Today’s Guest Scrogue is Natasha Chart.Â
BooMan pointed out that Edwards’ message isn’t resonating with the natural constituencies that you’d think it would: hyper-partisan and low income voters.
I’ve heard people say that it’s because Edwards is appealing to fear or anger and it turns people off, but I think that misses the point. Then there’s the fact that he doesn’t get much press coverage at all, and that almost gets it right. He’s angry and uses fear in a way that turns the press off, so no one else gets to hear what he says. Why, though?
Let me suggest that one of the reasons Democrats have a hard time pushing fear messages is because they’re accorded second-class status by the press. Defining what people are supposed to be afraid of is the right of an authority figure, which the media never act like they take Democrats to be. Their disrespectful behavior is evidence enough.
Second class citizens are supposed to be cheerful and uncomplaining. Grateful. If they do complain, they’re either mad or shrill, by default. Their negative reactions are a threat to society, as opposed to defining it, because it isn’t their place to set priorities, to direct efforts or resources.
Be angry means, ‘things should be different.’ Be afraid means, ‘pay attention to this.’
It’s telling people what you think their priorities should be. The media would rather have conservatives set their priorities, the people whose authority they respect. No pissant liberals have the right to tell them anything.
So I simply don’t buy that the voters are done with fear, even though they no longer especially trust the Republicans, who’ve been dining out on it for ages. ‘Oh, people have fear fatigue.’ Right. What’s Lou Dobbs selling, after all? Fear of foreigners and brown people. It’s going like hotcakes.
Part of the problem might be that people can only focus on so many things at once, no matter how many topics they care about. It’s the difference between importance and urgency. Urgency is usually measured in line with the number of times an issue is raised in someone’s life, especially in the press. Even the people reading this, who probably have a longer than average personal list of important political issues, can only focus on a small set of them.
Edwards is trying to sell fear of corporations. Now, people don’t like them, sure, but it’s a rare political opinion that anyone should be afraid of corporations, or angry about the way they’re integrated into our lives.
The public notoriously tends not to politicize issues that aren’t explicitly politicized by a plurality of politicians and the press. They tend to think it’s just them, or maybe a few of their buddies, and hey, there’s always that one guy in Congress with the wacky platform. Politics are the things politicians and pundits talk about, all else is just life.
Further, the media choose stand-alone story formats that encourage people to think about things in isolation, as opposed to tying stories in with larger narrative arcs that encourage people to think of issues as systemic concerns. One story about a problem with Blue Cross coverage is a damn shame, how unfortunate, Seinfeld reruns are up next. A series of stories about problems tied to their routine occurrence within the Murder By Spreadsheet insurance industry is a big social problem, a call to action.
The media won’t let anyone’s anti-corporate message be repeated enough to be fully politicized, they won’t be party to an education on the issue. They may even describe a candidate as populist, but in their mouths, it’s a rarely elaborated insult that’s now the same as calling someone an unscrupulous demagogue. And they can usually get away with it without having to face any pent up anger.
Because it isn’t that people just want to feel good, it’s that they want to feel in control. The establishment political class have learned how to make people feel they’re in control without giving them any. Reagan was sunny, yes. He also had a message of ostensible empowerment that people liked hearing and that wasn’t a threat to anyone powerful. It was just snake oil. ‘I will empower you to shop and not give a damn about your neighbor, who will in turn not have to give a damn about you.’
That’s the sort of empowerment the corporate media likes. The kind that keeps the peasants happy, but still peasants.
Yet Reagan, too, trafficked in fear and anger. Fear of brown people, poor people, and foreigners. Which somehow never made him a ‘negative’ candidate, because he had happy things to say about a social order dominated by racist, sexist, authoritarian corporate aristocrats. Anger at a supposedly interfering government that was keeping the rich man down. And you, you could be rich, too, if it wasn’t for the frakking Fed.
The establishment press continues to be the main, if not only, source most people have for political news. And we know who they work for. Their function is not to inform, it’s to narcotize. Not to challenge society, but to reinforce its existing authority structures.
Edwards’ message threatens their paymasters. It’s never going to get out on their watch.