Lady C's InfoNapsterizer

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8.10.2004

Partisanship -- The artificial divide?

Not a nation divided, just a nation deafened

So says Jeff Jarvis, with some interesting evidence:

I've been saying for sometime that we are not a nation divided -- that's just how media and politicians want to portray us because it fits their agendas. The truth is that we all have lives; they don't. So they spend their time shouting at us, deafening us. But they don't represent us.

I'm not alone in this view. In this week's Time, Joe Klein says it's "only the blabocrats":

We are a divided nation, it is said. There is a cultural chasm between the red states and the blue, between the religious and the secular, between Michael Moore's America and Rush Limbaugh's. The "culture war" has become a pillar of the conventional wisdom. But is it real? Is it possible that the great partisan divide is a media-induced mirage, little more than an exaggerated case of squeaky-wheelism? There is plenty of evidence that the very real disputes pushed by political activists and chair-throwing media yakkers—call this the Anger-Industrial Complex—are being carelessly extrapolated to include a far less vehement populace.

Take the Moore/Limbaugh divide. A new Annenberg poll shows that the two infotainers are little more than postmodern tribal leaders: an estimated 8% of Americans saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in July, and an estimated 7% listened to Limbaugh. Their tribes are hilariously antithetical on a range of issues—83% of Rushites support the way Bush is handling Iraq, 87% of Mooreists are opposed; 85% of Rushites support Bush's handling of the economy, and 82% of Mooreists don't.

And yet, these extremist clumps throw disproportionate weight in the public square....

Maybe we're just busy living our lives. A new book by the Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, argues that a closely divided nation isn't necessarily a deeply divided nation.

Amen.

It's deceptive and destructive to insist that we are at each others' throats because it skews the public debate toward venomous trivia and away from matters that matter. And it sets a bad example for public discourse: When I talk about politics and issues with family and friends, we disagree, but we don't bulge veins and shout the way they do on TV. But on TV and too often on the Internet, the shouting is drowning out the reason. This fosters hatred.

Look at the comments under the Tit for Tat post below: I -- evenhandedly, if I do say so myself -- said I didn't care about the efforts to find military gotchas about either Bush or Kerry -- because it doesn't affect (a) the future or (b) our lives. What ensues in the comments is a fair volume of venom spitting. So listen to yourselves, folks: You sound like a bad cable "talk" show. You're not arguing about matters that matter: I'd prefer to you see you go after each other -- or better yet, go after solutions -- on health care in an effort to find common ground for improvement. Or homeland security. Or stem-cell research. Or education. Or tax reform. Not this. All this blab produces nothing but bile. It's not productive. It's not helpful. It just stinks.

Says Klein:

Scream journalism — Crossfire, Hannity and Colmes, the various "gangs" and "groups" of Washington blabocrats assaulting our senses — was always nauseating, but it was more understandable in a world where the most important issue was the definition of the word is. It was the only way to scare up an audience in those days. But this is a different world now. And we are being forced to examine the most serious, complicated sorts of issues—war and solvency—through an anachronistic, irresponsible political-media lens created for more trivial times. Right. We have real issues in this election, real choices, real questions. But we're wasting time talking about this crap. Worse, we're falling into the media-political complex trap: We are believing our own PR that we really do hate each other. We don't. You know damned well that if you met any of the people you're shouting at, you'd end up having a civil disagreement over beers.

This is not a call for us all to get along. The last thing I want to see is a group blog hug. Perish the thought!

No, instead I'm merely arguing -- in line with Klein -- that most of us on most issues most of the time are not filled with division and hatred; that's just TV. Most of us are getting on with our lives. Most of us care about trying to do what's right.

And so it is time to call media and politicians on their libelous lie about us, the people. We're not a nation divided. They are the divisive ones. I intend to keep calling them on it.

The real division in the end is not red from blue or right from left. The real division will media from audience, politicians from constituents, the powerful from the people. That is the "us" vs. "them" at work here. : UPDATE: And also I'm not alone in the argument that we've had enough of presidential hatred.

See Namoi Klein in The Nation -- The Nation! -- taking lefties to task for their politics of snark:

It's not that the President is dumb, which I already knew; it's that he makes us dumb.... You know the line: The White House has been hijacked by a shady gang of zealots who are either insane or stupid or both. Vote Kerry and return the country to sanity.

But the zealots in Bush's White House are neither insane nor stupid nor particularly shady. Rather, they openly serve the interests of the corporations that put them in office with bloody-minded efficiency. Their boldness stems not from the fact that they are a new breed of zealot but that the old breed finds itself in a newly unconstrained political climate.

We know this, yet there is something about George W. Bush's combination of ignorance, piety and swagger that triggers a condition in progressives I've come to think of as Bush Blindness. When it strikes, it causes us to lose sight of everything we know about politics, economics and history and to focus exclusively on the admittedly odd personalities of the people in the White House. Other side effects include delighting in psychologists' diagnoses of Bush's warped relationship with his father and brisk sales of Bush "dum gum"--$1.25.

It is as if we have turned over the body politic to a People magazine mindset -- the dark side of People magazine: It's all about personality. It's predicated on the belief that a single famous person actually matters. We might as well pick our winner on American Idol, the way this is going.

But wait: The people, I have faith, are ignoring these fringe fits of feistiness. They're sitting back and asking what is best for the nation and themselves. And they will give their answer in November. All the rest is merely a tabloid nightmare. [via Daniel Radosh]

: See also Radosh's sum-up of various reviews and views of Nicholson Baker's book about a would-be Bush assassin. My take -- not on the book, but on a review of it -- here.

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