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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Alterman: Increasingly Unhinged GOP Gets Free Ride from False Equivalency Media

Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman has a blistering critique of the Republican Party presidential candidates and their operatives in his article, “The Crazier the Republican Candidates Sound, the More Popular They Become.” In one take-no-prisoners excerpt Alterman observes:

… The party is being led by a group of people with politics so extreme and explanations so silly–and often transparently dishonest–that one cannot help but question their sanity. Can Donald Trump really believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that virtually all undocumented immigrants are potential rapists and murderers? Can Ben Carson truly consider Obamacare on a par with slavery? And which answer would be more comforting: shameless liar or lunatic fantasist?
… this same disease has infected the entire Republican field. In the hopes of appealing to angry, ill-informed, and xenophobic primary voters, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina are all adopting positions that are not only beyond the boundaries of the beliefs of the vast majority of Americans, but also contrary to the laws of physics, economics, and, of course, common sense.

Among the causes of the GOP’s domination of the House of Reps, state legislatures and governorships, Alterman cites the Citizens United decision and gerrymandering. But Alterman doesn’t let Democrats off the hook, either:

The Democrats are also at fault. By failing to present a class-based appeal to Americans besieged by a pitiless global capitalism, they’ve allowed themselves to be defined as elitist snobs who view the everyday struggles of working-class Americans–especially white males–with contempt. At the same time, they have failed to protect vulnerable minorities from the consequences of the rage and fear felt by this class–manifested most obviously in oppressive patterns of policing that victimize people of color, impoverishing their families, weakening their communities, and ensuring their lifelong alienation from mainstream society.

Yet few objective observers would deny that the policies of individual Democratic leaders that affect both white working class and African American voters are substantially more progressive than anything the Republicans propose. In fact, everything Alterman says about Democrats is far more true of Republicans. Yet the image he describes persists.
It may have to do, in part, with expectations — many African Americans and white workers want a stronger voice for reforms that can benefit their lives, and they are not getting it. So the more progressive, but not progressive enough party gets stigmatized as betraying its ideals. For some voters, that is worse than open opposition.
Most Democratic elected officials are far more progressive than their party’s image, which is sort of a tribute to the GOP’s superior message discipline. Even when the message is rooted in lies and distortion, their echo chamber functions efficiently. Democrats are all over the place.
One possible remedy: more Democratic ad campaigns directed at defining the difference between the two parties, instead of just the usual yada-yada from different candidates. Republicans understand “brand identification” a lot better than their opponents. We almost never see that. It’s time Dems got a clue.
Alterman provides an equally-blistering take-down of the false equivalence default position of much of the mainstream media:

Liberals like yours truly spend a lot of time obsessing over Fox News and talk-radio. But no less a significant factor in the success of the irredentists has been the willingness of so many members of the mainstream media to run interference for–and therefore legitimize–the same dangerous nonsense in the guise of allegedly objective reporting. The mainstream media’s coverage of every Republican debate so far has had the effect of subordinating reality to fantasy. Jonathan Martin’s front-page New York Times report on the most recent debate deemed that fib-fest to be a “robust seminar on the issues.” In an article devoted to the lies dominating the election cycle, the Times’s Michael Barbaro could not bring himself to go further than to say that Carson “harshly turned the questions” about inconsistencies in his life story “back on the reporters who asked them,” and that Fiorina “refused” to back down from a story about Planned Parenthood that was “roundly disputed.” And in what read like a parody of the idiotic “both sides do it” meme, Barbaro equated all this with the fact that Hillary Clinton once described herself as being the granddaughter of four immigrants when, in fact, one was born shortly after her family arrived in the United States–something she quickly corrected. Beyond that, he found a few (largely personal) fibs from Democrats who ran for president in the late 1980s and ’90s, as if these were somehow equivalent to the lies that Republican candidates are telling today. (Barbaro also appeared unimpressed with Clinton’s explanations about her e-mail accounts, as though these might qualify as lies.)

A great deal of the reporting Alterman describes is very deliberate. But I get the feeling that a lot of it is simply lazy reporting by writers who fall back on “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand” formulas to cover their asses. It might help if J-schools did more to stress critical thinking. Other than that, calling them out more energetically will have to do.
Dems can hope with some reason that the GOP is headed for disaster in 2016. But counting on it would be foolish and dangerous. What Democrats must do over the next year is shore up their GOTV, because it sure looks like Republicans have done so, and hone a compelling message that distinguishes their party as the best option for voters who are paying attention.

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