Democrats whine; meanwhile war rages

Posted: Apr 22, 2002 12:00 AM
In terms of intellectual discovery, friction isn't always a bad thing. The democratization of our culture - that is, the friction of diverse minds - has always favored progress. It has also accounted for political witch hunts, ersatz outrage and the standard paradigm of the anti-elitist politician - the self-righteous sounding official who slithers up to the press podium and whistles out a deeply felt diatribe about how he's prepared to fight the military industrial complex and sustain the culture and civilization. Television cameras roll. Those segments of our society who feel oppressed pump their fists in support. In a recent rendition, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) play the self-consciously self-righteous gas bags by demanding that the Republicans and their handy little war on terrorism are monopolizing the airwaves and, by implication, short circuiting the democratization of our culture. "(The administration) "has received an extraordinary level of attention and coverage of their events," griped Daschle and Gephardt in a letter mailed out to the heads of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. The letter went on to lambaste the networks for "the lack of television coverage of press events featuring elected leaders of the Democratic Party." The gripe is a serious one. Television is how politicians goad the electorate into making knee-jerk decisions. Television allows our leaders to reduce serious issues into easy to digest images. It also allows politicians to seem like at least 50 percent of the electorate (invaluable to any elected official). And the real beauty is that you don't even have to be particularly literate to understand the appeal of a television image. In short, television is the conduit to political power in America. This came clear with the first televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon. Historian and curmudgeon, Daniel J. Boorstin, identified these "great debates" as "A new kind of political quiz show ... remarkably successful in reducing great national issues to trivial dimensions." "The performance of either candidate," he wrote, "had only the most dubious relevance - if any at all - to his real qualifications. ... The great presidents in our history (with the possible exception of FDR) would have done miserably; but our most notorious demagogues would have shone. ... Finally, the television watching voter was left to judge, not on issues explored by thoughtful men, but on the relative capacity of the two candidates to perform under television stress." Now Daschle and Gephardt are complaining because the democrats aren't getting their fair chance to reduce complex political issues into sound bites and images. At least one network countered with the rousing observation that the Republicans are currently leading a war effort. "Like all news organizations, CNN makes decisions about its coverage based on the stories of the day. In covering a war at home and military action overseas, it is necessary to cover the administration making the decisions, regardless of political party," said CNN spokesman Matthew Furman. Get it? The war effort is the most important issue in American life right now. The marketplace determines the television coverage. To short circuit that process would be to make the free press beholden to the political parties, and to defeat its purpose.