Thomas Friedman picks up the argument in the NYTimes recently that a lot of others including this observer have noted – the spreading of an attack and smear mentality in the US which is like a H1N1-Harangue 1 Neuter 1 epidemic in the US political and policy making discourse.
What Tom Friedman does is remind people of how corrosive and destructive that atmosphere was in Israel leading to the assassination of Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin by elements of the far right. Ever since Rabin’s assassination no Israeli leader a)has dared to curb the Israeli far-right’s notion that all of Palestine-should-become-completely-Israel being their “God-given homeland” and b)has always acquiesced in the encroachment of Palestinian West Bank territory by steady expansion of Jewish settlements on West Bank Palestinian land. The result is that the Middle East Conflict is a slow boil that can burst at anytime. It is through the deep seated resentment among Palestinians and Arabs in general that al Qaeda recruits and flourishes. Also Iran has with its Hezbollah and Hamas cohorts taken advantage of the same sense of injustice creating a Shia-predominate power-base. This radical encampment in turn upsets any move toward lasting Middle East peace – they want power beyond the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Chillingly, Friedman sees the same attack-smear campaign in the US right now. Propelled by a similar play for religious/moral fundamentalists, the politics of fear/smear/attack flourishes because:
1)The Presidency is now seen as a perpetual campaign in which bi-partisanship is reserved for foreign affairs at best;
2)Enough of the electorate is seen as lazy, gullible, knee-jerk or downright stupid [ think of Jay Leno’s Jay Walkers, proud of their ignorance of current affairs and politics] and most importantly, easily manipulated;
3)So in the US the party on the right has embraced the politics of fear: attack, smear, and calculated falsehood manipulations with rigorous party discipline, death-dealing lobbies[we have the money and power to assure that you won’t get re-elected] , and internal dissent control ensuring that a 51% majority and executive control can “govern”;
4)Money has always voted and disproportionately; but now through lobbies and PACs it also talks not just to law-makers but also administration and judicial officials. And its is now 24/7 and at every level of power;
5)The current economic crisis has re-enforced a wave of “future fear” [my kids are not going to live and do as well as I and my peers have done] as the rich who caused the problem indeed get richer, and a new layer of hardworking Joes and Jills are sent to the Rust-belt or below the Poverty Line. The resulting Angst feeds into 1) thru 4) above.
Yet, as David Brooks points out in his article, many in the media claim much power to lead the dissident and the resentful. But in fact time after time their powers of persuasion and calls to action prove hollow and almost totally ineffectual. Yet as Brooks points out, the Republican party is held in thrall by these media muftis [think of Rush Limbaugh’s ability to get an apology from Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele when Steele dared to question some of Rus’s pronouncements].
So the failure in Washington and State Capitals over the past 20-30 years to achieve any meaningful reforms of elections, gerrymandering, and lobbying has come home to roost. It has tipped American Democracy closer to dysfunctional as fringe political/media muftis and an attack mentality flourish. But at least I can say along with Tom Friedman: God Bless America for the right of the US electorate to choose to know less, do less , and trust that they can leave it all up to their media shock jocks and maybe-chosen leaders to “do it right for them”.
Updated Oct 2, 2009 for David Brooks story on the Wizard of Beck.