A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is It the End of the Wingnuts?

That's what John Avlon argues:
Keith Olbermann's abrupt signoff last night [Friday] just might signify a break in the hyperpartisan media fever that has afflicted America for the past few years.
Because beneath the rumors of palace intrigue and difficult behavior stands a stark fact: Keith Olbermann's ratings were down over the past 12 months, especially among the coveted, non-shut-in, 25-to-54 demographic. He's not the only one—Glenn Beck's ratings have eroded, along with his advertisers. Sarah Palin's approval ratings have also similarly plummeted during her foray into the murky world where politics meets reality TV.
The American people are smart. They've gotten sick of the predictable hyperpartisan talking points and canned anger. This is Paddy Chayefsky's revenge—Howard Beale's appeal became real over the past years. But we've slowly come to our senses and flipped around the catchphrase, saying "you're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore."
Olbermann was the highest profile opinion anchor of the left and he used his pulpit at times in a mirror image of the professional polarizers on the right. When he attacked Democrats, it was for being too centrist, never for being too radical—echoing the RINO-hunting arguments from the right. One of his last attacks was against retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, who received a resounding “good riddance” despite actions such as shepherding the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell through the Senate. Olbermann also often let his moral outrage drag him into immoral invective, the mirror image of Wingnut gutterball politics from the right, as when he called Scott Brown “a racist, homophobic, promoter of violence against women” on air the night before the special election in Massachusetts. He called Michelle Malkin “a mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it." I had the odd badge of honor of being named one of the “worst persons in the world,” and got a repeat when the postpartisan group No Labels was named one of the worst in the world late last year. These are just blips on his list of pitchfork and torch greatest hits, which he would have gone red in the face condemning if they came from conservative opinion anchors and were directed at the liberal activist class.

So Keith Olbermann's reign at MSNBC is now over. Glenn Beck's contract is closing out at Fox and despite his popularity with the Tea Party, he's had a hard time attracting advertisers because of his unhinged exhortations, caught in a self-made trap of confusing insight with incitement. Sarah Palin's once-dreamed-of path to the presidency after cashing in post-governorship seems similarly cloudy. She might be able to win a caucus but it's mathematically impossible to win a general election when 60 percent of the electorate say they would never consider voting for you and growing numbers of conservatives say you're not ready for the job. The fact that all three of these figures were featured on the cover of Wingnuts is a coincidence. But they were chosen because they were the best-known faces of the problems I wanted to examine in the book—extreme partisanship and the cycle of incitement that was dividing our nation instead of trying to unite it. All three of them have profited spectacularly from polarization. They are part of a larger apparatus that has made our politics increasingly feel like a cult, selling Kool-Aid to the party faithful and condemning anyone who questions the ideological line as weak or worse.
These dynamics have not been defeated, not by a long shot. The two parties are still more polarized than ever before and the rise of partisan media is an important reason for it. Right now, politics follows the rules of talk radio—using conflict, tension, fear, and resentment to find new recruits. But what might be good for ratings can be bad for the country. The hard-core partisans are self-segregating themselves into separate political realities. But the majority of Americans are starting to wake up to the game and demand something different—a new Gallup poll found more than 80 percent of Americans think it's extremely important for the president and the two parties to find a way to work together on legislation.
If indeed we are entering an era where we will get some relief from the wingnuts, I welcome that development; but like fools we will continue to suffer their existence.
You can read John Avlon's entire post, "The End of Wingnuts? here.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I hope it is a return to sanity for MSNBC. If the other cable news outlets wanted to take a chunk out of Fox's audience they could try to offer the news from a position that is not so left-leaning. I turned off Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Keith Obermann a long time ago. And this is not to give Fox a pass. I hardly ever watch O'Reilley but it is not because he is a bomb-thrower. Rather he won't let his guests speak without talking over them.

IMHO ranting like Howard Beale works great on a movie but gets old night after night. One would think the poor audience numbers would have convinced MSNBC they were on the wrong track long ago. Do you think they really kept Obermann so long because they liked his ideology?