It has begun. It doesn’t have the sexual tang of gay marriage, so we’re not noticing as we should. But the Republican strategy of shifting the dialogue off of the thing that matters most and onto anything else is well underway.
Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” and you certainly don’t need my forecast that, with 3,886 troop deaths and nearly 80,000 or more civilian deaths in the Iraq oil war, the dialogue between America and its presidential candidates cannot and must not center on immigration and religion. And yet, viola… they’ve done it again.
Much as he still occupies a special dark place in the hearts of those who remember him, even Nixon wouldn’t have tried deflecting dialogue about Vietnam by directing attention to the US/Mexico border or somebody’s Mormon faith. If you want a yardstick to measure the decay of Republican regard for our intelligence from that era to now… there you go.
Worse, we didn’t have the high-speed, rapid turnaround delivery system for fake news and corporate agitprop that we have now. With a mountain of dead bodies in Iraq, what causes CNN to open a Republican presidential candidate debate with half an hour on immigration? Better minds than mine have analyzed this specific low point for the news channel, but I’m just going to throw in the towel and say that it’s laziness and torpor.
Because dull, tired people don’t have the vigor it takes to confront a Republican presidential candidate with this question: “Would you kill 4,000 Americans for oil? Please answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” Or this one: “With full knowledge that lies and 9/11 fears were deployed by your political party to drive US troops into harm’s way for gasoline, would you as the next president do the same thing? Yes or No?”
Something has changed in presidential politics such that there never seems to be any actual confrontation with blunt facts. Instead there are “spin” attacks, spin attack responses, and tedious tracking of the cycle. Last week, a network news show presented a package regarding voters in one of the Carolinas (let’s not humiliate them further by revealing which one). The thrust of the report hinged on a sound bite from – you guessed it – a guy in a “gimme” cap in a bar. Asked if Obama could be elected, he responded: “A black man just isn’t going to be president. That’s life, that’s just how it is.”
Of course that’s not “life.” But that TV report was “life” right now in that there’s no problem making voters look stupid and racist while treating the candidates with kid gloves and zero blunt confrontation. Yet, while they contribute to it, this is not a “media” problem. The media won’t be to blame if George Bush is never tried as a war criminal in an international court once he leaves office. That lassitude, that “Aw, forget about it…” change-the-channel slacker sleepwalking… that’s our bad. Are we going to process Iraq with a beer and “That’s life, that’s just how it is…?” I guarantee that’s not the mood in the American homes directly impacted by the war.
By tolerating the unfettered circulation of immigration fog and faith fog, we’ve already signaled that the hard unpleasant facts of the war may lose ground in 2008. Imagine being parents who have lost a precious child in Iraq and you’re watching a news “close-up” on the vagaries of Mormonism because a 39-cent haircut like Romney has gotten this far in the election process. Note that I’m completely dismissing Huckabee, as I assume everyone else will once the experimental gas Huckabee’s aircraft sprayed over Iowa wears off.
But there you go. First the message was that the religious right had blessedly lost its ability to steer presidential politics. Then, bingo, Huckabee and his faith background start creeping up in the Iowa polls. The room grows cold, and ghosts start laughing. Ghosts of you and your friends nine years ago, sitting around and chortling, “A no-talent nothing like Bush’s son? Give me a break!”
You might reasonably wonder if I’m having unusually high anxiety in an environment that seems more than ready to return a Democrat to the White House. But after the last eight years, can we take anything for granted? Bush has only recently conceded that there is such a thing as global warming. Maybe we should finally concede that there is a politics of distraction and that as the calendar flips to election year, the very thing we hoped would not return is again creeping in like the fog.