Rush and Newt Are Winning
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion.
Yes, you read that correctly: If you doubt that there is a conservative inclination in the media, consider which arguments you hear regularly and which you don't. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the Internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.
The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that
Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left
end of a truncated political spectrum. He's the guy who
nominates a "racist" to the Supreme Court (though
Gingrich retreated from the word yesterday), wants to
proposing a massive government takeover of the private
economy. Steve Forbes, writing for his magazine,
recently went so far as to compare Obama's economic
policies to those of Juan Peron's
Democrats are complicit in building up Gingrich and
Limbaugh as the main spokesmen for the Republican
Party, since Obama polls so much better than either of
them. But the media play an independent role by
regularly treating far-right views as mainstream
positions and by largely ignoring critiques of Obama
that come from elected officials on the left.
This was brought home at this week's annual conference
of the Campaign for
group that supports Obama but worries about how close
his economic advisers are to Wall Street, how long our
troops will have to stay in
will be willing to compromise to secure health-care reform.
In other words, they see Obama not as the parody
created by the far right but as he actually is: a
politician with progressive values but moderate
instincts who has hewed to the middle of the road in
dealing with the economic crisis, health care,
While the right wing's rants get wall-to-wall airtime,
you almost never hear from the sort of progressive
members of Congress who were on an
panel on Tuesday. Reps. Jared Polis of
said warm things about the president -- they are
Democrats, after all -- but also took issue with some of his policies.
All three, for example, are passionately opposed to his
military approach to
debate over the implications of Obama's strategy. "If
we don't ask these questions now," said Edwards, "we'll
ask these questions 10 years from now -- I guarantee
Polis spoke of how Lyndon Johnson's extraordinary
progressive legacy "will always be overshadowed by
challenging the administration's foreign policy were
simply trying to "protect and enhance President Obama's
legacy by preventing
As it happens, I am closer than the progressive trio is
to Obama's view on
voices muffled when they raise legitimate concerns,
while Limbaugh's rants get amplified? Isn't
a more important issue to debate than a single comment
by Judge Sonia Sotomayor about the relative wisdom of Latinas?
Polis, Edwards and Grijalva also noted that proposals
for a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system,
which they support, have fallen off the political
radar. Polis urged his activist audience to accept that
reality for now and focus its energy on making sure
that a government insurance option, known in policy
circles as the "public plan," is part of the menu of
choices offered by a reformed health-care system.
But Edwards noted that if the public plan, already a
compromise from single-payer, is defined as the left's
position in the health-care debate, the entire
discussion gets skewed to the right. This makes it far
more likely that any public option included in a final
bill will be a pale version of the original idea.
Her point has broader application. For all the talk of a media love affair with Obama, there is a deep and largely unconscious conservative bias in the media's discussion of policy. The range of acceptable opinion runs from the moderate left to the far right and cuts off more vigorous progressive perspectives.
Democrats love to think that Limbaugh and Gingrich are
weakening the conservative side. But guess what? By
dragging the media to the right, Rush and Newt are winning.
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