a flag factory and won points by berating Michael Dukakis for vetoing a bill (which would have been unconstitutional), requiring public teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance (which Bush himself had never recited as a student, though Dukakis had). Bush’s actions prompted cartoonist Garry Trudeau to drape his invisible Bush characterization with a U.S. flag.

Conservative wingnuts, helped by the mainstream media, now are using flag pins and the National Anthem to try to portray Obama as non-patriotic (Time offers a short history of the relatively brief life of the flag pin). Yet many of those same conservatives regularly violate the U.S. Flag Code, adopted during the hyper-patriotism of World War II.

Here are some relevant sections of the flag code, along with examples of the law being violated–including by the current president Bush:

“The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.”

 

“The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”

“The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”

“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

 

“The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

 George Bush desecrates a flag:

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

  

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”

 

“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The fact is, how best to express one’s patriotism can be complicated. For example, my three favorite versions of the National Anthem, all of which in the right circumstances can still bring tears to my eyes, all feature performers who would not even have been fully recognized as people when this nation was founded. The first, by Jimi Hedrix, is an anti-war version performed during Woodstock. The second might be viewed as a pro-war version, performed by Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl during the first Persian Gulf War. And in the third basketball coach Mo Cheeks rescued a young girl who under pressure forgot the words to the song. I’ve posted YouTube versions of all three below.

The complications of patriotism are discussed further in an excellent essay by Time‘s Peter Beinart, who points out that common liberal and conservative versions of patriotism both are flawed:

When it comes to patriotism, conservatives and liberals need each other, because love of country requires both affirmation and criticism. It’s a good thing that Americans fly the flag on July 4. In a country as diverse as ours, patriotic symbols are a powerful balm. And if people stopped flying the flag every time the government did something they didn’t like, it would become an emblem not of national unity but of political division. On the other hand, waving a flag, like holding a Bible, is supposed to be a spur to action. When it becomes an end in itself, America needs people willing to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and remind us that complacent ritual can be the enemy of true devotion.

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving. And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong. The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

So honor your country this Fourth of July by burning a U.S. flag, if your own flag is worn out. Then replace it with a clean new one, symbolic of America’s promise as well as its past.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl

Mo Cheeks and Natalie Gilbert

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments »

Interpreting the relevance of the Religious Right

Posted by James McPherson on June 25, 2008

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson this week accused Barack Obama of willfully distorting the Bible and of having a “fruitcake interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution. It became the day’s lead political story for several media organizations. My question–a question I ask myself regularly when I see media coverage choices–why?

Of course I can’t imagine why a supposed audience of 220 million daily worldwide radio listeners pay any attention to Dobson (apparently prompting Christianity Today to call him “the most influential evangelical leader in America”), but they do.  Many, it seems, hope he can tell them how to raise their kids. Dobson has a Ph.D. in child development and became famous primarily because of his books and “pro-family” organization. Like most television evangelists, he is at least as good at promoting himself as promoting the Lord. Dobson’s first bestseller was Dare to Discipline, and he became popular largely because he was more pro-discipline than most other family experts of the 1970s. He favors corporal punishment, but only when administered by parents who don’t want to do it but know they must for the greater good. Consider him the neocon of child development.

Dobson has no apparent education or experience in policy making, but because he is perceived to have political influence–mostly because of his political action committee, the Family Research Council–politicians and the media also care what he says. Obama quickly responded, as did his national director of religious affairs (I wonder if Ronald Reagan felt compelled to have one of those), saying Obama was “committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families.”

Because families is the code word that shows you care, of course. All the best religious conservatives know it. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Conservative Christian organizations also devote much of their energy to attacking the “liberal media,” though for those organizations “liberal” usually refers not to a political view but to the acceptance or promotion of activities deemed antibiblical and morally repugnant such as homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, drug use, abortion, or violence. Those groups focus mainly on entertainment but sometimes include the news media (which, as discussed, have focused increasingly on entertainment themselves). Much of the focus for Christian groups centers on “protecting the traditional family,” despite the fact that, as one religion professor points out, “this ‘remembered family’ is a fairly recent development, one that came about with the industrialization and concomitant urbanization of America. . . . Previously, women and men had been much more co-workers in the unified task of maintaining a home.” Examples of the profamily emphasis include James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s American Family Coalition, and Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, which calls itself “America’s largest pro-family action site.” Dobson also founded a think tank/lobbying organization called the Family Research Council, which has editorialized in favor of eliminating government funding of PBS, in part because viewers were “fed up with the liberal bias.” Morality in Media, a religious media watchdog that boasts the slogan “Promoting a Decent Society Through Law,” has accused 60 Minutes and the New York Times of promoting pornography. More recently, with the help of a one-million-dollar Templeton Foundation grant, the Media Research Council spawned the Culture and Media Institute to “focus on the media’s relentless assault on faith, traditional values and personal responsibility.”

 
 
 
 

 

Dobson also has expressed dissatisfaction with John McCain, saying he would not vote for him, despite McCain’s efforts to reach out to the religious conservatives that he once unfortunately called (along with religious extremists on the left) “agents of intolerance.” In that 2004 speech, though, he did compliment Dobson, who “has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families.” (He also managed to use the word “friends” nine times; he seems to use that word more than anyone who isn’t a salesman or a Quaker.)

Apparently both Obama and McCain have expressed a willingness if not a desire to meet with Dobson, but the good doctor will only do so on his own terms, as noted in recent reports. “McCain also has not met with Dobson. A McCain campaign staffer offered Dobson a meeting with McCain recently in Denver … Dobson declined because he prefers that candidates visit the Focus on the Family campus to learn more about the organization.”

This might be the perfect time for both candidates to ignore the Religious Right and stop giving it undue influence. After all, religious conservatives are themselves split by this election. As I noted in the same book mentioned above:

In 2007 prominent social conservatives split their endorsements for a 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Pat Robertson endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who previously had supported gay rights and abortion rights. Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation, endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who also had once supported abortion rights and whose Mormon religion was considered a cult by some conservative Christians. Bob Jones III also endorsed Romney. After dropping his own short-lived presidential bid, conservative Kansas Senator Sam Brownback endorsed fellow senator John McCain. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed former Senator and “Law and Order” television actor Fred Thompson.

 

 

 

Another indication that this may be a good time to start ignoring the extremists on either side of religious arguments is a just-released survey of more than 35,000 Americans. It shows that most Americans are both religious and fairly moderate in their religious views. “Most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith,” the Pew Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reported. “A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.”

Of course, James Dobson would probably say most of those folks were willfully distorting the Bible with fruitcake interpretations.

(Followup notes: The Huffington Post’s Frank Schaeffer suggests that “Dr. Dobson has just handed Obama victory,” while this site offers a side-by-side comparison of what Obama actually said versus what Dobson claims he said.)

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Lying politicians

Posted by James McPherson on June 22, 2008

You may think that headline is the opposite of an oxymoron–so obvious as to be not worth stating. If so, you’re right; more on that in a moment.

David Brooks and others are beside themselves over Barack Obama’s change of heart–or lie–about accepting public financing. Of course, though I happen to think Brooks is a decent guy (and Slate magazine has called him “America’s one genuinely likable conservative”), he probably should be the last person to complain about inconsistency, based on his own record.

The point remains, however, that Obama flipflopped. He said he would accept public financing, then–when it was clear that he would raise a ton of money and be able to vastly outspend John McCain–Obama raise the spectre of conservative 527’s (think Swift Boats) expected to help McCain and declared that he would not accept it, after all. Personally, though I wish Obama hadn’t made the original pledge, I think a president who can change his mind when faced with new information is a good thing.

As several columnists and bloggers have noted, campaign financing is not the sort of issue that most voters are likely notice or care much about (especially this early in the campaign season). Brooks even suggests that the reversal indicates that Obama is “the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades” who boasts a necessary tough side that critics sometimes overlook: “Global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.”

McCain also has been crying foul, but of course he has flip-flopped on taxes and energy policy–two issues that voters do care about–and therefore has little room to complain. Besides, even if Obama “lied” (knowing that he would change positions if conditions changed), that merely puts him in good company. Almost all politicians lie (like most of the rest of us, for that matter). And presidents certainly do, as illustrated in Eric Alterman’s book When Presidents Lie, which my sister gave me for Christmas.

Alterman’s last chapter is titled “George Bush and the Post-Truth Presidency.” In fact, either Obama or McCain would have difficulty catching up with the lies of the current president, who seems bound to one day end up on this ignoble list.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

Posted by James McPherson on June 20, 2008

Having offered my suggestions for John McCain a couple of days ago, I’ll now do the same for Barack Obama. It seems appropriate especially because of recent articles listing possibilities that include John Edwards, Al Gore, Sam Nunn, John Murtha and Ted Strickland. The Huffington Post and others have handicapped other top prospects, including western governors Janet Napolitano, Brian Schweitzer and Bill Richardson.

I doubt that Edwards or Gore are serious possibilities. Edwards has already failed in an attempt to be VP, and generated no more enthusiasm in this year’s presidential bid. Gore has been there, done that, and is more influential outside of office than he would be as Obama’s second banana.

Hillary Clinton is the obvious favorite of many who seek the so-called “Dream Ticket,” and it’s good that (as announced this morning) she is going to campaign with Obama, but she brings too much baggage for the “change candidate” that Obama claims to be. Besides, I think she’d be a better choice as secretary of state or perhaps attorney general, moving to the Supreme Court as soon as there is an opening (probably about two days after Obama takes the oath of office, if he’s elected). Of course conservatives couldn’t be told that she’d end up on the court before the election, or that would become their major talking point for the coming months.

Napolitano and her Kansas counterpart Kathleen Sebelius offer other strong female leadership possibilities, and both have succeeded in dealing with Republican majorities. Unfortunately neither helps counter Obama’s biggest perceived weakness–a lack of knowledge or experience in foreign policy.

Nunn and Murtha are better options in this regard because of their military experience, but Nunn has been out of the game for so long that few people outside of Georgia likely remember who he is, and Murtha is viewed by too many as a crank and/or a flake. If Obama were to go that route, a better choice would be Virginia Senator Jim Webb or retired General Wesley Clark, who is well known because of his own presidential bid four years ago. He also might help swing disgruntled Clinton supporters because he was a leading figure in her campaign.

The popular and conservative Southerner Webb would be a good choice (though it might cost the Dems a hard-won Senate seat in the long run) and Richardson may have the widest range of applicable experience of anyone available. Unfortunately, Richardson is unable to do one thing that my top choice can do: attack the Bush administration (and its continuation under McCain) in a credible, logical manner while not turning off listeners.

My preferred candidate, Joe Biden, happens to be stronger on both foreign policy and bipartisanship than McCain, and would reduce the exotic feel of the Obama campaign (something a woman or Richardson would be less able to do). Biden loves cameras, and performs well in front of them. Occasionally verbose, he has become increasingly adept at breaking policy into sound bites. More importantly, for a vice presidential nominee (and perhaps especially with Obama’s efforts to maintain niceness), Biden has no qualms about going on the attack when necessary.

If Obama chose Biden as VP, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Republican Chuck Hegel as Secretary of Defense, the administration would likely be both functional and well repected. Of course the Senate would suffer greatly.

Whomever Obama chooses, he should name his running mate by mid-July. That would give the team plenty of time to make the rounds of talk shows and to hone their message throughout the dog days of summer, peaking just in time for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2008

There is naturally a lot of discussion over whom each of the candidates should choose as a running mate. The Los Angeles Times and others have named Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Mark Sanford, Richard Burr, Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty and Charlie Crist as possibilities–though since rumors that Crist is gay keep bubbling up and the last thing the party of Mark Foley and Larry Craig needs is another gay sex scandal, I doubt he’ll be any more than a campaigner for McCain. 

A popular choice among pundits–but probably no one else outside of Israel–is former Democratic vice presidential nominee and current McCain lapdog Joe Lieberman. (Yes, he acts more like an eager-to-please Labrador retriever than a lap-sized pocket pooch, but I can attest even a 100-pound Lab like mine considers itself to be a lapdog). Republican bloggers have broadened the list of potential running mates, including such possibilities as Condi Rice, J.C. Watts, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giulianni, Haley Barbour, Tom Coburn, Duncan Hunter, Marsha Blackburn or Sarah Palin.

Despite the advice he’ll get from the Huckabee Alliance and others, McCain should choose Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Both are young, attractive and female. That might make Cindy McCain, the one most familiar with his history, and some social conservatives a bit nervous, but in a post-Bill Clinton world I doubt that Democrats would raise improper questions. The youth and gender of either Blackburn or Palin would help McCain among young voters, disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, and dirty old men. Of those two choices, I prefer Palin–a University of Idaho journalism graduate, former beauty pageant “Miss Congeniality,” mother of five, lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and very popular governor.

As for when McCain should name Palin as the nominee (though I hate to help the GOP): I suggest Sunday, Aug. 24. That’s the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention, which runs Aug. 25-28. That would greatly reduce the positive attention paid to the Dems, especially since the networks have largely abandoned most coverage of the highly scripted conventions, anyway. It would also leave Democrats scrambling to consider responding during the speeches of the Democratic VP choice that Wednesday night or of Obama that Thursday night. Frankly, I’d recommend that they not address it at all, since there are too many ways they could do so badly–another reason McCain should introduce her then.

Since the Republican National Convention isn’t until Sept. 1-4, that would give people a week to learn more about Palin and for the news media to come up with all they could–which with such short notice would almost certainly be superficial and glowing. And that’s still more than two months before the general election, which would generate buzz at exactly the time most Americans will finally start paying attention to the electoral process. 

AUGUST 1 UPDATE: Lots of other folks are discussing Palin as McCain’s choice.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

Presidential debates

Posted by James McPherson on June 4, 2008

In what would be a positive move for the American political process, Barack Obama and John McCain both suggest they are open to a series of debates different from (and in addition to) the traditional three pseudo-debates offered by the Presidential Debate Commission. Though additional debates are unlikely to match the drama of the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 (see a short history clip below, or the debate itself can be found via YouTube), perhaps we can avoid the traditional recitation of prepared soundbites that we get during most elections.

Or perhaps not. McCain says he’d like to see a series of town hall-style debates, but in a press conference this morning refused to consider the more freewheeling Lincoln-Douglas style proposed by Obama. Admittedly, McCain is in a tough spot. He is low on money, and needs all the free coverage he can get. Yet when it comes to public appearances, McCain looks old, he has difficulty remembering facts or reading a teleprompter, his diction is flat except when he’s angry, and he doesn’t draw the rock-star crowds of his younger opponent.

Neither candidate is likely to highlight policy initiatives. But probably the only chance McCain has to compete rhetorically is to find a setting that will downplay his negatives while enhancing his folksy ability to chat informally with people unaccustomed to asking tough questions about his recent history as a flip-flopper. Still, he has used his current ongoing town hall forums in much the same way that most candidates use the debates–as an opportunity to answer any question with a regurgitated well-used talking point–suggesting that the current proposal is more about TV face time than about a real desire to expand the amount of meaningful information available to the electorate.

Obviously prospective voters could spend time online to find more useful information than will be offered via the debates or anything else offered on television. But few will, and in general more information should be considered a positive–though Fox News might disagree. “America’s Election HQ” seems to be bored with the actual electoral process, judging by today’s comments from E.D. Hill.

Hill responded to the idea of expanded debates as something that would “put me to sleep,” and also indicated she had no desire to see more debates. (Her Wikipedia bio claims she is working on a master’s degree in government, again demonstrating the negligible value of Wikipedia as a reference–surely that uncited reference must be a joke inserted by a viewer familiar with Hill’s political intellect and level of curiosity.) Hill often serves as one of Fox’s living blonde jokes and key distortionists, though admittedly she is one of the few attractive women in America brave enough to co-host the radio show of sexual harrasser Bill O’Reilly’s (Fox paid, though O’Reilly never apologized). Having accumulated eight kids during her three marriages, perhaps the self-appointed child-rearing expert needs the money.

Perhaps someone should point out to E.D. (named Edith Ann at birth; one can imagine all sorts of appropriate “D” words as descriptors) that no one is requiring her to watch the debates–not that she’d understand the discussion of policy even if she did manage to stay awake for it. After all, this is a woman who produced a book with a title referring to “America’s Best and Brightest,” then included Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Albanian “dog trainer of the stars” Bashkim Dibra, and Fox morning nimrod Steve Doocy (recently slammed on the air by Fox’s Chris Wallace for his anti-Obama distortions)

As for the presidential debates, if they happen, Fox has plenty of other spinners who will watch the debates and then tell viewers what they heard, why McCain performed better than Obama, how Obama lied, and perhaps where Jeremiah Wright watched the debate.

A brief Kennedy-Nixon debate history

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Clinton, Obama and changing politics

Posted by James McPherson on May 24, 2008

Some now believe that Obama’s inabililty to put away Hillary Clinton–indeed, she blew him out in West Virginia and Kentucky–proves she has a better chance to win in November against John McCain because she attracts voters who just won’t vote for Obama. Some of those voters are women, upset with how the media and the Obama campaign have treated Hillary. Some are racist idiots. Some are essentially conservatives in Democratic donkey clothing who recognize that her politics align more closely to theirs.

As I’ve noted previously, most of the voters who consider themselves to be progressives or liberals likely will vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, come November. Some immature short-sighted idiots won’t (except in the unlikely instance that Clinton becomes Obama’s VP candidate). Still, despite the fact that Clinton has virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, I don’t think she should drop out. She should not try, as some suggest she is doing, to sabotage Obama’s November prospects, but as I’ve said before, I think an extended race helps Democrats more than it hurts. 

Though we cannot know how many of Clinton’s voters will stay home or vote for McCain, the fact remains that we also still cannot know how many Obama supporters will turn out in November. Critics rightfully point out that every election is supposed to be the one in which young people make a difference, but they never do. Some of those critics suggest that Obama’s support is artificially inflated by infatuated youngsters who will vanish in November. I happen to think those critics are wrong for three reasons:

  1. Those voters have already turned out for primaries and caucuses, which always draw far smaller crowds than do general elections.
  2. They’ve been voting with their money. Obama has generated amazing amounts of cash from people who have never before donated to campaigns, and because they’ve invested financially, they’re likely to want to see their investment pay off.
  3. Change. This is Obama’s buzzword, but I mean it in a different sense–not that we need change, but that change has already come. Every pundit recognizes that the Internet and YouTube have had influence, but I think most Americans over 40 still underestimate how dramatic the change has been.

One example comes from Kansas State University’s mediatedcultures.net a class project that has demonstrated in fascinating (and public) ways how young people view the world. Many of the videos have much to teach the rest of us, too. I’ll share another favorite, about modern education, some other day.

Spreading of Ideas on YouTube (Curtis Schwieterman)

Posted in Education, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Democratic self-mutilation

Posted by James McPherson on May 20, 2008

I suppose cutting off your nose to spite your face would make it easier to stick your head up your butt. Beyond that, however, I understand the rationale of the Hillary Clinton supporters who say that they will refuse to vote for Obama even less than I understand the conservatives who say they support Hillary over John McCain.

Once the Dems choose a nominee–especially if the loser endorses the winner–probably most of those folks will overcome their hurt or distrust of the their party’s nominee and vote in their own best interest. But not all, of course, as amply demonstrated by Ralph Nader’s assistance in giving us eight years of George Bush.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve voted as an independent in almost every presidential election since my first in 1976. And I agree with what I once heard folk singer/storyteller Utah Phillips say, “Remember, if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for evil.” But on the rare occasions when it appeared that my vote might actually matter (mostly I’ve lived in heavily red states where the outcome was a foregone conclusion), I’ve had enough sense to vote for the person whom I most trusted to be in a position to support my interests.

One thing I do know: Conservatives will revel in the irony if disgruntled women voters give McCain the votes he needs to win and, in their view, finally guarantee the Supreme Court Majority that will overturn Roe v. Wade. Of course much of the reason for the current court majority, as I’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere, is that Republicans who disagree on various things–taxation, immigration, war, abortion, etc.–manage to put aside their differences to vote for one bad nominee after another. As a result, we’ve all lost–but progressives have lost the most. And those who care about women’s rights may be the biggest losers if McCain wins.

Posted in Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Posted by James McPherson on May 7, 2008

As a media scholar, I accept the fact that it is part of my job to watch television shows, listen to radio programming and read publications that I know will insult my intelligence. A former colleague once reminded me that, regardless of our own political views, we should sample from the opposition sources simply “to know what the bastards are up to.” Beyond that, I listen to idiots on both ends of the political spectrum because they offer a variety of perspectives that can sharpen my own critical thinking, because they do have unfortunate and sometimes disproportional societal influence that I should try to understand, and because sometimes they stumble into truth. Rush Limbaugh, the king of the blowhards, demonstrated that fact yesterday when he told a caller, “You don’t know how fortunate you are not watching cable TV. … You’d have such a pessimistic view of your country if you watched cable television.” Of course ACLU-beneficiary Rush went on to his usual complaint that, to quote directly, “The problem in America is too much liberalism.”

Limbaugh’s comments came in response to a complaint about his ongoing “Operation Chaos,” in which he has been encouraging Republicans for at least the past couple of months to cross party lines to vote in Democratic primaries–and to vote for the trailing candidate (usually Hillary Clinton), with the sole aim of extending the Democratic primary process while the eventual nominee takes a beating from fellow Democrats. Despite contrary evidence, Sean Hannity and others credit Operation Chaos at least in part for Hillary’s win in Indiana, and MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews went off on Limbaugh’s “mischief making” last night, saying: “What a ridiculous way to use the vote for which people fought and died, to use that vote to make mischief. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

Aside from the fact that Matthews seems to have become nearly as much an apparent Hillary-hater as Limbaugh in recent weeks, his comment is one of those that, while it sounds patriotic, is frankly as misguided as many right-wing radio pundits if he thinks that people “fought and died” so we’d all think the same way about patriotism. People vote for all sorts of reasons, and have the right to use that vote however they like. They can vote for Disney characters–and some do. The fact that you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning than to have your vote actually matter, regardless of whom you vote for, is irrelevant–it’s your vote. I’d argue that voting for or against a candidate who has the nomination wrapped up, as John McCain does on the Republican side, might be as big a waste of time as writing in Donald Duck. (Now, Daffy Duck, on the other hand… there’s a candidate.) Besides, some conservatives, including Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter (see clip below), seemingly prefer Hillary Clinton to John McCain–not necessarily a bad idea from a conservative perspective, considering that Bill Clinton was far more conservative than many Republicans.

I’ve never crossed party lines to vote in a primary (though in almost every political election of my life I have voted for some Democrats and some Republicans), but I know people who have. A couple of family members are Idaho Democrats, meaning they have about as much chance of affecting a general election in their own state as I do of becoming President Ron Paul’s press secretary. Those family members vote in the Republican primary for the least objectionable candidate–the one most friendly toward public education and social services, and therefore the one most attuned to their priorities. Likewise, a conservative Southern Baptist friend once voted in a primary for Jesse Jackson in an attempt to thwart the nomination of a more mainstream (and more electable) candidate.

Of course, I happen to be among the minority who think that the lengthy primary process has done the Democrats more good than harm. They’re raising tons of money and bringing in new Democratic voters. The two candidates are facing criticism that they would face later, anyway, and have time to develop counterarguments. McCain has largely dropped from view, except when he makes the occasional gaffe about whether we’re fighting Sunnis or Shias, a shifting perspective about the economy, or the accidental admission that the Persian Gulf War was largely about oil. And most of the electorate won’t pay much attention until at least August, anyway.

Ann Coulter supports Hillary Clinton

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