The one point I don’t agree with is his claim that Obama is “perhaps the least qualified presidential nominee ever.” That seems to be hyperbolic at best, living as we are in the shadows of the wreckage of the George W. Bush Presidency. (Obama, wasn’t a drunken partyboy until the age of 40, and didn’t have a father whose wealth and connections he could coast on.) But I think Stephen’s analysis of this primary election season’s dynamic is dead on. And, I suspect his prediction that “history. . . will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes” will come true, sooner rather than later.
While I am not an American political historian (as the field is traditionally defined), the political uses of gendered rhetoric are an important part of my intellectual agenda. My first book was a study of how ideas and language about gender and the family were used to describe people’s observations and experiences of cross-cultural warfare and politics in seventeenth and eighteenth-century North America. So, I know quite a lot transhistorically and cross-culturally about the ways in which ideas about gender are interwoven into political discourses in the modern West. (And, as an “early modernist,” please understand that “modern” here means post-1492.) People reveal themselves in the language they use, consciously or unconsciously. Both Cotton Mather and Chris Matthews are spokesmen for their time and place as people favored by an eminent position in the culture. We should listen to the words they say, not because they’re necessarily intelligent or “true,” but because they can tell us a lot about ourselves.
In many ways, the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton this year–the blowback of which will probably be felt by women in all walks of life for years to come in thousands of discouraging ways–is part of an old story best documented by Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler. Somerby has been on the case of the insular corporate media since 1999, when he noticed the power of the preferred media narrative about Al Gore’s candidacy for the Presidency, and its curious imperviousness to the facts. And as Somerby points out regularly–you’ll never see or hear the media tell the truth about its own role in shaping our political and cultural discourses. (John Judis’s recent admission in The New Republic that the media hated Clinton and picked Obama as the Democratic winner is one of the few times when we’re permitted to see The Great Oz operating behind the flimsy curtain.)
In my adult life, the corporate media has repeatedly gone off the rails and created an alternative universe that bore little resemblance to reality. First, in 1993, it was the cheerleading for NAFTA, and the insistence that fair trade would lift all boats equally. Then in 1998-99, it was with l’affaire Lewinskyand the impeachment of Bill Clinton, in which the corporate media convinced itself early on that Clinton was a goner. Then in 1999-2000, it was the internet bubble, and Dow 36,000, and the breathless insistence that the U.S. economy was a perpetual wealth-making machine that had figured out a way to grow forever. And, of course, we were told what a vile fabulist Al Gore was. When Bill Bradley failed to beat Gore despite Bradley’s favorable press advantage, the media entrusted the task of destroying Gore to George W. Bush. The consequences of this media echo-chamber/bandwagon became more serious than ever, when in September 2001 the corporate media told us that Bush was Winston Churchill reborn, the greatest “war President” ever. With the runup to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03, no dissenting voices were permitted to be heard, either from expert commentators or among the obedient stenographers in the press corps themselves. This bubble was only burst by the malign–nay criminal–indifference and incompetence of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricaine Katrina in 2005. This winter, with the nutcrackers, the comparisons to monstrous fictional characters, the unwarranted attacks and blatant disrespect (“you’re likeable enough,” “Sweetie,”), all backed up in perfect harmony by the “iron my shirt” and the “bros before hos” chorus, it all felt too sadly familiar.
In every one of these cases, not only was the corporate media wrong, but in most cases it was wrong in ways that were disastrous for people who aren’t the blow-dried, pancaked, made men (and women) of the corporate media. That is to say, all but about 500 Americans. All of them have high-paying jobs, with health insurance. None of them lost their jobs because of NAFTA, or lost their pension plans and 401K’s as a result of the stock market bubble bursting. None of them marched off to fight a war designed more to prop up George W. Bush’s poll numbers and help him win re-election than to make any part of the world safer, freer, or more just. None of them saw their houses and families drown in New Orleans. This year, with Bush’s approval ratings in the toilet, the corporate media decided that it didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be the next President. That may be the decision Democrats would have come to on their own through the primary process–but her tremendous success at playing it to a draw suggests that with even occasionally fair press coverage, she may well have been triumphant. Sadly, Democrats haven’t defended one of their own candidates–too many of us stood by and enjoyed the drubbing Hillary was taking because it benefited our preferred candidate, and many of us piled on too, repeating and amplifying some of the most vicious lies about Clinton that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” ever dreamed up. As I have argued here repeatedly since February, that was short-sighted at best, given Somberby’s documentation of the preferred corporate media narrative for all Democratic presidential candidates for the past thirty years. And yet, we have let the corporate media choose our candidate, when they have been so wrong, so consistently and disastrously wrong for the past fifteen years.
This post is not an argument for the flawless perfection of Clinton as a candidate, nor is it arguing that Clinton is the only or most important victim of this poisonous misogyny, nor is it suggesting that all Obama supporters are guilty. (Historiann has said repeatedly that there are plenty of good reasons to prefer Obama for the Democratic nomination. This blog has never trashed him, but rather has come to his and Michelle Obama’s defense several times.) It’s a Jeremiad lamenting the fact that once again, Democrats have permitted a corrupt and wrong-headed media to select our candidate instead of insisting on the sovereignty of Democratic voters, and that we’ve allowed them to do this using language and ideas that the vast majority of us officially repudiate. (Aren’t we the party for feminists? Isn’t this party the one that defends women’s bodily sovereignty and civil rights? Whisky Tango Foxtrot?) We don’t know yet what all of the consequences will be for this media blanket party for Hillary Clinton in 2008. We surely know, from bitter experience, what the consequences were for the media takedown of Gore in 1999-2000. Remind me again: how’d that work out for us?