American Culture

The tributaries of the mainstream

Break out the linguistic life jackets, folks. We’re about to be inundated with the overuse and abuse of the word mainstream with regard to President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Politics is at its heart a battle for control of language and symbols. Now that the president has nominated Judge Sotomayor, [insert name of political party or faction here] will seek to [support | undercut] that nominee through [messaging | framing | “truth”]. Ideological control of mainstream, a word signifying ownership of the core values of a majority of Americans, is at stake.

From Scott Reed, manager of the 1996 presidential campaign of Bob Dole:

The G.OP. has to make a stand. This is what the base and social conservatives really care about, and we need to brand her a liberal with some out-of-the-mainstream positions.

From Burt Neuborne, legal director of the New York University Brennan Center for Justice:

I have reviewed Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record, and it is undoubtedly well within the judicial mainstream.

From a list of talking points released in error by the GOP and printed in The Hill:

Republicans look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor’s legal views and to determining whether her views reflect the values of mainstream America.

Glenn Greenwald at on Judge Sotomayer’s comments on gender and ethnicity informing judicial rulings:

It’s possible to take that view too far to the point where it becomes troubling, and Sotomayor should (and certainly will) be asked about it, but the comments themselves are entirely mainstream and uncontroversial.

From David Limbaugh at Human Events:

Even though the nation is mostly conservative and “liberal” is still a dirty word, President Obama is moving us leftward at a breakneck pace by disguising his actions through smooth rhetoric and slick salesmanship. Obama is a consummate practitioner of presenting his extreme leftist agenda as moderate and mainstream.

And even from George W. Bush in 2005:

My nominee will be a fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values.

Imagine a political spectrum from as far left as possible to as far right as possible. (Given the press’s framing of what “far left” and “far right” has been for the past quarter century, left vs. right isn’t as distinct as it used to be. But let’s leave that for another post …)

Where is mainstream? Is it where the Democratic Party used to be before Bill Clinton transformed it into Centrist City? Is it where various progressive groups say they now populate the mainstream? Is it where evangelical Christians say the base of the Republican Party is? Is mainstream more at home with social conservatives or fiscal conservatives?

I don’t know. But it will be fun watching them all attempt to remake mainstream within their own ideological images.

3 replies »

  1. The really funny thing about this is that NEITHER side is anywhere near nor has any idea WHAT the mainstream really is. Once you have been in Washington DC for any length of time, you are so isolated and insulated from the rest of us that you have NO idea what anyone but the big money scum want.

    Our lefites in this country are so far to the right that they wouldn’t recognize a real leftie if one came up and kicked them in the crotch. And that says nothing about the right, who would think they had landed on a different planet if put in a room full of average Americans, let alone actual lefties. There is so much money in the political system from big business that no one else stands a chance of getting a word in edge wise.

    This is all just a huge, unfunny joke.

  2. So, according to the republicans and their supporters – ‘mainstream’ is whatever they tell us it is. Maybe they should check the latest poll results. It doesn’t look like the republicans will be mounting a comeback anytime soon. Their definition of mainstream is orthodox, religious, kleptocratic, mysogynistic, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, … did I miss any other phobics. Yep, city on the hil.