Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Illinois Corruption note

I am starting to pay more sober attention to the Illinois corruption issue. How long can I keep laughing? The conversation on CNN last night went something like this among the pro-Obama talking heads: While the president-elect needs a do over on some of his comments (or non-comments) regarding Illinois corruption, all the Blago revelations don’t need to have a negative effect on the future president. After all, both Axelrod and Emanuel have "fallen on their swords," according to CNN, but Rep. Jesse Jackson is holding out his sword while looking for someone (other than his tough-guy self) to fall on it. Yet, Mr. Obama hasn’t said enough on the issue, even CNN admitted. On the other hand, one wag asserted, Truman was a "great president" and look at the corrupt political machine he crawled out of. I sat up for that one. You can hear the wagons circling. I am guessing that some overnight deep thinking will have persuaded the president-elect to give another great speech (see his talk on the Rev. Wright), perhaps at today’s press conference, in which he will throw not only Blago under the bus, but the whole "culture of corruption" in his state, and thereby start taking credit for the inevitable attempt clean-up. It may work. Worth watching and listening to because this will be the first time--coming a little sooner than his folks thought probable--he will be talking to a skeptical and semi-antagonistic press corps. The folks at Politico
have Seven Questions for Mr. Obama, while John Fund has some observations about how quiet Obama was during the campaign about Chicago-Illinois corruption. I like this line from Fund: "What remains to be seen is whether this episode will put an end to what Chicago Tribune political columnist John Kass calls the national media’s ’almost willful’ fantasy that Mr. Obama and Chicago’s political culture have little to do with each other. Mr. Kass notes that the media devoted a lot more time and energy to investigating the inner workings of Sarah Palin’s Wasilla, Alaska, than it has looking at Mr. Obama’s Chicago connections." Ouch.

Discussions - 4 Comments

There's a different standard these days, in which we would not tolerate a politician like Truman being put at the presidential level, that is one so obviously used by a blatantly corrupt machine as their "sweet-smelling flower." That he turned out to be all right as prez, and Obama might also. True, but largely irrelevant. The more Obama's relationship to Chicago Dem politics proves to be like Truman's was to the KC Prendergast machine, the worse for him.

Obama is in an interesting situation. He allied himself with a raving, anti American, racist loon. He associated with an unrepentant terrorist, and he never challanged his state's corrupt Democratic machine. On the other hand he managed to associate with Wright without ever personally doing anything anti white or anti American. He associated with Ayers without ever personally saying anything anti American or condoning terrorism (except to the degree that associating with Ayers is doing such things). He joined Chicago's corrupt Democratic establishment without ever(as far as we know) breaking any laws. That he associated with such freaks, monsters and crooks without acting like a freak, monster, or crook is pretty impressive. He must have resisted alot of temptations to say or do stupid, evil, or dirty things. It is a fair standard to say that Obama should be judged by his own actions rather than those of his associates.

It is a fair standard, but not one that is fairly applied. Imagine if a politician whose party and ideology was less congenial to the media. Imagine this politician is a she whose last name begins P. Imagine if she belonged to a racist anti black church. Imagine if she associated with a notorious, unrepentant abortion clinic bomber. Imagine if she fit comfortably into her state's corrupt political establishment rather than fighting against it. I doubt it would save her national aspirations to note that she never said anything racist, always opposed terrorism and never took dirty money. The narrative of guilt by association would be looped forever and totally define her.

One can note Obama's political talents and the discipline of his character. But he is also benefiting from some major double standards.

That is very well-said, Pete. And I agree with every word of it. But the question remains, given this state of affairs, what is the best course of action to pursue? How do we conduct ourselves in light of it? Does it do any good to point this out? I think we have to be very careful about making this argument now--not because it is not true, but because it is getting tiresome. It almost seems that we have reached a point where persuasion is no longer possible. Everyone on our side of the divide acknowledges the prejudice of the other side. But so do those on the other side and they embrace it! Pointing it out does not persuade them of their injustice. They seem to say that their guy can and should be measured by a different standard because the substance of his intentions are to be presumed good. If you disagree, you are just cynical. What do you do with that?

It has ceased to be a conversation starter to say that Republicans don't get fair treatment in the media. People either say, "Damn straight, they don't" or they spit out, "Why should they? They're Republicans," in the same way that one might speak of the KKK or of Nazis or of any group that is so far beyond the pale as to be undeserving of civil treatment.

So it seems to me that we ought to stop trying to take up the argument at this point in the conversation and, instead, take it back a few steps to the assumption that Republicans are to be equated with Hitler and the Devil. For purposes of the argument in the media, it doesn't really matter that most regular folks who tend Democrat don't share this extreme view of Republicans. But for purposes of real political persuasion, it is quite significant. As I've said in a previous post, Republicans need to find a way to talk over the heads of the media and they probably have to leave this whole Obama/Blago scandal well-enough alone (their silence only helps it along, of course). They need to build their following from the ground up and start taking active steps to do things like take advantage of the internet social networking tools that Democrats have been utilizing for their own benefit. They need to stop acting like abused step-children and start moving on with their political futures. Any Republican politician who can't do that or who wants to get by trading on the abuse that's been leveled at her by the press and the popular culture, would do well to set her sites a peg or ten lower.

Julie, I could not agree more that conservative complaints about media bias have very small returns. Some liberal journalists actually revel in the double standards. More are probably just incapable of fully accepting the extent of the bias. But the study of the bias can have positive effects if it doesn't crowd out other pursuits. In fact it can aid in those other pursuits. In THE UNMAKING OF A MAYOR, William Buckley recounted his (awful) treatment by the media. He wrote that he recounted those episodes not to complain but to demonstrate the practical constraints under which conservatives of the time operated. Example - If a liberal called a conservative a fascist, well that was just politics. If a conservative called a liberal a communist, the conservative risked marginalization as a red baiter. It wasn't fair but conservatives had to either deal with it or lose. Buckley and Reagan dealt with their obstacles and triumphed. We should seek to do no less.

The study of media bias can yield valuable insights into our political landscape and it can give us some guidance to better deal with our challanges. Some examples,

1. Conservatives have to be more careful than liberals in how they choose their words. Talking about typical white people didn't hurt Obama. Talking about typical... any racial category will hurt a prominent conservative candidate.

2. A liberal might not be destroyed by an event that would bury a conservative. How many commentors on this blog predicted that the Wright mess would be the end of Obama? Media bias was not the ONLY reason that Obama survived. A less talented liberal would have been crippled even with all the media spinning, but the media bias was CRUCIAL to Obama's survival. There is not enough political talent in the world for a conservative to overcome membership in one of those white reconstructionist churches. Conservatives should keep this in mind when trying to predict the probable effect of scandals.

3. There is a glass ceiling for the role of the Good Republican. The Good Republican gets great media coverage for attacking conservatives from the center as "too extreme". But if the Good Republican tries the same schtick against a liberal, all that media good will evaporates. The media finds that the Good Republican has "changed" or is "pandering to the conservative base". The media loves a moderate Republican who attacks conservatives as being out of the mainstream. The media hates a moderate Republican who attacks a liberal Democrat for being out of the mainstream. If you want tp be a "maverick" Senator or a retired general/elder statesman/media taling head, being a Good Republican is a fine strategy. If you want to be President, the media will be glad to remind you of your place in the scheme of things.

4. Palin proved that this bias can be overcome. She was never more popular than just after her convention speech. She rose above all the media attmpts to portray her as a sleazy hick. The media attacks might even have helped by lowering expectations and increasing her audience size. For all the bias, on the national level, conservatives will get their chance to make their case. They have to seize their fewer chances.

5. Palin proved that media bias cannot be overcome by going into a cocoon and then complaining about media bias. The post convention media attacks on Pslin worked because the public saw very little of Palin that was unfiltered by the media. Rather than seeing her, people saw what reporters said about her. This was mostly the fault of the McCain campaign who kept her under wraps except for a few high stakes interviews with hostile hosts. Great job guys. And complaining about media treatment didn't help her either (except with those people that were aleady on her side). Most people have real problems and don't care that some politician is getting a raw deal from Katie Couric. She would have been better off focusing on an agenda that was directly relevant to people's lives. Of course the McCain campaign didn't have any such thing (well, it did on its website but not in its public events).

The list is not even close to exhaustive.

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