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Mesmerized by the Right

When our sideshow news cablists, the White House, the NAACP and others began their carnival barking outside Andrew Breitbart’s tent once again – this time echoing Brietbart’s slander of Shirley Sherrod – the predictable puerility followed. The White House apologized and blamed the media culture, Fox News denied its role, pundits claimed the high ground and called for Sherrod’s reinstatement. The NAACP’s quick admission – “we were snookered” – was the only adult behavior around.

It’s a rare day that Sarah Palin, the Klondike Queen of Kooks, doesn’t get a front-page turn on Huffington Post. Left, Right, Middle or Ozone, commentators of all stripes are mesmerized by the Right. No matter how nutty, nasty or distant from reality, the extremists talk and the whole political sphere gets all rubbernecked.

I’ve fought white conservatives’ annual voter suppression and intimidation campaigns for decades in the South.  It was and is hard to get attention on the issue. But let a couple of black guys dressed up as New Black Panthers hang around an African-American polling place in Philadelphia, and FoxNews has America thinking the Liberty Bell down the street has finally fallen apart.

When CBS News’ Bob Schieffer somehow avoided the Right’s hypnotists on this unscandal and failed to make it a subject on “Face the Nation,” Fox’s Megan Kelly was so shocked she attacked Schieffer on the air. That’s how accustomed the Right is to having its daily way with the minds of America’s newsies and pundit class.

I can’t bring myself to say much about Drudge, except how in the hell is it that college-educated journalists let themselves be drug around by the nose by the idiot? Where is their self-respect? Where is their judgment? Where is their common sense?

It’s not enough to pin the blame on the Right’s legendary message machine, the noisy blog-to-talk-to-Fox-to-talk-to-blog circle of hate. By all rights it ought to be a classic closed system. But there’s something else afoot here, Holmes.

How is it that the Right has mesmerized the American media, including some in the Left-leaning media? Part of the answer lies in the great moral leveling of the media itself. The elimination of authentic moral considerations in reporting reduces everything to mushy he said/she said. Anything goes, so long as it’s entertaining.

Political news has been Jerry Springer-ized. This is an old and very un-Springery observation. It remains relevant. Clowns play better than statesmen in today’s news. Everybody knows it, but few do anything about it. Success comes to those with empty heads, no moral compass, and the gift of self-delusion.

There’s a folk legend that hypnosis can’t make anyone do something they’re opposed to morally. If that is the case, America really is in moral danger. Or, more accurately, America is danger because of its moral vacuity.

Cultural memory is essential to social ethics, and America is losing its memory. The Right is busy re-writing the Constitution, confident that very few Americans know what it is. The extremists have yet to find a way to justify torture, domestic spying, federal intervention in our bedrooms, and government control of women’s bodies while prohibiting federal enforcement of the commerce clause. However poor their reasoning, however fact-free their arguments, the major media continues to afford them the benefit of the doubt.

History and memory. They are key to understanding the Right’s hypnotic power over today’s media. The New York Times has a story today about China’s murderous occupation of Tibet. The parallels with the European conquest of the Americas are striking. Really striking. So striking that they ought to be mentioned. But they are not.

That, I think, is a clue to Right’s mesmeric power. History is assigned to another bureau. It is someone else’s beat. The Right gets this, and it promises journalists what logic tells us is impossible: a place in history that requires the erasure of history.

The person who, like Emerson, wants to pierce the rotten diction that is the lifeblood of destructive fantasy is, well, little more than a drag, a bummer, out of touch with the power of anti-history while looking to the lessons of history for some sign of justice.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith