Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why I Blog: A Declaration of Principles

Some comments on my recent post about the sadness of 20 years of Rush Limbaugh on the radio struck me as thoughtful and even helpful. I started writing a response in the comment section and thought, what the heck, I’ll just bring it out here for all to see. Why? Because I can.

Many of my regular commenters like to engage in amateur and, methinks, not well-intentioned psychoanalysis. For instance, my complaints about Limbaugh, they say, are not based on an honest concern about the poisoning of public debate, but rather arise out of "jealousy". Not only that, I am accused of speaking out of a "bulbous, bloviating head". Setting aside for a moment the fact of my 99th percentile size-8 noggin (lucky guess, Anony), I think it might help if I kind of set out what I am trying to do here on this blog; my Declaration of Principles, as it were, although I’m no Charles Foster Kane.

A couple of my recent commenters had some appreciation for my occasional forays into music writing (which is how I got my foot in the door at the Daily Cardinal in the summer of ‘79), but don’t appreciate the political stuff. "There's never any light or joy here," says a regular, Patrick (I don’t think this is the guy from Badger Blogger, but who knows), "except when Plaisted writes about music."

No light or joy? Really? I'm trying to make this blog thingee as entertaining as possible -- my perspective in writing has always been to write something that I would want to read. But I do try to do it with a sense of humor, at least. I think some of the targets of my barbs don't have one, but that's another story.

Besides the exercise of writing, which I love to do, my focus in getting out here and making some noise for the last couple of years is to expose and confront tactics and substance of the right-wing echo-chamber. I really do think that the phenomenon of having right-wing advocacy on the radio, nation-wide, 24/7, with the messages largely being driven (until recently, but maybe still) by Karl Rove's shop is a bad thing, and not just because it’s right-wing. The predominance of one side’s message – a primary focus of which is taken up with falsely defining the other side and its message – on the publicly-licensed radio airwaves that still have an influence and power over and above other media (especially in the captive-audience automobiles of our increasingly mobile society) is unprecedented. It skews not only the political discourse, but also the coverage of straight news organizations, who think they need to suck up to the targeted angry-white-male demographic by lending credence to wing-nut-fabricated "issues’ they would otherwise rightly ignore.

In my mind (and on my blog), the mere existence of the highly-disciplined echo-chamber is an issue in itself (and, by the way, it has never been denied). Another regular commenter, Another Tosa Voter, regularly complains that I keep talking about the right-wing’s "talking points" instead of "real issues". But, see, this is primarily a media criticism blog – the consistent use of GOP talking points by their radio and blog sycophants is a legitimate thing to discuss and criticize all by itself, both from the angle of the GOP’s blatant manipulation of the all-too-willing media figures and from the angle of the media’s willingness to be so manipulated, from the on-air "personalities" to the station managers that hire and schedule them every minute of every day (well, except for the home-and-garden show on Saturday morning).

For instance, let’s take Barack Obama’s off-hand comment last week about tire inflation being one way to get better milage out of your cars. Before the words had barely left his lips (and well before his campaign staff got done slapping their foreheads, knowing that the phrase would be taken out of context), the RNC was out with orders to play the comment as some kind of out-of-touch gaffe. Every radio head and every right-wing blogger was too happy to oblige (and never mind that what Obama said was true and good advice). You couldn’t miss it, which is the point of its broad distribution. It is designed to become another chink in Obama's armor, the death of a thousand cuts, the shot-gun approach for a Republican Party that is wrong about everything.

But we on the left don’t play that. Another "for instance" – yesterday, John McCain suggested his wife might enter the Miss Buffalo Chip contest at a drunken motorcycle rally in South Dakota. Which, by all accounts about the contest itself, means that he was offering for Cindy McCain to flash her tits at a topless beauty pageant. Far be it for me to wax sanctimonious about any of this (I have taken my shirt off on a stage before and, I’ll tell you, it’s not pretty), but this incident is interesting on a couple of levels.

First of all, if we lefties were taking talking-points from somewhere, every last one of us would be holding McCain up to public ridicule for even alluding to such a thing. However, even if we did, we wouldn’t have the power of the public airwaves to spread the smear. But, yes, we are better than that. We respect our audience more than to think they are going to be manipulated by such crass bottom-feeding, and we are not going to burn down McCain just to raise Obama. And it’s not because we don’t have to.

Secondly, there is my favorite party game, What If A Democrat Did It? Can you imagine if Obama had said the same thing about Michelle? The talking-point would go out to use it to ridicule the Obamas, speculate about what Michelle may have done to extract retribution behind the scenes afterward (after all, the castrating bitch story line worked so well against the Clintons), squawking about how such a thing runs counter to the feminist agenda and, ooo, this is going to piss off the Hillary supporters, etc. I mean, I can write this stuff for them myself, it’s so damn predictable. There would be no end to it.

This is the kind of stuff I’m fighting against. I usually have something like 200 hits when I post something and, if my encounters on the street are any indication, it is a quality 200. If I can use my little forum here to move the needle one way or the other in this national discussion, that’s great. But my goal here is to expose lies and tactics. The radio wing-nuts posing as jolly "entertainers" for gullible newspaper columnists have debased political discussion in the country and locally, virtually unchallenged, for many years now. It's way past time they be recognized for who and what they are. I'm here to help.


John Foust said...

Obama's dead-on with his tire-gauge recognition that there are conservatives out there who are willing to ignore facts in order to generate ridicule. They're not all that way - I think your average Ducks Unlimited or Pheasants Forever conservative takes a more traditional approach. They understand that some resources need to be managed. They understand that small adjustments can have long-term effects. They understand the traditional value of frugality, living within your means, not wasting what you don't want, and conserving what you do. Measure. If your MPG drops, figure out why. Get a tune-up.

There's another stripe of yahoo who thinks it's fun to ridicule suggestions of conservation and frugality - flipping the bird while accelerating their SUV to pass a Prius, in effect. Obama's right - it's anti-intellectualism. Why does one type of conservative not speak out against the other? I believe it was my Dem Assembly rep who told me "Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line."

Us size 8 must have extra brains. Badger Herald, '83-85.

Prosqtor said...

The Republican Party is wrong about everything? Really? Wow, now I see the error of my ways -- I too simply must join the movement!

Obama's not always right, and it would serve him well to have a dose of humility -- instead of the "We are the ones we have been waiting for," "this is the moment the oceans began to stop rising," and "this is the moment the earth began to heal."

About a month and a half ago you believed Senator Clinton to be the superior choice -- and now you're drinking the MSNBC / Oprah / Kool-Aid, and spouting the same tired attacks in the same tired way.

When you type things like "...a Republican Party that is wrong about everything," you look like just another Olbermannesque blowhard.

If this is a "media criticism blog," why not lend some balance to the sheet and criticize the left's media for nearly fellating Obama? Or criticize the New York Times for running an op-ed by Senator Obama and then denying Senator McCain's submission? Why not actually criticize "the media," instead of "my perception of right-wing media"?

Anonymous said...

To Mike the entire media (save Huffy, Daily Show, MoveOn, etc) is slanted heavily to the conservative movement that is "poisoning" this country. If Mike had his druthers he would silence them all and only allow that which he agrees with since his view is the only acceptable and accurate view.

Mike Plaisted said...

John: Badger Herald, huh? Was W.F. Buckley still paying the bills back then? Either way, seems you've come arond...

Prosqtor: Yes, the Republicans are wrong about everything...can I make this judgement or not? If not, why not? Both parties are representatives of the corporate state, but at least the Democrats try to do something good for the country while they serve corporate interests. I have my differences with Obama, as I did with Clinton, but, so what? Either of them are far superior to any Republican, much moreso McCain, who, since he sold out, is just Bush-lite.

Excuse Obama for having hope in his goals, what they might accomplish for the country and the ability of people working together the accomplish them. I've never seen a politician attacked so much for lofty asperations. He has plenty of humility -- knows the road will be rough, especially with Republican nipping at his heels with all sorts of irrelevant name-calling and whatever personal crap they can find or invent.

It's not "drinking the Kool-Aid" to believe in Democratic principles and goals. And I'm not going to play the right-wing game of marginalizing any media or group that happens to find an effective voice. The only thing MSNBC has done is widen the acceptable range of political discussion (used to be wack-right to center; now, it's wack-right to moderately liberal) and get an entertaining figure out there (Olbermann) with a consistently liberal viewpoint. All MoveOn has done is mobilize from the grass roots and get independent messages out there. You can criticize substance and methods, but there is no basis to demonize them, and you do just to marginalize them. Can it be that we are just better at playing traditionally right-wing grass-roots and message games than you are? And it hurts, doesn't it?

The media is not "felaciating" Obama -- if they were, they would have their mouths too full (sorry - your imagery) to repeat diversionary nonsense from the McCain camp (like the tire inflation nonsense). The New York Times was trying to get McCain to fix what was basically his standard anti-Obama rant in his op-ed and actully address the issues -- McCain's handlers decided not to try to fix it and used the non-rejection to smear the NYT and make McCain look like some kind of media victim. What a joke -- McCain has gotten more free backrubs from the media than Obama ever will.

Anony: My "druthers" are not to silence anybody but to see right-wing strategies and messages for what they are. If, after being so exposed, they crawl back in their dark hole, that's fine with me. But it's actually a bit more fun to have them out here in the open where I can smack 'em around a little bit. Such easy targets.

John Foust said...

Never got to meet Buckley, and because I was a bit too libertarian and not a card-carrying Republican, they didn't invite me to the annual trips to party at Joe McCarthy's grave, or the concealed-weapon-carrying tours of Cabrini Green.

Mike Plaisted said...

I figure there were some litmus tests to weed out the unclean...

Prosqtor said...

Spellcheck broken, Mike?

If you're going to quote me ("felaciating"? Really?), at least spell the word right.

The Republican Party is wrong about everything? At least you're now on record twice about that.

I love this tactic, which is appearing regularly, much like my "movements" after I read your screeds: "I'm above the fray just like Senator Obama, so I don't mention that McCain ________________." Would that actual questions were asked of both of these candidates.

I'm far from a McCain supporter, so attacks on him are not going to affect me much. It's the loving treatment of someone with almost no governing experience that scares me. Particularly when that person avoided most controversial issues in the state legislature with "present" votes, and no real legislative accomplishments in the US Senate. Jumping on board unanimous-consent measures doesn't count.

As Senator Clinton said, though, he gave a nice speech in 2002.

Mike Plaisted said...

Yo, Prosq, I don't have spell check in my comments section. I'm not sure it would have helped me with felatio as a verb, anyway. Don't be so touchy.

No governing experience, eh? Well, it's about as much as Bush had as figurehead governor of Texas, an office someone else ran for him anyway. Not that Bush is a model for this sort of thing.

As with all presidents, the important thing is who he has around him. I think Obama is likely to govern with the type of people who are his camapign issue advisors now, which are for the most part pretty non-controversial down-the-middle Clinton administration veterans - and that's a good thing, especially in a time of picking up the pieces.

So he gets a strong chief of staff, sets directions and goals and leads the country into the post-Bush cleanup. The only question is whether he stops reading My Pet Goat and gets back to work in the middle of the next crisis. Bet he does.

"Loving treatment"? By who? You know what, this is a pretty heady time, knowing that the Bush disaster is about to run out of time, no matter who the Dem nominee is. America has the right to be relieved, excited and, yes, inspired about the end of the Stupid War, the restoration of common sense and civil liberties, the end of government for sale, a real crack at universal health care, etc. The GOP scheme appears to be to treat those who would believe in badly-needed, yes, change as naive suckers blinded by the Light, like they don't know any better.

And the alternative is, what, exactly?

AnotherTosaVoter said...

So the point of your blog is to complain about the political process. Funny thing is that I agree with your central, if wrongly one-sided thesis, that a political party engages in manipulative and idiotic tactics to win elections. Your point about the right going berzerk over Obama's tire pressure remark is something with which I whole-heartedly agree: with the parties and their hack followers it's never about the merits, it's about how to use everything against the enemy.

The problem Mike, and I've said this before and you have yet to respond to it, is that neither the left nor you are much different. You complain about talking-points driven arguments, yet every single one of your posts contains buzzwords and arguments I can find on a thousand other left-wing blogs. "Stupid War", "Big Oil", "Wing nuts", on and on and on and on.

So the right has talk radio and, according to you, the rest of the major media. The funny thing about the "MSM" Mike is for all the complaints from people like you and Owen Robinson about it's biased against them, I never see you or Owen Robinson or any other hack gloating about how the MSM is in their pocket. That, along with my experience in government in dealing with the media, tells me you're both wrong (as you are on just about everything else). The media is not "in the other guy's pocket", the media is out to make money by selling stories which means it's biased towards controversy.

Now sure, talk radio leans right. So what. Last I checked the FCC did give Air America permits to use our public airwaves, and last I checked it had major dinero backing it, and last I checked it failed. So what. That means a lot more people listen to talk radio and the sponsors and therefore the money followed suit. Your message didn't sell on that medium, that's all that happened. If Mark Belling had as few people listening to him as Randi Rhodes, he'd be off the air. There is no conspiracy, that's just the way it works.

Anyway right wing talk radio isn't really the issue, so let's wrap up this long-winded treatise.

I wonder if, at some point, you'll actually admit that you fight talking points with talking points, that manipulative and idiotic arguments are made by partisans on both sides, and that partisanship and ideology by definition are shortcuts to thinking that would be best avoided.

That last part would require you to admit your ideology problem, and to start addressing issues in a manner that doesn't make you look like a petulant 9 year-old, just like Fraley or Robinson often look.

Mike Plaisted said...


Thanks for another thoughtful post.

I think there is a difference between people who happen to say and believe a certain set of principles, using some of the same words along the way, and tightly-disciplined messangers who are following a daily script. Right-wingers who sign up to diseminate the RNC's daily talking-points (that, after all, is what they call them) are not in any way original thinkers who are just spouting their opinions. They are, mostly, unoriginal hacks who are playing a role in a campaign.

Lefties, on the other hand, wouldn't follow a script if you gave it to them and half of them would expose you as the manipulative fraud you are. Unlike right-wingers, if someone has said something once, they move on to something else. Do we use some of the same words? Sure -- but I wish people would use "Stupid War" more, not less.

I also disagree that lefties "use everything against the enemy" like right-wingers do -- we don't. McCain makes gaffes every day and they are mostly ignored. Look at Obama ads and compare with McCain ads. Obama talks directly about issues and McCain takes cheap shots. So, I disagree that both sides are doing the same thing. We're not.

The right doesn't "have" the MSM, but the MSM is way too patronizing to them. They take them seriously when they should be laughing. I do hold the MSM to some responsibility for the Iraq fiasco -- they looked the other way and pretended diplomacy was bing given "one last chance" when they knew that the Bushies were going to invade no matter what. By not taking sides, they sometimes preclude themselves from speaking the truth -- that's why it was such a shock when Cronkite called bullshit on Vietnam and Watergate.

Petulant 9 year-old? Well, either you like the style or you don't. I do come from a position of outrage as to what Bush has been able to get away with the last 8 years. I think their control of the message through mainstream radio and other willing lackeys had a lot to do with it.

So, will I admit that I "fight talking points with talking points"? No. That "manipulative and idiotic arguments are made by partisans on both sides"? Well, that's bound to happen. That "partisanship and ideology by definition are shortcuts to thinking that would be best avoided". Well, partisanship for partisanship's sake is not helpful, although it is embraced as gospel by the right. As for ideology, I don't see anything wrong with having a consistent world view that informs your thoughts about the world - I think it's healthy, in fact. I don't see anything wrong with making basic choices -- war bad, civil liberties good, lies bad, truth good, etc. Also, as far as ideology is concerned, flexibility is good, rigidity is bad.

I think what it really comes down to is whether you come to a political discussion in good faith. Are we going to honestly try to figure out the facts on the ground and talk about the best course, or are you going to start calling me names?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AnotherTosaVoter said...

Mike, I disagree with your opinion that somehow only you on the left base your argument on genuine convictions while those who disagree with you are by definition brainwashed automatons. You cannot possibly believe that – it’s too foolish a generalization to have any credibility.

I come from this angle: most of you partisans genuinely believe some of the things you spout. I say “some” because in the end almost all of you develop your opinions on issues based on what your collective ideology tells you to believe. Sure, you both have your “core principles”; but when it comes down to a specific issue the lot of you develop your arguments collectively, which is why I see the same buzzwords on your site as on any other left-wing blog.

This is to be expected – few if any of you have either the expertise to generate an effective opinion on an issue, nor the time to do so. Public policy issues are complex and few of us have all the facts, so we look to our ideological coequals to tell us what to think.

Take energy for instance is a vastly complicated issue. Different sources, different players, different technologies, and an extremely complicated market with all sorts of variables. You on the left are opposed to corporate profits and opposed to environmental degradation (unless it’s overseas, for some of you). Those on the right like the first and care much less about the second. So you both turn to talking points – “big oil”, “envirowhackos”, “energy independence”, “windfall profits tax”.

The sad part is that you’re both so equally partially right and partially wrong. There is nothing wrong with corporate profits if they’re generated legally and ethically. The windfall profits tax has been tried and it failed to meet any of its goals. We cannot drill our way out of this problem, and common sense says it’s time to start looking for an alternative.

But you’re all so wedded to your side that you won’t listen to the other side’s arguments to sift and winnow. Instead, you have an emotional attachment to your side. Attachment to party and ideology is like any other emotional attachment that helps people feel good because they belong. You feel good because you’re fighting the “other” who you identify as evil.

I made an analogy on my blog a while ago that I still like: there are two public policy toolboxes, one liberal and one conservative. You people would rather argue over which toolbox to use than open them both up and see which tools actually fix the problem.

My problem is that I dallied in both sides. I was a liberal until it became plainly obvious that keeping a President in power was more important than supposedly feminist ideals and that no amount of taxpayer money was ever enough. Then I tried conservatism, sensing my core principles of government competence, fiscal responsibility, and openness to effective policies would be welcome there. All I found was rabid anti-intellectualism and valuing loyalty over competence.

Watching the past two Presidential election cycles and other elections has cemented my belief that partisanship and ideology are pointless, pathetic exercises in emotional neediness. Working in government further cemented this opinion – the simple fact is, there are some things government cannot and should not do; but you need the money and competent leadership to make it effective at the things it can and should do.

Tell me which party believes in that. The answer is neither.

Sure, you liberals are a little more diverse in your partisanship, but there is no noticeable difference in your willingness to seek merit instead of conflict.

When I talk about you arguing like a petulant child, I am referring to your writing style, not you personally. It’s obvious that after a few go-arounds in the comments sections of this and other blogs that you eventually argue in a mature manner. I’m just not sure why you can’t apply that to your blog postings. Can you put away the buzzwords, talking points and faux desperation and just discuss an issue rationally?

Prosqtor said...

Sounds like a bunch of buzzwords and talking points, ATV.


Mike Plaisted said...


I don't know if you are still paying attention to this thread, and I apologize for the late response. I've kind of been on a quasi-vacation this week.

The problem in addressing what you are saying is as it often is in this blog/comment back-and-forth - I refuse to accept your definition of me specifically and lefties generally as rigid and ideological. Some are and that's their problem. But most are not - they are practical people, looking for nuanced solutions.

Maybe I can take a couple of your points and expand on it:

1) "...somehow only you on the left base your argument on genuine convictions while those who disagree with you are by definition brainwashed automatons..."

I think some people on the right have "genuine convictions". But I also think they are much more disciplined and willing to speak in lock-step to reach their goals, especially those with a microphone or a blog presence. They also often have one thing we don't have -- a profit motive. Many people on the right are well-paid to take the positions they do and many of their positions, not coincidentally, favor the pocketbooks of the people paying them, whether it's supporting tax cuts for the rich, spouting oil company talking points about global warming or whatever. I don't think people like this are brainwashed -- I think, to the extent they know better (and many of them, like Charlie Sykes, do), they are, well, whores. Sorry, tried to find a different word, but nothing else fit.

2) "You on the left are opposed to corporate profits and opposed to environmental degradation..."

I'm not opposed to corporate profits, but there is such a thing as taking undue advantage of a situation and monopoly behavior. Take the oil companies -- please. To say they have nothing to do with the speculators that have driven up the cost of oil is ludicrous. And, who says the windfall profits tax "failed" previously? The fact is that the pil companies manipulated prices by not using the leases they already had until the price was driven up. Now that it is as high as it is, they claim to want to drill everywhere. I bet, if they get the offshore and ANWAR rights they want, they'll sit on it until the price goes even higher. Again, the profit motive skews the policy discussion.

3) "...there are some things government cannot and should not do; but you need the money and competent leadership to make it effective at the things it can and should do. Tell me which party believes in that. The answer is neither."

I disagree. The effective management of government is exactly what the Democratic party is all about, and they proved very good at it during the Clinton adminstration. The current Republican party does not beleive in governemnt -- it seeks to destroy it. That's why they have created the enourmous deficit -- to bankrupt the government so it can't do anything. David Stockman admitted as much during the Reagan years. I also think, contrary to right-wing talking points, the Democrats do not see government as an answer to all problems.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

I'm sorry Mike but you are the last person to whom I would look for nuanced solutions, because quite simply every solution you offer is straight out of the left-wing playbook. Perhaps when you finally offer some kind of policy solution, or even idea, that does not fit perfectly into far-left orthodoxy, then I will look to you for nuanced policy ideas.

I think you are right, to a small degree, that the right is more disciplined in its message. That's because the left is a hodgepodge of coalitions - people who care about gays, or feminism, or poverty, or environmentalism, or anti-capitalists, or whatever. Your coalitions do not always fit neatly together, especially when you comically argue over which of you are the bigger victims of alleged societal boogeymen.

The right has only three real coalitions, and they fit neatly together on many issues - defense hawks, religious loons and anti-taxers.

But the end product, evidenced by your blog, is basically the same. Nothing but the same old talking points, from which you fail to differentiate yourself in any noticeable way. Big oil, windfall profits, Bush as evil, yadda yadda yadda.

In other words, you claim that you on the left are ever so original compared to the right but there is no evidence to back that up whatsoever.

Your answer #2 is the perfect example - nothing but leftist orthodoxy in response to a very complex and nuanced issue. The oil companies don't drill on those permitted areas because exploration has shown there is very little oil that would be profitable to extract, whereas oil in offshore areas would be cheaper to get.

The windfall profits tax did fail. It was projected to bring in $227 billion - it brought in about 1/6th that amount. It led to more imports because it created a tax advantage for foreign suppliers.

Read this:

Ignore the "republican" in the address because CRS in nonpartisan - that just means it was posted by a Republican.

Your third point is laughable. The Clinton Administration did a decent job of managing the bureaucracy but not a great job. And the liberal policymakers in the governments for which I have worked have been far less interested in good management and fiscal responsibility than in the same thing as conservative hacks: protecting and rewarding their constituent groups. I've seen them defend union jobs and programs that support them that had absolutely no business existing. I've seen them protect jobs that could be provided by the private sector for less than half the price - showing that the interests of their constituent groups are of more importance than the interests of the taxpayer.

I say this as a dedicated public employee who favors privatization only in the most appropriate of circumstances: my job is NOT a priority. Providing a service the taxpayers want at the best price IS.

Seriously Mike, can you provide me one simple example where you deviate from liberal orthodoxy? Can you show me one policy area where nuance suggests a conservative point of view makes the most sense?

You've already basically said your side has a license to the truth, hence there is no nuance.