Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Welcome To the Real World

As much as I occasionally disagree with Eric Boehlert's inexplicable willingness to engage in petty bickering on Twitter, there are plenty of times that I can't dispute the arguments he's making. Like right now.

He posted a piece over at Media Matters this morning that tries to deconstruct the right-wing "nervous breakdown" we've witnessed in the lead-up to the health care reform vote, and what might still be to come. Hidden within this lengthy column is a really good little point about how the conservative media feedback loop contributed to the absolute shock the right seems to be experiencing at the moment in the wake of its crushing defeat. I've mentioned before that we now live in a country in which each side of the political aisle can go about its business -- day after day after day -- never hearing an opinion that's contrary to the one it's already biased toward. Both the left and the right have their own respective sets of media bullhorns shouting their own respective sets of "facts," which means that the extreme on either side can often be blinded to the reality of what's happening outside the little fantasy realm it's constructed.

That said, I'm not going to play a game of false-equivalence; the right tends to stay on message infinitely better than the left, and that can often mean that the right is more susceptible to being deafened by its own echo chamber. Why are Fox News's ratings through the roof? Not because there are millions and millions of people out there who make Fox a part of their recommended daily allowance of assorted news and information, but because among those who consider themselves die-hard conservatives, Fox is the only news source. Fox is the McDonald's French Fries of news organizations: Nothing else tastes quite like it and, as such, it's its own separate and specific brand. If you love McDonald's fries, there's only one place to get them. From the beginning, FNC adopted a brilliant business model in which it would cater to the belief system of one select audience -- an audience that had always felt disenfranchised and which very much wanted to see its belief system catered to -- and it's reaped the rewards of that decision ever since.

The problem, of course, is that when you watch and listen to one view of the world -- with blinders on to anything that might contradict that strict position -- and you do it pretty much 24/7, you lose not only perspective but a handle on reality. For months now, all Fox viewers have seen -- and heard parroted by Rush Limbaugh, and read at Breitbart, Drudge or RedState -- is that health care reform was doomed to fail. That was never offered as a mere opinion, mind you. Fox News's audience had it presented to them as fact: The health care reform bill is socialism, therefore millions and millions of people are taking to the streets to stand against it, therefore it's destined to fail and fail miserably because this is America and in America the good guys always win -- and we're the good guys. Oh, and you can trust us because we speak for the entire country. Listen to this message every minute of every day, with no dissenting opinion or opposing facts, and what would you think if you were suddenly told that health care reform had actually passed? You'd think exactly what the right is thinking now -- that somehow the evil opposition must've stolen the vote or otherwise engaged in underhanded malfeasance on a grand scale and in defiance of the will of the American people. And you'd be very, very pissed.

These people see deception and corruption and treason because that's the only possible explanation for why they were wrong all this time. It's not because Fox and Rush told them only what they wanted to hear and what they'd hoped was true, and it certainly wasn't because there was an entirely alternate reality out there in which a majority of Americans didn't agree with their way of thinking -- a reality they never sought out because taking the blue pill and hooking into a world in which their personal biases were constantly stroked was much more comfortable. No, it's nothing like that; it's that Barack Obama -- a Muslim foreign national who palled around with terrorists and stole the White House through the dirty work of ACORN -- along with the Democratic Congress committed high crimes and misdemeanors by forcing an unpopular bill on the country, Third World dictatorship-style.

But just because you choose not to see the outside world doesn't mean it isn't there.

When you consistently only hear one side of the story, that wake up call's a brutal one. Conservative Americans just got it, and they're furious about it -- and from the way it looks, they're going to turn over and go right back to sleep.


Katy said...

I remember learning this lesson during the 2004 election. I was so convinced that there was no way the nation could reelect such an awful president, and surrounded myself with like minded media voices, that it seemed impossible Kerry could lose. When this proved not to be the case I spent a good week in what I can only describe as a mourning period, and incredulous over what had happened. But having the ability to think critically over an issue I realized I needed to branch out in my information sources so I wouldn't be blindsided again. Something tells me the right-crazies won't be learning such a lesson.

Great piece Chez. I so appreciate coming here for a breath of sanity.

J. Dack said...

"As much as I occasionally with disagree Eric Boehlert's"

Slight typo there, sir. (don't punch me)

Chez said...

I actually left a word out then went back to insert it and wound up putting it in the wrong place.

Story of my life.

Anon said...

I see what you did there, Morpheu- I mean Chez.

The scary thing is, some of my good friends absolutely refuse to watch anything but Faux Noise, and one is convinced that through "one conversation" he can convert me to his tea baggin' side.

We have had several conversations and I'm still not convinced.

Something you've pointed out eariler Chez, that this sort of thinking, if allowed to continue their blinders and "us or them" mentality *will* lead to a second Civil War.
I didn't want to believe it, but the more these Tea Baggers shout, spit and curse at their duely-elected representatives, I'm beginning to think a return to the 1860s may just around the corner.

Mart said...

I find a lot more internal debate in the left. Glen Greenwald on maintaining Bush national security programs and Jane Hamsher on health care reform for corporations come quickly to mind. Of course there are Obama is always right types, Ezra Klien, Ed Shultz - but even they gripe a good deal. Right manages to talk in unison. That is why it is so odd to read David Frum saying they blew it this time.

Alanna said...

I agree with Katy - I was so shocked when we reelected Bush into office in '04 I couldn't accept it. In fact, I completely disengaged from discussion of any politics for about a year +. I worked my ass off on the Kerry campaign trail not because I believe in all of Kerry's ideals but because he was not Bush. So, perhaps, I was not better than the current right-wing fervor.

Either way...for me in '04 or for the right now - Reality is a bitch.

BenoƮt from Ottawa said...


"But what about all of the non-cancer stricken people who can't go a few minutes without complaining about the state of the world and its decay? What do PETA members who throw blood on people who wear leather and Teabaggers stomping around with "Jesus Hates Health Care" signs get out of it?

Well, research has shown that they're boosting their own mental health and immune systems, for one. It's all about the power of complaining in groups. Humans are social animals and even bitching about things we can't control gives us a boost if we do it in groups."

Comes from http://www.cracked.com/article_18468_6-reasons-assholes-are-healthier-according-to-science.html, #4, close to bottom of page 1.

Eric said...

Along with what Katy and Alana said, I too went through a brief shock in 2004. The thing is, most of the people who went through that, I think, didn't catch paranoia from it (there were a few who accused Diebold of stealing the race, but after a brief flutter and furor, it seems most of them have moved on).

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I suspect that the left recovers from such things faster because dissent is generally considered a virtue over here. It means that we're frequently ineffectual, because we have a hard time agreeing what the message is, much less staying on it (e.g. consider that some of the harshest critics of the healthcare reform bill have included people like Greenwald and Taibbi). But it also means we sometimes remember that there are people who disagree with us (after all, a lot of them are technically on our own side). Ultimately, the thing that disturbed me most about the 2004 race was not that people voted for Bush, but that I'd put aside so many of the objections I'd had to Kerry during the primaries, and had gulped down the Kool-Aid so unreservedly; soberly, it occurred to me that Kerry hadn't changed, and that the reasons I'd had for not liking him in the primaries were still valid and probably had occurred to other people. (He still would've made a better President than Bush, but that's damning with no praise at all.)

I hate to say this, but the difference in degree of shock may also have something to do with the fact that, on the left, we're pretty much used to losing. (Hell, a lot of us who wanted single-payer and/or would have settled for a public option don't quite feel like winners, I don't think; some of us obviously feel like losers and the rest of us, I'd say, feel we won a marginal victory at best that gets a toe in the door and at least helps several million people in the meantime.) For most of the past decade, Republicans on the Hill got what they wanted with little-or-no fuss. It's gotta be hard to try all the same tactics that have worked so well for so long and find they've lost their efficacy.

Web Dunce said...

Watching the "debate" on CSPAN Sunday, and reflecting on the reality of the situation, I found myself shouting at the TV every time a Republican reaffirmed the false belief that "the American people don't want this." The American people spoke louder than a Who concert by giving the Democrats a SUPER MAJORITY in the Senate in 2008. Why is this fact not hammered unmercifully hard into the skulls of the disillusioned right? Christ, if they ever got a wake up call, that was surely it.

ntx said...

There ARE more of us than there are of them. We just have to remember to vote every couple of years.

pknaack1 said...

A friend came across this recently, I thought the folks here would appreciate it.


BTW Chez, just bought your book, already about 40 pages in. I might be up all night reading. It is not often one gets such an honest look into a person's soul. I don't know if I would be capable of cracking myself open in that fashion for all to see, even with my boring life experiences which don't compare to yours at all (and assuming I could write like that to begin with, which I can't). I am immersed. I will be recommending it to others. Thank you.

Chez said...

Thank you so much. That's truly appreciated.

psychi said...

Many years ago, I learned in debate (yeah, I said it)that it was not only encouraged to research and prepare for both sides on any topic, it was mandatory.

Those lessons have stayed with me. Evertime I catch myself staying on one news outlet too long, I move around and look for ideologies that I don't adhere to.

The end result: I really do not adhere to any one categorized ideology. I have no idea what party I would affiliate with, but I know of at least four that I won't.

I also highly suspect that I am not alone.

Milton said...

I understand your point of view Chez... but i also think it's a case of what came first: the chicken or the egg? why is Fake News so popular among these loons? isn't it because they were loons to beggin with? as you say in your piece, FN was created to cater to this kind of public. before FN there was CNN (and at the time they actually did a decent job - only after Fox did CNN become the joke it is today), but i doubt these right wing nutcases ever watched it or if they did they never realized how different the outside world is from their little pathetic lives. but yes, FN does work as an echo chamber and increases the level of crazy.