Thursday, January 19, 2006

''Governing by ''Soap Opera''

"Republican campaign consultants are, in one way, right about the Democratic leadership.

It is out of touch with the meat and potatoes American who watches the equivalent of 77 days a year of television. The Democratic leaders, college-educated and generally a bit contemptuous of television outside of PBS, "The Daily Show" and some other hip offerings, don't get what's going on.

Just look at the on-cue crying jag and trembling flight of Mrs. Alito from her husband's hearings, egged on by Lindsey Graham, a former impeachment floor manager and now a senator who unethically was involved in the "coaching" of Alito during "mock Senate hearings" to prepare him. We can also safely assume that Graham was involved in the scripting of the hearings that included the soap opera dramatic moment of Mrs. Alito breaking down in tears.

It's not like the Democrats should have been surprised. For one thing, it was a warmed-over script. Clarence Thomas's wife had the same calculated "soap opera" moment during his hearings, and some of the Dem Senators were around then.

And despite the Democratic leadership's derisive dismissal of these tactics, they work in the elusive "Middle America," among those Americans for whom news and entertainment are so intertwined that they are indistinguishable. Take this account of a talk radio "experience" the Capital Times (Wisconsin) columnist Dave Zweifel had after the Mrs. Alito-staged "cry me a river" moment:

'I got firsthand experience the other day on how this phenomenon some call "attack radio" is creating a misinformed and distrustful public....I was treated to the tail end of strident attacker Vicki McKenna's ranting and raving over the news that Sam Alito's wife had to leave the hearing on her husband's Supreme Court nomination in tears. This was the first I heard of the episode so I listened more closely. Clearing implying that the nasty Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had caused this embarrassing situation with their over-the-top questioning of Alito, McKenna said if it was her she wouldn't have left in tears, but instead have thrown something at the nasty senators. What really happened, obviously, was a far cry from what the attackers had led me to believe.Incredibly, a fair number of Americans list attack radio shows as the place they get their news.'

And the crying scene (p. 43 of the White House script, no doubt) coverage wasn't limited to the right wing media echo chamber -- as vast as it is -- it was all over mainstream television and print, particularly Cable TV news. The people involved with the Swift Boat attacks were handing out press releases that they had no doubt prepared in advance, egging on coverage of the fabricated personal emotional moment. It was quite a propaganda operation.

The Democrats in Congress always looked dazed and confused when this tactic occurs, as if a nude streaker had suddenly jogged into the hearing, run a celebratory lap, and then disappeared. But that is why they are not blameless; this is a technique that Republicans almost daily employ -- and certainly trot out at decisive moments to compensate for their vulnerabilities and incompetence.

When John Kerry expressed admiration for how the Cheneys handled their daughter being a lesbian in a debate in which he, for the third time, pummeled Bush in the polls, the GOP propaganda machine was ready with an onslaught of feigned outrage. The claim was that Kerry was a cad who was using Mary Cheney's sexual orientation for political gain.

The fake uproar from the Cheneys was disingenuous and calculated, given that John Edwards had made a similar compliment directly to Cheney during the vice-presidential debate and Cheney thanked him for it.

But given Bush's lamentable performance during the debates, the Republicans desperately needed a "soap opera moment" to distract from Kerry's clear superior debating and policy articulation skills. So they turned to the same type of emotional news/entertainment story that dominates television: the GOP White House version of the "runaway bride." They made the debate pivot on a personal emotional moment, a diversion that dominated the airwaves of television and radio, because this is a story (the "protective parents" appeal) that voters who no longer have a choice between news and entertainment (since they are now pretty much one and the same) can relate to.

That's why the Republican consultants employ the formulaic appeal of the soap opera to get out of a jam, while the Democrats attempt cautious public policy approaches, urged on by fat cat consultants who are clueless except in knowing how to milk a cash cow. In this sense, the Republican consultants earn their money, while the Democratic veteran campaign and policy advisors don't.

In a nutshell, putting the multi-billion dollar funded right wing think tanks aside for the moment, almost the entire "appeal" of a radical, extremist political fringe element to television-addled Americans can be attributed to "soap opera" tactics to manipulate emotions.

There is a word for this and it's called acting like a demagogue.

And people who play the demagogue card usually end up being dictators. It doesn't matter whether they are Fascists, Communists or Nationalists, the two go hand in hand. That is how we go from "soap opera" moments that manipulate emotions, to the creation of a concept of a permanent war that manipulates fear, to the solidification of a "unitary executive" with powers to break the law and ignore the Constitution.

It's a sleight of hand all right. While many Americans are diverted by a tearful Mrs. Alito, her husband, who believes in the imperial Republican Il Duce, gets seated on the Supreme Court to help coronate King George.

The Democratic leadership in Congress believes you can appeal to public policy issues and the separation of powers in a Senate confirmation hearing. But reason and logic are not tools in the arsenal of the GOP demagogue. The GOP radicals have only emotions as their target, not reason.

The Democrats are looking to appeal to the brain; the Republicans to the manipulation of emotions that race through the heart -- and are subject to the strategic use of television "stories" and photo ops.

The parties are targeting two different body organs.

And in a world dominated by trivial news that appeals to the emotions -- and sensational celebrity gaffes, romantic entanglements and crimes -- the appeal to the brain has but the shortest of shelf lives.

It's barely but a blip on the radar screen of the evening news.-from Buzzflash. For a second opinion, mostly in line with this one, check out Geov Parrish's "The Democrats surrender," on Working for Change.

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