Saturday, October 9, 2010
Rachel Maddow's work the last couple of nights is worth revisiting on the web (hopefully it's there!). This would be her programs of October 7,8, 2010. On the 7th she interviewed this Robinson character who's running for Congress from a small pop. mostly rural district in Oregon, against a long-time Democratic Congressman. Classic set up for the Tea Party dynamics of this year. Pump money into a small race (see Deleware, Alaska, Nevada), make it about national issues with emotional resonance (e.g., Obama, Kenyan Usurper), voila, you have your pretty daggone weird candidate. As a blogger recently said, the Tea Party may actually be understood as daring the voter to vote for their candidate. It's like kids all standing around a frayed wire and egging on the boy who is always fucking up but in a funny way, "touch it.. go on... touch it."
I watched Maddow attempt to interview the Robinson character last night. Libby had recorded it. It's a case study in defense and denial on Robinson's part. There are a few guys like him in the deepest recesses of the Texaco, but I don't really even want to talk to them any more, because there's no longer any point. They have closed down, the walls are up, the sentries pace 24/7. I'd actually be kinda nervous to drive down their driveway, or knock on their door. This Robinson character has a luxurious writing history, going back decades. He has positions without end on all the emotional hot-button controversies. When Maddow reads him one of his own sentences, time after time, he reacts by claiming she's attacking him, character-assassinating him, or not talking about the "real" issues of his current campaign. It's so bizarre and laughable that she finally ends up laughing in exasperation. It's the clinical example of "entrenchment." And if Oregon elects this guy to be their representative.... well, they'll get to have first hand knowledge of what it's like to have been "represented"' by Jesse Helms for decades, I'm sorry to tell them.
But Ms Maddow made a very good point last night--debriefing the interview, I guess you might say--that I'd like to expand on just a bit. Fact is, one of the curious things about Mr. Robinson's campaign is, it's being funded to the tune of $150 K by anonymous sources operating as a national fundraising entity. Apparently there are no rules which make this situation illegal. So it's quite possible that monied people--even people from other countries--can so to speak buy a congressman in the US by targetting small population districts in out of the way places and just flooding the district with advertising. All it takes is money. Because we do know that advertising works when it's well designed and executed WE DO KNOW THAT. It's all around us.
Now Ms Maddow was just directing the viewer's attention to this rather worrisome truth with regard to Mr. Robinson, a person who had just shown himself to be utterly unqualified for office the night before. With enough good advertising, she was saying, this guy could actually win. (As an aside, I have a friend who used to be a criminal lawyer. One time he was assigned to defend some young men from out of state who'd come down to a drug house and shotgunned several of the people who lived there. It was pretty cut and dried, this case, but as he sat in the courtroom with his co-counsels, the assistant DA who was arguing the state's case was so inept that, going to lunch, the various attorneys for the defense looked at each other in the elevator and said, "We might actually win this case.") Robinson might actually win. Maddow played one of his ads. It's a decent ad, and bears no resemblance to the actual candidate we had just observed, in the flesh, for 15 minutes. If this ad runs every night on the local teevee, and if his opponent has less of a war chest for advertising, after a while a lot of voters will just remember "Robinson" when they go to vote. That's how it works.
So what does it mean, Maddow said, when we allow a situation where anonymous money in unlimited amounts can swamp a little small population district and get a candidate like that elected? And I said--to Libby--we already have exactly this in the whole country, don't we? That is, we have a never-ending election campaign running 24/7 right now, drumming into any and all who listen that our President is a Kenyan Usurper (or to use one of Mr. Limbaugh's many elegant phrases, "a man-child in over his head," i.e., a "boy" if you get Mr. Limbaugh's drift, "wink wink." Day after day, from Day One, Mr. Obama has been painted as a dangerous 5th columnist from some other part of the world, injected into "our country" by unknown forces to "destroy" "our" way of life. Thus the Tea Party Slogan, "Take Our Country Back." This theme, this refrain, has been in the air since the moment Mr. Obama took the podium on January 20, 2009. The funding for this endless advertising campaign--where does it come from? Damn if I know. I saw the other day that Beck had lost 256 advertisers since Obama was elected. Doesn't seem to matter, not like it does when Kevin Harvick loses Shell Oil.
So we'll see, we'll see. It's a tricky issue to actually discuss. Jonathan Alter said last night that "we have to be careful not to make this election about intelligence." Meaning that it's not politically effective to talk about how stupid a candidate seems to be, or how stupid an electorate might seem if they vote for him or her. It's true. People don't like being called stupid. People don't like to see a candidate diminished in that vein--unless they're doing it themselves of course, as Limbaugh and the rest do to Obama, Pelosi, et al, every day.
But we also surely see, and clearly, that advertising works. This is a factual statement, and the subject matter of business schools, sociology departments, and political science departments every where. Advertising pays off. This is why business spends billions on it every years. There is no doubt that advertising is effective, and possibly this little noted fact is as important as any fact in the current world in which we live. How do you report on something that, in the reporting, might seem to insult the viewers. Or, on the other hand--raise questions about the fuel that keeps your so-called "journalism" afloat. Do tell.
Right now the United States' electoral system--our democracy--is exposed to anonymous advertising assault in basically unlimited amount. Certain themes have been played for over thirty years, and it is a fact that repetition is in itself a successful advertising tactic. We have watched a seemingly grass roots "movement" spring up upon Obama's election, and develop power and momentum. "Take Our Country Back." What does that even mean? Amongst Tea Partiers, it elicits a knowing nod, or a high 5.
Strange that Tom Delay was an exterminator before he got into politics. What goes around I guess.