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June 25, 2007

Comments

As our connection with the pre-television generation dies off, of course we're going to get a television presidency. It's not going to get any smarter around here with newspapers dying off, either.

Didn't Umberto Eco say something about how these are the new Middle Ages? Sure feels like it (but with better plumbing).

All that said, our President is awfully Cheneywhipped, isn't he?

we -- America -- elected a neophyte who lacked the experience, knowledge, and judgment to be president.

Well, no, we didn't. We elected a man with a good deal of experience, knowledge, and judgment -- judgment that has improved markedly in the bitter years since a corrupt Supreme Court decision stole that election from him.

And the fundamental problem with the media isn't a diffuse, hard-to-diagnose problem either. It's closely related to the problem with our system of campaigning: totally corrupted by hugely concentrated corporate power.

publius: great post.

totally plagiarized your theme though -- as i noted in the comments to abu ghraib post, the yoo warning is telling, damning, checkmating, the whole nine.

"totally corrupted by hugely concentrated corporate power"

That certainly doesn't help, but I don't see how that's to blame for Broder and MoDo and so forth.


"the question is whether the media will actually be different"

Blogs probably help a bit (here I'm thinking of TPM in particular), and the chastening experience of the last seven years - but I would think it'll take a new generation of editors and reporters, i.e., more than a human generation.

One of the posts I didn't write last week was on the comparison between the amount of coverage of the Giuliani/ISG story and the horserace, pols, etc. Can I be the only one who remembers the polls of 2004, with Lieberman in the lead, and then during the fall all those stories asking: Is Dean unstoppable? (to which I would snarl: no, no one has voted yet, dimwits)? Can I be the only one who asks myself: why on earth does anyone pay any attention to the horserace at this stage, other than as some sort of quick impressionistic check on how things are doing?

Aaargh. Makes me crazy. Thank God for blogs.

You know, I just looked at Rumsfeld's testimony, and he did lie to Congress. Leaving aside the question of when he saw Taguba's report. He states that every detainee in Iraq is protected by Geneva, and DOD documents & credible witnesses (I am not talking about John Yoo) show that to be false.

Also re "hugely concentrated corporate power":
I have (somewhat bizarrely) a very conservative colleague. I've had several devout Christian colleagues, and people are pretty good at not treating them like they're nuts, but I'm just not used to dealing with a guy who will in apparent seriousness grimly say that Iraq's WMDs all got sent to Syria and are likely to cause trouble in future. I hasten to add, this is an extremely sharp and productive guy. I wouldn't think he's susceptible to brainwashing by Fox. I don't know how he got where he is politically - maybe more exposure to Bill Moyers would have helped, maybe not. Maybe in a world of more diverse media he would watch tv news to the right of Fox.

"why on earth does anyone pay any attention to the horserace"

Human nature of the high-school clique/Survivor/People magazine sort?

Cambone too.

@Katherine: I've been thinking about the blatant evidence of Rumsfeld's lies to Congress a lot in the last two days. (Cheney avoided lying to Congress by just flipping them off.)

What's the statute of limitations? Will they be able to be charged under a new Attorney General (and a new/cleaned out DOJ)?

while we're asking katherine questions, do you know of any summaries of legal views on the amended war crimes act section (i.e., what it removes, what it doesn't, what are its implications for future prosecution, etc.)

Incompetent presidents are not a product of our media saturated age. Look at how many previous president were found grossly lacking - Pierce, Buchanan, Harding, Hoover. Believe you're placing too much blame on "the media" as neither Gore nor Kerry were compelling candidates.

In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become & without 9/11, he would have become a forgettable failure who did not cause great damage to our nation.

So far none of the 2008 candidates are particularly appealing either, so I, like many of us, will be voting for the evil of two lessors once again.

Nell--offhand, I don't know.

Publius--Here's HRW's analysis. Here are several posts by Marty Lederman: 1, 2, 3.

It's a tricky question what the war crimes portion of the act means, because there are actually two relevant questions:

--how would a court interpret those provisions in a future prosecution?
--how would administration lawyers & the CIA interpret them?

Before the bill was passed, analysis tended to focus on the second question. After all, DOJ will not bring any prosecutions under this law anytime soon, so in the immediate future there will not be case law & the OLC's bad faith interpretation will be what binds the CIA. And it was clear from reading the draft that the administration intended to for the law to allow everything but (perhaps) waterboarding going forward, and immunize past waterboarding.

After passage became inevitable, people realized: hey, we're stuck with this, and started discussing how a court should fairly interpret the law. There's no reason to believe a court would actually accept OLC's interpretations.

I can also tell you what I think if you have a specific question....I'm unimportant enough not to have a duty to spin it, I think.

I actually blogged a bit about this focus on 'character issue' politics a while ago, when I realised that the same phenomenon is already visible in the Roman republic. So it's not simply due to the effects of the mass media.

The big structural problem you haven't mentioned is the two-party system. There are no references to Parties in the Constitution, and the current political system undermines every check and balance designed into it.

These problems are not going to get any better until this fundamental issue is addressed. The current Administration is not concerned in the least with policy, except insofar as those policies relate to the advancement of The Party.

The current state of affairs is *exactly* the type of thing the Founders tried to prevent. Sadly, they failed.

Rilkefan: Media consolidation enables the Broders and Dowds of the world by protecting them fro visible feedback, let alone challenge. In, say, the competitive media climate of the American revolutionary era through to the mid/late 19th century, people like them would have been subjected to criticism from peers all along. See Mark Twain's "Journalism in Tennessee" for the extreme case. The fact that very few people have the power to say "give this space, send that packing" reinforces the culture of mutual defense against the rest of society.

It would still be possible to act like Broder and Dowd as far as the arrogant self-confidence and surface obsessions go in a competitive media market. It would be much harder to pretend that all criticism of acting that way comes from outside the circle of those who count.

The US of today indeed have some uncomfortable similarities to the late years of the Roman republic (that includes the profile of the parties). That Roman elections were already influenced by "show" values can be seen from the very word "candidate", meaning wearing a snow-white toga (toga candida) to present oneself as "clean" and therefore electable. Or the election graffitti in Pompeji ("XYZ bakes good bread, therefore he will make good policy too").
Platon on the other hand wanted to ban actors and the like from running for public office ;-) (this was actually a petty grudge against Perikles, who was a dancer)

Are future installments of this series going to be named after works by other philosophers? I'm not looking forward to Cheney: La Nausée, but I can't wait for Cheney: La Chute.

tarylcabot:
In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become

The Onion, Jan. 17, 2001: "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'." No, his failure was not only predictable, it was predicted.

of course we're going to get a television presidency.

I'm old enough to remember people saying this about the 1960 election (and they were right, to a considerable extent).

a petty grudge against Perikles, who was a dancer

No he wasn't. He was a member of Athen's leading aristocratic family, the son af a prominent politician and general, and a leading political figure himself from early adulthood. And Plato hardly bore him a personal grudge; Plato was about 1 year old when Pericles died.

lj: Cheney: La Peste might be apropos as an overview.

Doctor Science: on a more serious note, see also Molly Ivins' Shrub (2000).

I think that you are on the right track, but you are missing something important. It's not just the electoral process that matters--it's the process in general. There have been plenty of mediocre presidents in the past--van Buren is probably the first--but they did relatively little harm.

The problem now is that the federal government has much more power, and many fewer limits, than it used to; you can blame the Civil War, the post-war Amendments, the New Deal, the Warren Court, or the War on Drugs (or any combination of the above). The process is broken that keeps the federal government from doing harm even when it's incomptetent.

This is awesome. Kudos to the students who instigated it:

President Bush was presented with a letter Monday signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to ``violations of the human rights'' of terror suspects held by the United States.

The White House said Bush had not expected the letter but took a moment to read it and talk with a young woman who handed it to him.

``The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights,'' deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

They made CNN.

I was a Presidential scholar once, a very long time ago--we did a similar photo op where we listened to Clinton give a speech on education & shook his hands afterward. I remember that we were all very impressed by the guy who asked President Clinton if he could meet Chelsea. This is above & beyond.

In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become

I disagree. This was not the Peter Principle at work. It's not as if the man had lots of accomplishments to his credit but just turned out not to be up to the job of President. It is well-documented that his business career was a series of failures, and that he had hardly taken any responsibilities seriously earlier in his life.

It's not as if the man had lots of accomplishments to his credit but just turned out not to be up to the job of President.

We all learned this over the course of the campaign. But we also learned that the President didn't need to be especially sharp; like Reagan, he would be surrounded by the best and brightest the GOP had to offer.

And surely few could have predicted what a failure they would become.

The MSM certainly has a share of blame, but the largest share has to go to the voters.

Just because most of the media focuses on trivia doesn't mean the voters have to.

There was good information about the candidates available - IIRC, the L.A. TImes ran a series on Bush's business dealings, for example - but people just didn't pay attention to those things.

Also, Gore had been in public life for decades; voters who took their responsibilities seriously could have, should have, looked at that record, rather than listen to media concoctions about facial expressions and wardrobes.

The question is why people let their political opinions and decisions be shaped by trivialization, why they don't pay as much analytical attention to making voting decisions as they do to their favorite TV shows and sports teams. Is it because they feel alienated from politics, powerless to have any meaningful say? Or is it because they consider politics boring and stupid? -which, come to think, is probably another form of alienation.

Considering that the same distortions, trivializations, and outright lies worked so well in 2004 - after 9/11, and while there were two wars going on, events which usually concentrate peoples' minds on substance - I don't hold out much hope for 2008.

This is too complex an issue to try to boil it down to a few simple categories.

Is the "media" [partially responsible? Sure. They are the ones that determine what is printed or aired. And I tend to think the aired is more important than the printed. And I tend to discredit the theory that the media give us what we want. The media give us what they think we need to know or what they think we should want. In general, we blithely accept that.

But it goes beyond the media. To some degree it goes to our education system, which to a great degree no longer teaches the art of critical thinking. My son just accepted a teaching position at a prestigous Catholic college prep school and one of his primary objectives is to teach the students not to blindly accept anythign, including those things that he tells them, even though he is never wrong.

Concerning Cheney, I think it is important to remember that not only did he select himself, but he is part of a group that, IMO, handpicked Bush precisely because they knew he would allow them to get away with what they wanted. Bush's entire history is one of failure, but faiklure that he was rescued from without having to feel the consequences of that failure. As a result you have an individual who has an overglorified opinion of himself, with little of substance toabck that up. This type of individual is ripe for manipulation.

And yes, for anybody that looked beyond the sound-bites and the rhetoric, it was pretty obvious in 2000 that Bush was not competent enough to be President.

rea, acting (or other performing high art) in ancient Athens was not a lower-class affair while the Athenian democracy was class-less. Pericles could only to a certain degree use his background for political purposes but had to get the majority of the Demos by persuasion at every turn. Apart from his political/military work he was indeed also a (ritual) jump-dance performer*. Platon despised democracy and those that personified it. In the text of his state philosophy (Politeia) there are a number of barely veiled allusions to the person of Pericles with negative connotation**. Concerning the choice of leadership he drops some, seemingly off-hand, remarks that point directly to Pericles, e.g. remarking that people that perform(ed) ritual jump-dancing disqualify themselves as potential leaders.
Platons "ideal state" was a (sophisticated) precursor of fascism, he considered the Athenian state as mob-ruled and run by demagogues (there was some truth to that though).

*nothing dishonorable and only considered "undignified" by very few (I guess the same that considered theatre as "public lying").
**I rely here on the annotated edition of the Politeia we read at school (my Greek has admittdly rusted so much that I cannot translate the text itself anymore)

I think there is a problem with the kind of shadow presidency we now seem to have that goes beyond the simple unpredictability of its competence (i.e. Maybe this shadow official will be competent, maybe he won’t.) Competent or not, a shadow president (or a shadow whatever) will behave differently than a real president (or a real whatever). When you'r pulling the strings from behind the scenes and the buck doesn't stop with you, even if you're otherwise competent, you're more likely to take risks that you otherwise wouldn't. Perhaps Dick Cheney would have made a much better president than George Bush, but he would have to have been in the hotseat that is the presidency to have done so. I think the field of potential "good" shadow presidents is extremely small, maybe approaching nil, given the dynamics of such a position.

Cheney would still have an unfettered hand if Congressional Republicans hadn't become so thoroughly corrupt and lost Congress in 2006. Which underscores your point -- events outside of Cheney's control deprived him of much of his power. The institutional failure that gave him that power remains.

Each side (Republican/Democrat) can depend on a solid 30% vote.

There is the mushy middle which focuses on the beauty pageant that is the American Presidency.

"we -- America -- elected a neophyte who lacked the experience, knowledge, and judgment to be president."

Not on my vote, buddy.

"the leader of the free world was selected on the basis of who seemed more personally affable."

Gore was obviously more affable. He's clever and witty. Nothing I've read about Bush's character on a personal level says anything other than "towel-snapping frat boy," the kind I spent all my high-school and college years avoiding.

So I don't buy "We ourselves must share blame too." Not me, and not hardly anyone I know, either.

And your rants are nothing new. Look, the US has been electing unqualified, ignorant presidents since Andrew Jackson in 1828. (And his Cheney was named Martin Van Buren.) Jackson was just as willful and petulant as Bush; he was just more proactive about pushing his own ideas.

William Henry Harrison. U.S. Grant (a general promoted way out of his competence). Warren Harding. Ronald Reagan. Bush Senior (even conservatives backed Rocky to be Ford's VP because they considered Bush, the main alternative, unqualified to be president). All useless, ignorant gits who differed only in whether they flailed around or implemented their own ideas.

Sorry, wrong thread.

NO, not wrong thread...(jeez what a morning)!

Each side (Republican/Democrat) can depend on a solid 30% vote.

There is the mushy sliver of the middle which focuses on the beauty pageant that is the American Presidency.

Rather than focusing on policy, candidate experience, and adult-level discourse, the surface-worshipping media focused on sighing, and Love Story, and all the other things that Bob Somerby will be documenting to his death bed. The fact that one of the major candidates knew nothing about anything wasn’t discussed. More to the point, it wasn’t demonstrated through rigorous questioning and explanation of the consequences of his positions (e.g., his tax policy).

Ah, I see what your problem is Publius. You keep thinking that the DC press corps is a extension of traditional journalism whereas it really is a courtier class plucked straight from Versais. Instead of what family you're from, it's who you know and if you went to the right schools and know the right people.

They make six or seven figures a year, so really government does not affect them in anyway. Thus they can afford to talk endlessly about sighing and earth tones and who invented the internet. Hey its a lot easier to engage in this shallow discourse than to actually put some work in and discuss substantive issues.

has anyone read Gore's new book?

It seems pointless to debate whether it's the administration's fault for sucking so much; the Republican Congress's failure to even attempt real oversight; the Democraats' fault for their lack of effective opposition; the media's fault for their faux-objective & relentlessly trivial coverage; or the public's fault for watching the crappy media coverage & voting for the worst candidates. They're all tied into one big, messy, knot. The question is finding the right piece of string to pull on to start untying it.

Iirc Pericles also played the lyre and sang skillfully. I have a vague sense though that playing the flute wasn't an old-money accomplishment.


Re MoDo and Broder etc., they're entrenched, and they're popular, or anyway skilled at getting their views disseminated. That would still be true I think in a more diverse media environment - Broder would still be the Dean. I suspect we have the media we want.

I think Fledermaus has it mostly right. The DC press corps has a classic regulatory capture problem. It values access to politicians too much to be very objective about its policing role.

Bruce, "It would still be possible to act like Broder and Dowd as far as the arrogant self-confidence and surface obsessions go in a competitive media market. It would be much harder to pretend that all criticism of acting that way comes from outside the circle of those who count."

I don't think that is true. The media consolidation hasn't been with respect to most people's source for news--television. In television there is much less concentration than there was in say the 1960s or 1970s. The concentration in newspapers is largely a function of the fact that so many newspapers are now unprofitable. The concentration in radio took place AFTER the rise of people like Limbaugh. So whatever is going on, it isn't the fault of media aggregation.

Rilkefan: you think? There's no real way of knowing how many people read a given columnist's work, or how many people would prefer to replace Dowd or Broder with someone new. Punditry reminds me of high level positions in sports: a club that's incredibly hard to break into, but once you make it it's almost impossible to get kicked out again no matter what you do.

Certainly the growth of liberal weblogs suggests that people are finding something there that they wanted, & weren't getting elsewhere...

There's something similar on cable news. Whatever CNN sees in Glenn Beck, it's not his ratings.

The fundamental problem I see with the current system is that just about everyone in power--the Republicans, Democrats, and the press--think that the American people are stupid, selfish, immoral, hate foreigners, etc. etc. They praise us to the skies, but what they almost never do is treat us like decent, rational, adults. Their decision to do this is then taken as further evidence that this is what you have to do to get elected; that the media is just giving us what we want. And without decent media coverage or politicians who will make an honest moral argument for their positions, the electorate DOES become worse-informed & less decent. But I still maintain that we're not quite as bad as they think we are, and it's too much of a self-perpetutating cycle for me to accept the "we have the leaders and media we deserve" argument.

While I pretty much agree with most of Publius' post, I think that one point seems to have been overlooked. Despite apparent appearances, George W. Bush didn't just drop in from Planet Mongo in 1999 to run for President: he had a large, nationwide, well-organized and well-financed political machine behid him: one well able to overcome public misgivings (assuming they had any) with a pretty slick ad campaign: aided abetted, as Publius notes, by the media who by and large fell for the deflections. As they did, for the most part, again in 2004.
To Katherine's list of faults @11:43, I would add "a blindly partisan system for faililng to vet its candidates better" - her conclusion, though, is, IMO, quite correct.

Ack! "behind" him.
"aided and abetted"

Sorry.

I blame pumphead.

We can complain all we want about Cheney, but the real story in the Post series is what a non-entity Bush has been during the course of his presidency. Bush outsourced the big, historical decisions of our age to an ad hoc, invisible institution known loosely as Cheney’s Office and stood by and did nothing while they wrecked everything they touched. So if you want to blame someone for Cheney’s excesses, you have to start with Bush.

That's an obvious statement, but there's one other thing that should be considered.

A great game to play is to have a kindly, but perhaps somewhat naive, man in charge, and have some evil, dark skulker in the background. If the kindly man knew, oh, if only he knew, what the evil, dark skulker was doing, why, our decent man would surely put a stop to it! But alas, he does not know, being very busy with important duties.

Cheney is Bush's hatchet man; he's the nasty man who keeps Bush from having to dirty his hands, and go on the record as supporting torture, etc..

Now, Bush isn't all *that* bright, but his pose as a bumbler is, in my opinion, part and parcel of this entire game. Bush is just stupid enough to think that, e.g., torture will work. He has just the kind of unsophisticated brain that doesn't look at all sides of the issue, that won't understand why just getting someone talking works better than thumbscrews.

I think it's wrong to suggest that Bush is "absent"... I think Cheney is (for the most part) doing exactly what Bush wants.

Concerning Cheney, I think it is important to remember that not only did he select himself, but he is part of a group that, IMO, handpicked Bush precisely because they knew he would allow them to get away with what they wanted. Bush's entire history is one of failure, but [failure] that he was rescued from without having to feel the consequences of that failure. As a result you have an individual who has an overglorified opinion of himself, with little of substance to [back] that up. This type of individual is ripe for manipulation.

I think this is precisely the answer. Bush is exactly who they wanted elected; he's a cipher. He's very good at repeating the last thing that was said to him; you can tell when he's doing it in speeches (which is most of the time). The only reason Cheney's had so much influence is that he apparently almost always gets the last word. Anyone remember the story about how Rice had to do an end-run around Cheney to get a copy of the Baker Report to Bush in the first place?

The Iraq War is the perfect lens through which to view the problem; I've said a number of times that I don't think it was so much about those who advocated it being "evil" -- that's a facile explanation. The truth is that everyone saw the war as the answer to their individual question. Cheney saw the opportunity for Halliburton profits and a military presence in the Mideast. Rumsfeld saw the vindication of his tech-army doctrine. Powell saw the chance to get out of the oil-for-food spiral and redeem himself for the mess he'd left the first time around. Bush saw revenge for his Pappy and proving his manliness. Leftist hawks saw the chance to reverse the Cold War and get another Kosovo-like success proving the viability of nation-building. Wolfowitz and Perle and the rest saw a way to prove their democracy-promotion strategy.

No matter what the question, "Iraq" was the answer for everyone -- it was a fait accompli on 9/11, as the Administration's reaction made clear. It didn't matter if the questions or goals were mutually exclusive, nor whether the project was even feasible -- everyone pushed for it, because it was a psychological palliative, the universal panacea. Everyone could find a reason to support it, even if those reasons were different or totally at odds with everyone else. The fact that no one was aiming for the same outcome guaranteed that most wouldn't get what they wanted (and surprise! no one has), but everyone was willing to take the gamble. Typically, everyone was sure they'd come out vindicated.

That's why the war's a microcosm of the Bush Presidency. Bush is an image for the Republican Party to project itself onto. They see in him an image of Reagan, a rejection of Clinton, a cowboy, a born-again Christian, an economic conservative -- no matter what it is, Bush is the facade that lets them feel good about themselves, because he has no brain of his own, no leadership ability, nothing but charm. He's the mirror, mirror on the wall that tells every conservative that they're the most beautiful in all the land. That's exactly why he was anointed -- the party leadership never had any doubts about what they were buying.

They don't care how many hands are up Bush's ass working the puppet, or how incoherent the policy turns out as a result -- they've gotten everything they bargained for, and then some.

I like adam's analysis, especially this summary:

Everyone could find a reason to support it, even if those reasons were different or totally at odds with everyone else. The fact that no one was aiming for the same outcome guaranteed that most wouldn't get what they wanted (and surprise! no one has)...

Except that, so far, Cheney has gotten pretty much what he wanted out of the thing.

lj: Are future installments of this series going to be named after works by other philosophers? I'm not looking forward to Cheney: La Nausée, but I can't wait for Cheney: La Chute.

Oh, wheeeee.... I got the best laugh out of that I've had in a long time. Comment of the month, LJ!

Damn adam, pretty good stuff.

However, I don't think it worked out this way,

Anyone remember the story about how Rice had to do an end-run around Cheney to get a copy of the Baker Report to Bush in the first place?

Cheney is the ugly face of Bush/Republicans...they knew what was in the report...and Bush didn't need Rice to bring him the thing...what ever drama they claimed happened is just that "drama" for the papers.

"The fact that no one was aiming for the same outcome guaranteed that most wouldn't get what they wanted (and surprise! no one has)"

I don't know if even Cheney is happy with the results of the Iraq war, but bin Laden certainly got his wish.

Sebastian: The media consolidation hasn't been with respect to most people's source for news--television. In television there is much less concentration than there was in say the 1960s or 1970s.

This isn't quite so. There's much more overall media consolidation which very much affects TV news.

The landscape is one in which the major television networks are part of giant corporate conglomerates as opposed to being standalone corporations, and those conglomerates each have multiple kinds of media subsidiaries: book publishing, radio, broadcast network, cable channels, cable networks, magazines, etc.

Sorry, I meant 'overall' to be italics, not a link. But while I'm here, I might as well supply a link that would have been appropriate:

The Big Ten (2002)

Damn adam, pretty good stuff.

Thanks. :)

Cheney is the ugly face of Bush/Republicans...they knew what was in the report...and Bush didn't need Rice to bring him the thing...what ever drama they claimed happened is just that "drama" for the papers.

Actually, my recollection is that the end-run was leaked, and the Admin seemed pretty incensed that it got out. I think it's given additional credibility by two things in the Post report:

First, it's apparent that Baker's not exactly a big Cheney fan right now -- he's quoted saying as saying that Cheney's a powermonger, and goddamn, if James Baker III makes that accusation, you're one scary motherfucker. They're obviously not in line on the ISG Report.

Second, one recurrent theme in the reports (and it seems verified by everything else I've read) is that Cheney and Rice do not get along. The past few months especially (actually, since the Baker report, now that I think about it) have often involved Rice trying to take a not-completely-insane (albeit still somewhat insane) position on Iran and the Mideast, while Cheney's still playing Vader. In fact, I remember Rice getting caught giving the wrong line on Admin's policy at least once.

In other words, if Cheney's willing to hide a major WoT policy from Powell and Rice for two years, I don't think it strains the imagination to envision Rice trying to get to Bush around Cheney.

And in fact, if we think back, the narrative makes perfect sense. Bush was all over the Baker Report when it came out, and then after a few days dropped it like he got burned, and I think I know who burned him. Strikes me as only a confirmation of the thesis that Bush is a parrot -- Cheney boxed out Rice and repeated the soothing phrases to Bush for a few days, and poof!, no more Baker Report.

I think you're right: Cheney is the face of some Republicans -- but mostly the ones that are trying to plunder the country for all it's worth while the getting's good. People like Baker (and maybe Rove) want to create a dynasty, whereas Cheney knows he's not going to live forever and he just wants to grab 'n' get out.

I got no clue which is worse, but I don't think it matters, because as Bush's stock sinks, the interests of the two groups become more and more aligned. The goal will narrow to "disclaim all the mistakes of the last 8 years, sweep it under the rug, and get back on top." It's already happening. It's no coincidence that the Infallible Spin Machine of the last 6 years seemed to spontaneously come apart at the seams when it became more useful as a lightning rod than a bulwark.

Katherine wrote--

"The fundamental problem I see with the current system is that just about everyone in power--the Republicans, Democrats, and the press--think that the American people are stupid, selfish, immoral, hate foreigners, etc. etc. They praise us to the skies, but what they almost never do is treat us like decent, rational, adults. Their decision to do this is then taken as further evidence that this is what you have to do to get elected; that the media is just giving us what we want. And without decent media coverage or politicians who will make an honest moral argument for their positions, the electorate DOES become worse-informed & less decent. But I still maintain that we're not quite as bad as they think we are, and it's too much of a self-perpetutating cycle for me to accept the "we have the leaders and media we deserve" argument."

Yeah, exactly. I've felt this way for decades. I don't know if it's true about the electorate. My guess is that there's so much diversity among us that no sweeping summary will be accurate, but given how the press, pundits, and politicians talk about the issue, it's bound to make at least some of us more jingoistic and more hateful than they otherwise would have been.

"Talk about the issue"-- I meant talk about issues in general.

Lord, all sorts of grammatical problems with that post of mine. Plus the fact that I restate Katherine's position as though adding something new.

A short "ditto" would have been better.

Ditto.

The media problem seems to amount to this:

America is much more of a democracy than it was 50 or 100 years ago, and is suffering accordingly.

I don't mean the extension of the franchise, but the nature of the media and of the voter. I suspect that however vocal we may feel on our blogs, those of us who would rather hear about policy issues than Paris Hilton are indeed a minority.

The trend of the last 200 years has been to assume that the Founders were silly to be suspicious of democracy.

I don't really know what you mean. Schlock news is more popular? I guess. Its ratings are actually pretty crappy; more substantive commentary like the Daily Show & Stephen Colbert actually do pretty well. The only other TV news on offer is PBS, and *I* find the News Hour unbelievably boring.

Also, even if they were better at making a profit--talk radio and Paris Hilton specials might be more profitable than real news coverage because they're more popular, but they could also be more profitable because they're equally or somewhat less popular & just much, much, cheaper.

Really, I have no idea what you mean. It just looks like the same unproven: "the voters are stupid, and if this is what the media's like it must be because we want and deserve it". Obviously the consumers are implicated to some extent, but it's not that simple. What does this have to do with direct election of senators, giving women & black people the right to vote, & the elimination of the poll tax? If you want to define democracy as synonymous with "ill-educated" you're free to do that, but then of course that leads you to the conclusion that democracy isn't so great.

In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become.

Au contraire, mon frere. Many of us (as noted, The Onion and Molly Ivins among them) saw how incompetant he had been at every other endeavor and realized that as President, he'd be even worse.

So I don't buy "We ourselves must share blame too." Not me, and not hardly anyone I know, either.

Same for me, but I know a lot of people who don't care for "politics" (no matter how immediately it impacts them) and, if they vote, tend to vote without a great deal of information.

@adam: cogent post, but watch the language. There are posting rules here for the sake of those at work.

In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become.

It wasn't impossible. Not even difficult.

The disconnect between the Texas death penalty system & the compassionate conservative rhetoric really creeped me out back in 2000. (Me & Dave Letterman). And it completely foreshadowed the disconnect between the rhetoric about freedom & human dignity and Bush's entire foreign policy.

I think Fledermaus has it mostly right. The DC press corps has a classic regulatory capture problem. It values access to politicians too much to be very objective about its policing role.

Indeed. Tim Russert's testimony during the Libby trial that, whenever he was phoned by someone in the administration, they were presumptively off the record unless they specifically stated otherwise, is the ne plus ultra of this attitude. See also, nearly every other Greenwald piece for the last two years.

Mass Death for liberty and 9/11 is a divine calling for Bush; however stem-cell research violates the creed of the "culture-of-life".

Bush and his followers have an interesting moral compass.

What does this have to do with direct election of senators, giving women & black people the right to vote, & the elimination of the poll tax?

Nothing, which is why I excluded the extension of the franchise as not what I was talking about.

"Stupid" isn't the word; most people are bright enough to get by. But attention to politics, which by definition involves some higher-order thinking about the interests of yourself and of other people, is of limited interest to most people, for various reasons (busy, selfish, dumb as a brick, whatever).

American politics used to be run by an oligarchy of sorts, back in the days of the smoke-filled room, Tammany, etc. That had ups and downs, like everything else.

We've moved away from that -- not entirely, of course, we have our oligarchs today -- but I think things are more democratic than they used to be.

So naturally, we get the pros and cons of *that*.

Does a democracy have to be ill-educated? Not necessarily, and here's what disappoints me about the U.S. -- throughout history, democracies *were* either ill-educated or sharply limited in the franchise (or both). We have the capacity, I think, but not the will -- otherwise we wouldn't shrug off education as a matter for several thousand school districts to figure out.

Democracy is a means to an end, and less bad than the alternatives; but it still has inherent faults, and we need to consider those and think how to guard against them, rather than pretend that they don't exist.

" democracies *were* either ill-educated or sharply limited in the franchise (or both). "

But where's the causation?

I'm confused: why would Cheney care about the Baker Report?

"Its ratings are actually pretty crappy; more substantive commentary like the Daily Show & Stephen Colbert actually do pretty well."

? They're not even on broadcast television.

Here are the top 20 ratings for the past season's primetime shows:
American Idol gets: a 17.5 rating, a 27 share, has an audience of 19,525,000 and a total viewership of 30,640,000.

At the bottom of the top 20, in a 3-way tie for 18th place (last in "doing well) is NCIS, with a 8.9 rating, a 14 share, an audience of 9,920,000, and a total viewership of 14,055,000.

Here is a pdf of May's cable news ratings.

FOXN THE OREILLY FACTOR MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 1.7 1,543 1,954 400
FOXN HANNITY & COLMES MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 1.2 1,124 1,388 335
FOXN ON THE RECORD W/GRETA MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 1.1 971 1,185 314
FOXN THE FOX REPORT W/S.SMITH MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 1 934 1,139 259
FOXN SPECIAL REPORTW/BRIT HUME MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 1 927 1,094 232
FOXN THE OREILLY FACTOR (RPT) MTWTF__ 11:00P -12:00A 0.9 805 993 304
CNN LARRY KING LIVE MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 0.8 733 869 220
FOXN THE BIG STORY W/J GIBSON MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 0.8 689 829 172
FOXN FOX AND FRIENDS MTWTF__ 06:00A -11:00P 0.8 722 809 336
If I understand correctly, the top show, O'Reilly, had a 1.7 rating, with an average of 1,954,000 viewers a night.

But since the Daily Show and Colbert are comedy shows, they're not listed. Here is a set of results from January, 2005:

FOXNEWS O'REILLY 2.3 [RATING]
FOXNEWS HANNITY/COLMES 1.7
FOXNEWS SHEP SMITH 1.6
FOXNEWS GRETA 1.4
CNN LARRY KING 1.1
COMEDY DAILY SHOW 1.1
CNN WAVE SPECIAL 0.8
MSNBC HARDBALL 0.5
MSNBC AMBER FREY 0.6
MSNBC SCARBOROUGH 0.4
MSNBC OLBERMANN 0.3
CNBC MILLER 0.1
In May, 2005, USA Today reported:
Stewart's Daily Show is at a ratings peak, averaging 1.4 million viewers nightly in the first three months of this year.
Here are news show ratings for the week of May 8th:
For the week, "World News" averaged 8.1 million viewers, 2.4 million of the in the 25-54 demo. "Nightly News" averaged 7.5 million viewers, 2.2 million in the 25-54 demo. "Evening News" averaged 6.1 million viewers, 1.9 million of them in the young demo.
More figures from November 2006. Here is info from May on Colbert's ratings:
Phil Rosenthal, the Chicago Tribune's TV columnist, makes a point that sometimes seems to elude the mainstream press: Three current TV personalities that are the darlings of the nation's buzz-makers enjoy what are, in context, rather puny Nielsen ratings. Rosenthal points to Conan O'Brien (NBC), Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central), and Anderson Cooper (CNN/CBS), saying these are fine, entertaining guys and, right now, h-o-t. But in the overall scheme of things, c'mon, hardly anyone's watching them. And those who are skew to the young side of the demo charts. "The Colbert Report averaged fewer than 1.5 million total viewers in the week that followed [his speech at the White House correspondents dinner], and that was an increase of 37 percent from the show's year-to-date average through the end of April," Rosenthal writes of the Comedy Central show. "You would think that more people would tune in to see a guy whose full-on, in-character shredding of the president and press at their Washington annual lovefest soiree so energized conspiracy-minded folks of all political stripes, a performance reportedly streamed 2.7 million times in less than 48 hours on one Web site. But no. Advertisers are ga-ga because something like 40 percent of Colbert's audience is between the ages of 18 and 34. But ordinary people? Not so ga-ga."
To summarize: tv shows that "do pretty well" having audience in the tens of millions. Tv news that currently does "pretty well" gets between 6 and 8 million viewers.

Damned if I can easily find ratings for PBS, despite finding this. I could keep searching, but, frankly, I'm losing interest. So, rather than trash all this work, I'll post it, even though it's an incomplete comment, given that my intent was to find ratings for the NewsHour and compare them to Colbert/Daily Show. Draw your own conclusions. Certainly Colbert and Stewart don't do "pretty well" by normal tv standards, and their viewership is a tiny fraction of the network news shows'. Compared to PBS? I dunno. But PBS is sure a lot more available than cable is.

"The only other TV news on offer is PBS, and *I* find the News Hour unbelievably boring."

Huh. While I find occasional reports of subjects of little interest to me of, y'know, little interest, I find it to be not just the best news show on tv, but really the only news show on tv; in comparison, the network news is less than half the overall time, and in terms of coverage of issues, where PBS daily does 20 minutes on a subject, the networks do 45 seconds to 2 minutes.

I watch the NewsHour most nights, and certainly find it of far more interest than the others, which I've always watched primarily to see what news is going out and being seen with which spin, and for the visuals. I have it on at this moment.

But let me repeat again that I don't have cable, and all I know about what it's like these years is from reading online (on dialup, which means little practical access to video).

re: Neil (comment #2) — pivoting from his point about how Gore actually, y'know, won, we owe it to ourselves to identify and take on other structural failures. The politicization of election administration and vote counting, the barely-cloaked result based intervention of a runaway SCOTUS: against the dysfunction of the media, those problems seem just as significant.

Jeebus. Fox owns Cable news.

Gary, one complicating factor to keep in mind -- although it almost certainly will not prove to be a factor that multiplies an audience of 1 million into 10 million -- is the growing tendency of people to view television content in ways that cannot be measured by traditional TV ratings systems: YouTube, iTunes (episodes of both Stewart and Colbert are available the week after they air), etc. Heck, Nielsen, to my knowledge, can't even accurately measure time-shifted viewing via DVRs and DVD recorders yet.

However, the 2006 Pew study offers some data. Here we learn this:

Three more specialized television sources attracted smaller audiences. Fewer than one-in-five said they regularly watch "The O'Reilly Factor" with Bill O'Reilly (17%), comedy news shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report (16%), or the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (14%).
In other words, there doesn't seem to be great significance in the different sizes of their audiences.

"Gary, one complicating factor to keep in mind -- although it almost certainly will not prove to be a factor that multiplies an audience of 1 million into 10 million -- is the growing tendency of people to view television content in ways that cannot be measured by traditional TV ratings systems"

Oh, sure; I didn't want to digress into a discussion of the flaws of the Nielsens, which are many.

And, to be sure, I don't need to do research to believe that there are 3.4768 bazillion more clips from Colbert and Jon Stewart on YouTube and the like than there are clips from the PBS Newshour. :-)

(Wait, the kids aren't wild for the Gwen Ifill dance craze?)

I might clarify that I watch the NewHour the same way I watch all news programs, and most tv, save for the smattering of really good programs/movies: while reading 5-9 tabs worth of text. (And for that matter, I flip between the three network news broadcasts so as to best judge what's being covered for how long, at what point, and how, by each of them, to a fair degree.)

There's no way I could watch most tv if it was the sole thing I'm doing at a given time; only something that's sufficiently well-directed and written deserves that sort of attention, or in the case of news, certain stories.

No different than always simultaneously switching back and forth between 5-9 texts at all times I'm reading. I don't know if I'm lucky or unlucky there was no such concept as "attention deficit disorder" when I was a kid.

I understand that O'Reilly's show had horrible ratings its first few years, however FOX persisted and allowed it to grow. CNN seems to be trying that strategy with Glenn Beck.

Maybe there is more patience with right-wing shows than with … are there any left-wing shows on cable?

@adam: cogent post, but watch the language. There are posting rules here for the sake of those at work.

Well, [email protected]#$. Why no word filter?

:) Seriously, my apology. I actually am familiar with the posting rules; just got far too carried away.

But where's the causation?

Didn't mean to be cryptic; I was typing that in a moment snatched from monitoring half a dozen 6th-grade boys at my son's sleepover.

Education's always been a luxury, so there wasn't going to be a democracy with a great many educated people, unless the franchise was so limited as to make it hardly "democratic" at all. No necessary link b/t democracy and ill-education, I think.

Conservatives think it's impossible to educate the hoi polloi; I don't think it's ever been tried, if we don't call "functional literacy" education. America ought to be a great experiment in that.

(I confess to ignorance on education levels in European democracies; I suspect them of having a more elevated level of politics than we saw in the 2000 and 2004 elections as described by Publius. Jes? Anyone?)

Gary--the News Hour is probably the best daily news show on TV & is infinitely preferable to cable news. It's still boring. I don't like or watch U.S. tv news except for things like NOW & good episodes of Frontline.

(I like NPR much better, though it varies).

Oh, and the BBC treats its viewers as much smarter than US news programs except the News Hour (& they have far more on-site coverage & depth than the news hour)--even CNN international is far preferable to the US version. British politicians also do not come off to me as talking down to voters the way American politicians do.

But:
(1) I may have grass-is-greener syndrome
(2) While British broadcast media is far better than the US, I think their print media's probably a bit worse--so it may be partly a function of division of labor as well as overall quality.

Let's discuss the triviality of the media coverage thesis.

The way I seem to remember it, the 1992 and 1996 campaigns were far less trivial (even if 1996 was pretty boring). Candidates liked to talk about numbers and used charts and graphs. Words like investment and infrastructure were used alot, especially in 1992. People remember Clinton's charm, and sure there was his saxophone and boxers versus briefs, but we should remember that he loved to talk about details and wore his intellect on his sleeve as much as his heart, and it didn't hurt him a bit.

What accounts for the trivialization of the 2000 election compared to the previous two?

2004 was a significantly more serious campaign than 2000.

"(2) While British broadcast media is far better than the US, I think their print media's probably a bit worse--so it may be partly a function of division of labor as well as overall quality."

Certainly the half-hour of BBC International news that PBS carries these days in various markets is far better coverage of the world than the half-hour U.S. evening network news, even setting aside the fact that U.S. commercial tv half hours are only 22 minutes long.

British print journalism is more different than U.S. print journalism than it's better or worse, overall. They're each better and worse at different things. Here is one, relatively trivial, way.

Another is the perfectly obvious point that the way British journalism involves a lot of overt opinion and slanting has both pros and cons compared to American practices regarding subjectivity/objectivity. Both wind up producing different forms of unreliability at different times, in the end.

The Onion, Jan. 17, 2001: "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'." No, his failure was not only predictable, it was predicted.

Most eerily prescient satire ever.

My experience in Germany was that the political discussion was more elevated and rational. Nonetheless, elections are largely determined by swing-voters, who tend to vote completely irrationally and have no idea what the candidates stand for, whatever the country.

Still, even the moderate-conservative Chancellor at the moment (Merkel) is better on the environment than any Democrat is likely to be here for some time. So however the swing voters swing, their ultimate choices can't get that bad when the overall political culture is reasonable.

On the other hand conversing with Germans about politics and reading the opinion pieces of their newspapers didn't lead me to notice any greater degree of reasoning or critical thinking on their part than in the US. They seemed to have more reasonable opinions, but these opinions were held about as reflexively as many Americans hold that tax cuts benefit the economy.

It seemed like they held these reasonable views through pure luck. Or maybe osmosis-- the papers did seem to report more facts.

In 2000, few could have predicted what a failure Bush would become.

I don't know that we can claim to have predicted the magnitude of his failures, but I and my friends sure as hell predicted the breadth of his failures shortly after his nomination in 1999.

I think the difference (at least today) between the two major parties in Germany (SPD, CDU/CSU) is far smaller than in Britain or the US (parts of the CDU/CSU are moving towards GOPification though). The need for coalitions with the minor parties* (Greens, FDP) also undermines the possibility to go for extreme positions. As a result it is quite normal to vote differently on communal/state/federal level and even split the votes on each level (mixed system: 1 vote for party, 1 for specific candidate). Sticking with any of the main 4 (or 5 in certain areas) is unlikely to cause nasty surprises independent of actual result. The trouble starts when too many "bored" voters go Nazi for a change on the communal or state level (but usually that ends after 1 voting period and the Brown Ones disappear from sight again for many years to pop up somewhere else). Proto-GOPistas like Stoiber (CSU) rarely rise above state (=Bavarian) level.

Concerning Bush/Cheney I feel a bit reminded of Hindenburg and Ludendorff in WW1. H was the respectable face to sell the policy L made. H was archconservative and not overly bright. He agreed with what he thought were L's views and so could sell them honestly but was not fully aware of L's true radicalism (neither was the public). L in effect turned Germany into a military dictatorship while keeping a respectable facade. Emperor Wilhelm deeply disliked L but was no match for him.
The main difference is of course that Ludendorff was a true professional soldier who actually made it possible for the war to last as long as it did. I doubt that Chain-Eye would be a good general.

*originally "issue" parties but now more or less mainstream with some added flavor

Just to offer a view from the bleachers about German politics, the most important difference, it seems to me, is the role that the party structure plays in limiting the pool of Chancellor candidates to mainstream career politicians. There might be 2 or 3 aspirants to head each party as elections approach, but they presume to do so based on their records within the party, and proven leadership ability. Obviously, in any election cycle there are more losers than winners, but the differences between the loser and the winner is pretty narrow.

Here, our candidates are completely self-selected, and most of the process is outside the control or mediation of party leaders/machinery. Clinton and Carter were both nobodys from nowhere when the announced their candidacies, and you certainly wouldn't have thought that either Dukakis or McGovern had a strong claim, within the Dem party, to carry the standard. The Republican party functions much more like a German party, in that it's usually clear well before hand who's turn it is, and the process is mostly a coronation, although not without some significant dissent (eg McCain in 2000, Bush in 1980). 2008 is a little different, as the current Admin has used everyone up . . .

Stray thought:

Cheney embodies qualities that Bush 43 seeks in a father and doesn't find in his own father. So Bush defers, happily because he wants someone to defer to without jeopardizing his dominance games in all other relationships.

I and my friends sure as hell predicted the breadth of his failures shortly after his nomination in 1999.

Yes, but did you publish?

Yes, but did you publish?

That's not really germane to the point, which was a rebuttal of nonsense like "nobody could've predicted [that Bush would be really bad]". It was not only possible to predict his failures even in 1999, it was pretty easy by taking an objective look at his record, and factually evaluating his claims.

Plenty of us did this and realized that he would be an awful president. Some of us did, in fact, publish. It wasn't difficult to pick up on what a failure Bush already was, it just required paying attention.

Catsy: Plenty of us did this and realized that he would be an awful president. Some of us did, in fact, publish. It wasn't difficult to pick up on what a failure Bush already was, it just required paying attention.

Yeah, but Catsy, you're talking to someone who paid no attention to how bad Bush was until 2005. Slarti probably doesn't want to hear that he could have figured it out for himself 6 years earlier...

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