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Bill Grigsby: Faith-based Punditry

Faith-based Punditry

By Bill Grigsby

You have to sympathize with neoconservative columnists these days. Spinning the straw that comes out of this administration into gold must be a hellish job. It never reaches the gold standard, but then much of the American public seems pretty content with some lesser metal. Mercury comes to mind. Maybe turd polishing is a better metaphor. In any case, there’s something to be said for lowering expectations, and the right wing media megaphone is nothing if not an admirably disciplined network with an army of sycophantic pseudojournalists constantly engaged in lowering the bar. Why? Because no matter how low it goes, the president and his entourage manage to trip over it. If the latter group had chosen careers in the film industry, few would have noticed. As it is, half the country has noticed, requiring BushCo’s propaganda machine to work overtime shoring up its base—the haves, the have-mores, the dittoheads, TV Christians, Fox News Oxymorons, and others who, like the president, can’t be bothered to read the papers or question the pre-packaged, pre-filtered news that has become corporate media’s bread and butter.

Neoconservative pundit Rich Lowry recently added yet another subplot to this staged neocon drama: that the democrats are no longer a national party. He bases this conclusion on superficial analysis of electoral results, as reported by mainstream media. Bush wins the ‘red states,’ which more accurately means he wins rural areas and the bible belt. Kerry won the ‘blue states,’ in the Northeast and West Coast—where much of the country’s wealth is created. Many countries have a ‘north-south’ tension, the industrial north blaming the agricultural south for sucking up public money and resources it has generated. Truth is, of course, there are republicans in New York and California, and democrats in Mississippi and Texas. But Lowry rarely lets facts get in the way of a good argument.

Lowry claims that the republicans are in fact the gold standard, the party of values that stands for something, and uses the quotes of Zell Miller style® democrats against them to make his point. This is a classic technique: use their own words against them—unless the person is Richard Clarke and he’s slamming BushCo for being asleep at the wheel in the months leading up to 9/11. Yet consider the possibility that democrats more likely possess a naïve notion that debate and discourse, not ‘message discipline,’ keeps democracy alive. Yes, they’re disorganized, often contradict each other, and are often spineless and self-serving. After all, they’re politicians.

The radical right of the republican party projects the appearance of organization, but in reality their tactics show an obsession with control and a contempt for a diversity of viewpoints. Discordant views rarely survive the primaries. Just ask John McCain. Moderates are stored in the RNC closet until the national convention. Politically, the RNC is much closer to ‘free market’ fascism than democracy. The fact that journalists working for corporate media outlets allow Bush to continue the pretense of championing democracy in Iraq, while the U.S. builds permanent military bases and paves the way for private investment in the oil biz before the ‘elections,’ speaks volumes. The latest ‘whistleblower,’ former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, presents a different picture of the republicans, as the party on the verge of cannibalizing itself, thanks to the neoconservative coup.

Haven’t read about it in the paper, you say? Apparently the private takeover of the republican party has little news value. The neocons have realized that handing the reins of government over to the private sector pays much better than public service—in office, to finance campaigns, and after ‘service,’ to make a soft landing in the private sector. It’s their own version of Social Security ‘Reform.’ And it’s a great business model for the upper middle class bent on accumulating wealth, and on finding ways to use government to help their friends do the same.

That story isn’t covered much either. But it’s much more than that anyway. How else to explain why smart people like David Brooks, George Will, and Rich Lowry get away with the things they write? Okay, there are the direct payments—Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher. But is it part of a systematic policy of using taxpayer money to market privatization? Nothing could be further from the truth, sez the White House.

Case closed!

Neoconservatism is doing to politics what ‘creation science’ has done to natural science education—making a mockery of logic and empirical evidence. Instead we have ‘faith-based’ policy, but a faith that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, the bible, Christianity, or any other standard religious deity or organization. It’s faith in the free market.

Falling back on faith is a good way to avoid scrutiny. Pay no attention to those statistics—they’re ‘junk science.’ That critic? He’s a liberal, an elitist, part of the intelligentsia. The whistleblower with 30 years experience in the highest echelons of government? A conspiracy kook, straight out of the ‘X Files.’ Or a junk scientist. Nevermind that the people who speak ‘Populist,’ and portray the president as just a regular guy, graduate from Harvard and Yale (our media cowboy prez having attended both) at rates higher even than Jeff Gordon’s pit crew—that’s irrelevant. Why? Because we said so. Nevermind that the rationale for invading Iraq has evaporated, even at the highest levels of officialdom—the people have spoken, sez the prez—the 2004 election absolves the White House of any accountability for screwing up royally, pissing off the world, getting tens of thousands of American soldiers wounded or killed, and killing tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. True Saddam killed more Iraqis, tortured more Iraqis, than the U.S. has. But Saddam’s body of work stretched over several decades. A critical journalist would have noticed that. As Groucho Marx said, ‘who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?’

Does any of this sound like a march toward freedom and democracy? The Washington Post had an opportunity to ask the president, having paid $100,000 to the Inaugural Committee and receiving in return an exclusive interview with Mr. Bush. Irrelevant, he said—the people have spoken. True, half the people who voted for him thought Saddam was under Al Qaeda mind control. Did they follow up? No. Of course he wouldn’t answer, but at least we could sleep knowing that someone had the courage to ask the question in a public forum without worrying about costing their employers access, shareholder value, or a nasty letter from Accuracy in Media.

I suppose we’ve come a long way—American journalists are rarely imprisoned or put to death for questioning the neoconservative faith. Mere termination seems so, well, merciful. It’s easier to be a believer, or feign belief and wait for enlightenment. When will prosperity trickle down to the masses? Have faith. Make your monthly minimum payments. Keep electing republicans—they know war and security and moral values and how to get big government off your backs (unless you’re poor, black, gay, female, teen mother, a protestor, Moslem, Arab, or a registered democrat).

So when the Rich Lowrys of the media begin talking about the marginalization of the democratic party, as usual they’re projecting. In this case it’s the republicans who might: 1) implode because Karl Rove was gone for a few seconds on a bathroom break. 2) lose the moderates, or 3) convert them (that is, buy them off). It’s all about faith. And it’s a big tent, too. Even psychopundits like Ann Coulter are welcome—they make the others’ ideas, for instance that unwinnable war in the world’s geopolitical cauldron is a sensible enterprise best left to grown-ups (logic brought to you by disciple Kathleen Parker), seem reasonable.

Don’t let liberalized evidence cloud your thinking. If the neocons are auctioning off public property, policy, and assets, then faith in the free market hath brought them to that point. But I’m having issues. If free market is the religion, and privatizing government a blessed sacrament, then why aren’t we using ebay?


©2005 Bill Grigsby Assistant Professor of Sociology Eastern Oregon University

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