Thursday, November 8, 2012

Narrative War

Sometime in the middle of Tuesday night, long after I'd retired, Libby woke me up to tell me that Chris Matthews had just said that Obama owed his victory to Hurricane Sandy. There was shock and consternation amongst his fellow panalists at MSNBC, she said. I was sorry to hear that Matthews had made another of his fairly frequent gaffs, but I didn't let it wake me up.

Last night, Bill O'Reilly used a clip of Matthews' remark on the hurricane as the lynchpin of his "analysis" of Obama's victory. For the Republican punditry, of course, the goal is to "prove" that Mr. Obama won nothing except the office. There is no mandate, no sense of America wanting some better course, much less the idea that the 19th Century reactionary dream world that the entire Republican Party now strives and yearns for is not at all the goal of most Americans.

Last night Mr. Matthews looked somewhat ashen as he apologized for his gaff. "I was too much in the political moment," he said. "It wasn't that I was tired, I just wasn't thinking." It was a decent apology, and surely it is to be accepted. Matthews, for all his exasperating moments, has a place in the show. But it would be a good idea to understand what was really wrong about what he said.

It was not about hurting storm victims' feelings or sensibilities. Not that one shouldn't be sensitive to those feelings and sensitivities. Not that a news/opinion shop that aims to remain anchored in reality (unlike Fox) shouldn't be sensitive. But the problem with Matthews' remark about Hurricane Sandy was, it gives weight to the already burgeoning right-wing narrative. Now Mr. O'Reilly can truthfully point out that even Chris Matthews agrees with him.

Coming on the very moment Mr. Obama was declared the winner of this arcane house-of-mirrors thing we call an "election," Mr. Matthews gave an understanding of the moment which undercuts its importance and diminishes it's scope to little more than a personal milestone in the glittering success story that is Barack Obama's life. But this isn't true. The primary importance of Barack Obama's reelection is that it gives America some small hope of escaping the tentacles of big monied interests, of returning to some degree to a more rational understanding of the country and the world, to a development of Federal policies attune to the lives of real people, both here and everywhere in the world.

Such policies are harder and harder to achieve. They are anathema to the forces that entirely control the Republican Party, and these same forces control far too much of the Democratic Party as well. The worst thing a liberal voice could do, on Tuesday night, was to contribute to the false narrative, to essentially join hands with the neanderthals. Certainly Matthews didn't develop his "point" into the purple regions of Matalin and Limbaugh. (Check out the oft quoted Matalin rant at National Review if you've a steady stomach; Limbaugh is so bent on a return to chauvinism that it really does raise legitimate questions about his personal psychology in regard to women, and this tends to obscure his usual role in the conservative reconstruction of obvious realities.) But Matthews didn't need to do the developing. There were others a plenty for that effort.

No, Matthews was ashen-faced yesterday, during his apology, because he was twisting in the wind. And the question had to be raised, at least in the minds of his fellows at MSNBC. Whose side is this guy really on? And that would be a problem for a golden boy. Just look at poor Juan Williams.

By the way, at Huffington Post, from whence the photo of Mr. Williams was perloined, there was an adjoining headline noting that Fox News ignored Hurricane Sandy in favor of constant puffery on their Benghazi narrative, which they aim no doubt to inflate into impeachment proceedings if at all possible. Mr. Matthews succeeded at the least in reminding Fox that the Hurricane is also a player.

[photo from Huffington Post]

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