Sunday, January 24, 2010

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From Nixon’s debacle, the Republicans learned important lessons, including their need to build a media infrastructure of their own to protect future Republican presidents from “another Watergate.” Nixon’s former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon took the lead in pulling together wealthy conservatives to invest in right-wing media and think tanks. [For details, see Lost History.]

The Left extracted an opposite lesson from Watergate. Feeling a false confidence that the mainstream news media would continue performing a watchdog role, progressives mostly dismantled what had been a thriving “underground” media of newspapers, magazines and radio stations, which had grown up amid the youthful opposition to the Vietnam War. [For details, see’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]
In the 1980s, the American Left followed a different path, ignoring the importance of having a media infrastructure that could get out its message, instead favoring vague concepts like “organizing” and “going back to the roots.” The Left embraced the bumper-sticker slogan, “think globally, act locally,” and abandoned the front lines of Washington's information wars..

What money the Left did spend on national politics was devoted heavily to “campaign finance reform,” pushing for laws and regulations that supposedly would limit special-interest donations given to political parties and candidates. While well intentioned, the logical flaw of this approach was that it limited what could be spent by politicians on campaigns but ignored the Right’s unrestricted – and unmatched – investment in media.

After Bush prevailed, Nader and his followers refused to accept any blame for the outcome, claiming instead that it was Gore’s fault for not winning his home state of Tennessee, or having a lousy recount strategy, or any number of other excuses.

It had become a trademark of the Left’s purists to almost never take responsibility for anything, but rather to assume the role of critic. They would typically find fault with whatever compromise the pragmatists judged necessary while pretending that the American people were ready to rally to the banner of radical change if only the Democrats would blow the bugle.

The reality was that many middle- and working-class Americans were now identifying with the Right’s anti-government “populism” -- as promoted by the pervasive right-wing media -- not with the Left’s unheard explanations for why government intervention was needed to address social ills.

Ironically, Ralph Nader, whose candidacy helped make the Roberts and Alito appointments possible, stepped forward to denounce the ruling, saying it “shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process.”

Nader’s solution was to propose a constitutional amendment that would “prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections and drowning out the civic and political voices and values of citizens and voters.” However, Nader presented no practical way for such a constitutional amendment to be enacted.

Another irony of the expanding power of corporate money is that it will surely be disguised in “populist” garments meant to deceive simpleminded Americans who will think they are joining a movement to free the Republic from the threat of Big Government, when they will actually be handing the Republic over to corporate titans, including some fronting for foreign money.

And to top off this past week, Air America – after many stop-and-go moments – finally came crashing to earth, declaring bankruptcy and closing up shop.

Its demise was interpreted by some liberal pundits as a sign that progressives shouldn’t bother to invest in talk radio because progressives supposedly are too nuanced in their viewpoints, while talk radio is all about simplistic bombast.

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