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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Behind the “Fairness” Scare

Progressive bloggers are having great sport this week with high-decibal conservative warnings that Democrats are plotting to censor conservative opinion through a restoration of the old “fairness doctrine” that used to theoretically govern broadcast television and radio. That “doctrine” was actually a Federal Communications Commission regulation requiring users of the public broadcast spectrum to provide reasonable access to points of view contrary to their own. It was rarely enforced, and was repealed in 1987, as a vestige of the long-lost days when three television networks completely dominated opinion media.
The unsubstantiated claim that “liberals” want to reimpose the fairness doctrine to destroy conservative opinion media has been a hardy perennial issue for Rush Limbaugh since at least the early 1990s. And during this election year, in association with a variety of other lurid assertions about the radically different way of life Americans would experience in a country governed by Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, the “fairness” meme went viral.
Marin Cogan of The New Republic has penned a fine background piece on this strange furor, and on the highly relevant fact that it’s all a complete hoax.
The Obama campaign explicitly opposed reimposition of the fairness doctrine, and virtually no one in Congress or in progressive “media reform” circles has any interest whatsoever in raising the issue. Notes Matt Yglesias: “Political movements mischaracterize the other side’s general goals all the time. But I’ve never heard of anything like the current conservative mania for blocking a particular legislative provision that nobody is trying to enact.” Some cynics even believe the whole thing is intended to create a phantom menace that conservative gabbers can then take credit for defeating when it doesn’t actually emerge. Cogan chalks it all up to “paranoia and self-pity” among conservatives in the wake of their electoral defeat.
All this may well be true, but I think there’s something deeper going on here: the fruits of conservative demonization of “the Left” over a long period of time.
One of the hallmarks of “movement conservative” opinion in recent years has been the growing tendency to treat itself not simply as a legitimate or “correct” point of view, or one that promotes policies good for the country, but as a cause that is synonymous with American self-interest, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and indeed, Western Civilization. This trend has naturally led to the depiction of its opponents as un-American, immoral and anti-religious, and, well, barbaric. Within the Christian Right, the need to demonize has become even more intense, in justification of the extraordinary step taken by religious leaders to adopt a “prophetic stance” against the wickedness of society and harness their pulpits and their flocks to the secular goals of the Republican Party.
From this point of view, “liberals” can’t simply be wrong or ill-informed or open to persuasion. Those supporting a woman’s right to choose must actually favor infanticide, euthanasia and human cloning. Advocates of a less militaristic foreign policy must be consciously aligned with America’s enemies. “People for the American Way” favoring mild church-state separation rules must really aim at systemic descrimination against Christians. Proponents of marriage equality for gays and lesbians are actually bent on destroying the traditional family.
Ironically, this tendency to attribute sinister and deeply deceptive motives to the opposition grew even more pervasive during the Bush-DeLay era, when conservatives controlled the White House, the federal bureaucracy, and both Houses of Congress. Indeed, Republican electoral success created still another curse to hurl at the hated liberals: they were “elitists” who were undermining democracy through their control of Hollywood, the news media, academia and the judiciary, with complicity from treasonous fifth-columnists in the GOP.
So now, with Democrats actually in a position to wield real power for the first time since 1994, is it really any wonder that some conservatives feel the need to convince their audiences, and perhaps even themselves, that we are on the brink of a totalitarian revolution? Anyone who’s paid attention to the distorted world view of much of the Right over the last decade or two shouldn’t be surprised. When you see devil’s horns on your political opponents, there’s hell to pay when they win.

3 comments on “Behind the “Fairness” Scare

  1. Cugel on

    None of this is really what the tempest is about.
    It’s a new-Stalinist attack on the media. That’s all. The “liberals” are trying to impose their will on the media, especially talk-radio that are the heart of the right-wing movement.
    For a long time, Conservatives have attacked the “liberal media.” Considering that the mainstream media was never “liberal” but is instead controlled by multi-billion dollar corporations that was never sensible.
    But, the complaint serves as the bludgeon of conservative insistence that the media must totally subordinate itself to their ideological agenda.
    Thus, the media was “in the tank for Obama” because it refused to mindlessly parrot right-wing talking points every day during the campaign. The media actually succumbed to reporting the news of the economic crisis instead of the made up GOP talking points like “Bill Ayers” and “Joe the Plummer hates Obama’s tax plan!”
    Their insistence now is that the media move further to the right in order to prove that it’s “balanced.” EVERY media outlet should be like Fox News, a pure propaganda arm of the far right.
    It’s Neo-Stalinist in that even the slightest hint of divergence from the imposed conformity is intolerable heresy.
    Especially since a huge majority of voters have rejected conservatism itself the need for more media imposed conformity in order for the right-wing to regain power is more essential than ever.
    That’s why you’re seeing the mindless attacks. The fact that nobody’s actually intending to re-impose the fairness doctrine is irrelevant. It’s part of the right-wing media attack strategy.

  2. Steve on

    If the Republicans are so worried about this, but the Democrats don’t really want it, the Democrats should push it very hard, but then be willing to give it up for something they really do care about. There’s no reason to give up some good negotiating material in advance.


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