Saturday, December 13, 2003

I'm with Lynne Cheney: academics are our enemies 

I'm just going to float this out there and we'll see what happens.

The best things that could happen to the Democratic Party would be

a) The abolition of "Politics" as a collegiate academic discipline; and

b) The complete and utter demise of the "mainstream" news media.

I won't address b) here, since anyone who saw the "moderation" of the last two Democratic debates (Judy Woodruff in the former, Ted Koppel in the latter) knows exactly what I'm talking about; if you need to know more, read Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?"

In terms of a): first let me make a distinction between "academic politics" and the academic study of American government (which is obviously of huge importance) and political theory (ditto). So but C-Span aired a panel discussion yesterday, from the "New Hampshire Institute of Politics." This is how the NHIOP bills the event:
The conference brings together America's top political insiders--pollsters, journalists, party representatives, and a wide range of behind-the-scenes strategists--to discuss the most recent election and to look forward to the upcoming political season. The conference is hosted by the NHIOP, the University of Virginia Center for Politics and The Hotline.
And the panelists:

Moderator: Larry J. Sabato, University of Virginia Center for Politics
Carl Cameron, Fox News Channel
Linda L. Fowler, Dartmouth College
Mark Halperin, ABC News
Susan Page, USA Today

None of these "top political insiders" said anything shocking, unseemly, or out of the ordinary, and there was certainly nothing resembling "behind-the-scenes strategy" (no matter how edifying that no doubt would have been). In fact, none of them "said" anything. In one sense, it was almost mind-numbingly boring: recreational anesthesia for couch-potato politics junkies to nod out to.

Q: Is Dean a lock-in? (A: Probably.)

Q: Is Dean McGovern? (A: Depends on whether he's not Gary Hart or Jimmy Carter.)

Q: Is the Kerry campaign finished? (A: Yup.)

Q: Is New Hampshire still as important as everyone says it is? (A: Yup.)

Q: Will Bush win the "electoral squeaker" 51-49 or 52-48? (A: Depends on whether Dean renounces his McGovernism as moves from the "the far left" back to "the center.")

Q: Does the GOP have an absolute fuckload of money? (A: Yup.)

With straight faces, these folks referred to "conventional wisdom" as though it were something they could evaluate or critique from the outside--as though it were anything but precisely what was being generated, sustained and disseminated by the movement of their mouths.

But in another sense it was one of the most loathsome and repugnant performances I've ever witnessed. The panel was made up of tenured academics and "political" "journalists." There's little doubt in my mind that all of these panelists (except perhaps Mr. Cameron) privately consider themselves Democrats, and will probably vote for the Democratic candidate. I have little doubt that all of these panelists do (or did) have opinions, beliefs, and are capable of articulating groups of sentences that might qualify as "thoughts." Actual thoughts.

But they don't. The shit they say--and it is shit--consists of anything but those things. It's not their "professional" role to say those things. Their "professional" roles and "professional" credentials mandate, for some incomprehensible (or maybe not so incomprehensible) reason, that they say the most tepid, vacuous, safe, and seemly things possible.

They are a bunch of neutered clowns, performing for groups of people who don't care what they have to say.

This raises the question: for whose benefit do they do what they do? Does it help the "general public" better understand the stakes, implications, and consequences of electoral politics? Hardly: how much of the "general public" watches C-Span? (And if they did, why wouldn't they simply change the channel, like I should have done?) Does it benefit the panel's audience? Please. You should have seen the few instances when C-Span's camera was trained on audience faces. I saw youths--yes, the "young people of America"--who may have come to this "event" out of some budding interest in politics--I saw their faces as
pallid masks of sheer disappointment and boredom. Was anyone surprised that at the end of the discussion there was not a single person lined up at the mikes for "questions"?

Does it benefit the panelists' colleagues? Is this some kind of collegial, mutually elucidating meeting of fellow brains at work? Give me a fucking break.

The only people who "benefit" from this "discussion" are the credentialed and professional panelists themselves, some of whom (in a desperate attempt to fend off despair) may have actually deluded themselves into thinking that even if they themselves don't give a shit about what they're saying, somebody out there might.

They are whores, but whores of the worst, most insidious kind: generally good, intelligent, right-thinking people whose well-informed, balanced, safely-reasoned, mild-mannered and respectful discourse has the unintended consequence of cloaking Politics in a blanket of irrelevance if not an outright shroud of nothingness.

And these people represent the outcome of a decades-long liberal "establishment" in academia and the respected presses? Tepid, inconsequential chattering? These are the people who have been elected to guide our "serious" public discourse on politics?

To come back to the title of this post: it strikes me that conservatives' resentment of their "exclusion" from a liberally hegemonic academic establishment is sadly, painfully ironic. Yes, the reason most conservatives are "excluded" from academia is that they are simply not smart enough to succeed there. But it's probably the best thing that ever happened to their movement. Their "best minds" aren't conducting these panels on C-Span: they are out there where they should be, spreading their message loud and clear "on the ground" in the culture: on TV, over the radio airwaves, through the popular presses--all the places where they get heard by "people." And alternatively, they are pushing their agendas relentlessly in the very halls of power. They shout aloud to the masses and whisper in the ears of the power players.

And our liberal-minded "professionals"? They speak to audiences of twenty on C-Span conference panels, chattering into the void alongside their fellow "journalists" and university faculty and "top political insiders." They get their tenure. They get promotions. No one gives a shit.

Meanwhile, out there in "the world," politics is happening: the good and the bad are waging a literally life-and-death battle, leveraging heretofore unknown masses of power, money, technology and information. The only thing that may be heard above the din of official propaganda is the ersatz propaganda of meaningless printed and spoken noise. Laws are made and unmade. Bodies are blown up, citizens are bathed in poisons visible and invisible, hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars flow through secret channels. A man not elected president has been president for three years. The Republic is in the crucible.

But anyway: who wants to talk about this presidential campaign we're having?

Can Gephardt beat Dean in Iowa? (A: Nope.)


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