Friday, November 5, 2010

Olberman Sidelined & More Notes on Obama's 2010 Election Debacle

In This Issue:

- Olbermann placed on indefinite suspension without pay
- More Notes on Obama's 2010 Election Debacle


The main stream media (MSM) likes to pretend that they don't have a political agenda. To support the myth, they love to fire or suspend moderate to slightly left-leaning commentators like Juan Williams and Keith Olbermann, as if they are not American citizens with the right, as commentators, to give their opinions regardless of who they work for, or have no right to donate to the political causes of their choice, even when the commentator's alleged purpose is, in fact, to offer political opinions. FoxNews, NPR, Viacom, and MSNBC are nothing if not political--both rabidly political Fox News' Glenn Beck and Viacom's Jon Stewart have both held political rallies in Washington D.C. with no adverse reaction, Fox New's Hannity has been obnoxiously political, and NPR's subtle support of both wars, Jewish issues, and of course Israel, have brought little reaction from the press or any corporate entity. NBC did a terrific job of coaxing the American People into war with Iraq. But to be sure, these occasional human sacrifices are nothing more than window dressing for their myth (bullshit that seems to work in this case) of being non-partisan, objective, and unbiased MSM outlets. (see below concerning Olbermann)


If Olbermann's Donations Are Bad, What About GE's?

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been placed on indefinite suspension without pay in the wake of a Politico report (11/5/10) that revealed Olbermann had donated $7,200 to three Democratic candidates, in violation of NBC's standards barring employees from making political contributions.

A journalist donating money to a political candidate raises obvious conflict of interest questions; at a minimum, such contributions should be disclosed on air. But if supporting politicians with money is a threat to journalistic independence, what are the standards for Olbermann's bosses at NBC, and at NBC's parent company General Electric?

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle (most coming from the company's political action committee). The top recipient was Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman from Ohio. The company has also spent $32 million on lobbying this year, and contributed over $1 million to the successful "No on 24" campaign against a California ballot initiative aimed at eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations (New York Times, 11/1/10).

Comcast, the cable company currently looking to buy NBC, has dramatically increased its political giving, much of it to lawmakers who support the proposed merger (Bloomberg, 10/19/10). And while Fox News parent News Corp's $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association caused a stir, GE had "given $245,000 to the Democratic governors and $205,000 to the Republican governors since last year," reported the Washington Post (8/18/10).

Olbermann's donations are in some ways comparable to fellow MSNBC host Joe Scarborough's $4,200 contribution to Republican candidate Derrick Kitts in 2006 (, 7/15/07). When that was uncovered, though, NBC dismissed this as a problem, since Scarborough "hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter." Olbermann, of course, is also an opinion journalist--but MSNBC seems to hold him to a different standard.

Two years earlier, the Washington Post reported (1/18/04):

NBC chief executive Robert Wright has contributed $8,000 since 1999, including $3,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $1,000 to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Andrew Lack, a former NBC News chief, gave $1,000 to Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) while NBC president, and Wright contributed $1,500--after the House committee Tauzin chairs held hearings on the networks' election night failures. NBC spokeswoman Allison Gollust said the network allows its executives to make contributions and that Wright "does not make any decisions specific to news coverage."

Wright, however, was reported in a recent New York magazine piece (10/3/10) to have told then-NBC News chief Neal Shapiro to move to the right of Fox News in response to the September 11 attacks: "We have to be more conservative then they are," the magazine quoted Wright.

MSNBC's treatment of Olbermann is also in sharp contrast to Fox News' handling of Sean Hannity, who was revealed by Salon (9/23/10) to have given $5,000 to the campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.), a Tea Party favorite--without Fox expressing any public disapproval. Hannity has allowed Republican candidates to use his Fox program for fundraising (Mediaite, 10/17/10); as Salon noted, Hannity was this year's keynote speaker at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual fundraising dinner.

If the concern is about how giving money to politicians threatens journalistic independence, then companies like NBC should explain why their parent companies can lavish so much money on political candidates or causes with no concern about conflicts of interest or the need to disclose these donations to viewers. The lesson here would seem to be that some of the workers shouldn't make political donations, but the bosses are free to give as much as they'd like. Anyone who watches Olbermann's show knows what his political views are. So what do the far larger contributions from GE tell us?

Ask NBC and MSNBC to explain their inconsistent standards regarding political donations.

Petition: Put Olbermann Back On The Air NOW!


MSNBC President
Phil Griffin

NBC News President
Steve Capus

Phone: (212) 664-4444


Keith Olbermann Special Comment On Health Care Reform


Rep. Alan Grayson: "Bipartisanship Has Become Code Word for Appeasement"

In the wake of the Democrats’ midterm losses, President Obama has said the way forward lies in finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans. But Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, who lost his seat in Florida’s 8th District, says that the losses suffered by incumbent Democrats are an outcome of the party’s "strategy of appeasement." We talk to Rep. Grayson about the 2010 elections. [includes rush transcript]


Rep. Alan Grayson,
(D-Florida), representing Florida’s 8th District. He just lost the midterm elections to Republican challenger Dan Webster.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday, President Obama described the scale of the Democratic defeat in the midterms as, quote, "humbling." But he added that the way forward lies in finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Over the last two years, we’ve made progress. But clearly, too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And as president, I take responsibility for that. What yesterday also told us is that no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here, that we must find common ground in order to set—in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, not everyone feels that compromising with Republican demands is the best option for Democrats—among them, Congressman Alan Grayson. He lost his Democratic seat in Florida’s 8th District to Republican Dan Webster this week. Congressman Grayson says that the losses suffered by the Democrats are an outcome of the party’s, quote, "strategy of appeasement." Congressman Grayson joins us on the phone right now from Florida.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Your thoughts on your defeat this week?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, my defeat was part of a wave across the country that had Republicans winning because Democrats didn’t vote. We have the results from the pre-election turnout; we don’t have the results from the Election Day turnout yet. In my district, when you compare that to 2008, the Republican turnout in the early voting was down by 20 percent, and the Democratic turnout in early voting was down by 60 percent. And that wasn’t true just in my district; that was true all around Florida and pretty much the whole country, except for the West Coast and New England. And as a result of that, virtually every Democrat who won in 2008 by less than ten points loss this year. There was only one exception out of twenty-four. And there were forty-four more Democrats who won by more than ten points in 2008 who managed to lose this year, because their Democratic voters didn’t turn up. It’s not a situation where Democrats—Democratic voters decided to vote Republican; it’ a situation where Democratic voters didn’t vote. And when Democrats don’t vote, Democrats can’t win.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why did so many people stay home, in your estimation?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: I think it’s because the Democratic leadership has failed to deliver to core constituents of the Democratic Party the thing that the Democrats wanted when the Democrats had sixty votes in the Senate, 59 percent of the House, and control of the White House. That’s my view of it. We didn’t vote on the Employee Free Choice Act. We didn’t vote on immigration reform. And we controlled the agenda. This isn’t a situation where we had votes and loss them in the House or the Senate. We simply didn’t bring up these matters of crucial importance to various elements of the Democratic coalition, when we had complete control of the agenda and enough votes to pass anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grayson—because you are still a congressman—you said on the floor of the House—you unveiled your, where you laid out the number of people who would die because of lack of healthcare. Can you talk more about that?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, I think that the right-wing continues to be in denial about this basic fact that over 40,000 people die in this country each year because they have no healthcare. If you take two people who are absolutely identical—same age, same gender, same race, same smoking history, same weight—and one of them has health insurance and one of them doesn’t, the one who does not have health insurance is 25 percent more likely to die each year. So the result of that is that we have forty-odd thousand people around the country who die without healthcare, a hundred in my district alone. We have 100,000 people in my congressional district who have no health coverage, almost half of whom are Latinos, by the way, because while Florida has the second-highest rate of people without health coverage in the country—20 percent—among Latinos in Florida, it’s 40 percent. And you have people dying because they don’t have healthcare.

And I sit in amazement and watch Republicans and right-wingers obsess over whether to build a Muslim health club in Lower Manhattan, while we see our health standards dropping precipitously, day after day, month after month, and year after year. We are now fiftieth in the world in life expectancy, just above Albania, which is fifty-first. After Albania went through a half-century of Communist dictatorship, we’re right on par with them. You know, particularly in the area of health, by objective standards, time after time, you see us dropping in international rankings, but also in the areas of education and the areas of income. In every area that you can think of, the American numbers keep dropping. And we keep being preoccupied by—what the right requires is really crucial questions like "Where is the President’s birth certificate?"

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grayson, just on this issue of healthcare, you said on the floor of the House that the Republicans’ healthcare plan involved wanting people to die quickly, apologizing to the dead and their families that, as you said, we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, I mocked the absence of a Republican healthcare plan. What I found was that when the President came to speak to us about healthcare, the Republicans claimed to have a plan, and they waved it around on the floor of the House, and it turned out that what they were waving around was actually blank pieces of paper. So, I felt that was worthy of a speech and gave a speech and pointed out that what the Republican healthcare plan amounted to was "Don’t get sick." And that’s still true. I have yet to hear a single suggestion from any member of Congress who is a Republican about what to do about the 40 million Americans who have no health coverage. To this day, they have not come up with a single plan or even idea about what to do about all these people in America who can’t see a doctor when they get sick.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yet now, you have the reality that with the Republicans controlling the House, the likelihood of being able to get any of the progressive planks of the Democratic Party through Congress become dimmer. How do you—how do you—what’s your counsel to those Democrats who are still there, because obviously the Progressive Caucus didn’t lose as many—nearly as many folks as did the Blue Dog Democrats, how they will move—how they should move forward in the next two years?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: By exposing the Republicans as obstructionists who have no solutions to anyone’s problems. You know the words "bipartisanship" and "cooperation" have become code words for "appeasement" and "capitulation." We gave the Republicans over a hundred amendments to the healthcare bill. They remained implacably opposed to it. Not one Republican member ever said to anyone in the Democratic Party, "If you give us X, Y, and Z, then we’ll vote for this bill." Instead, they took X, Y, and Z as concessions on our part and then voted against it anyway. And this is something that the American people just don’t seem to see or understand, because we don’t publicize it.

I saw effort after effort after effort for the past two years, in the silliest ways possible, to keep matters from coming up to a vote and to stall and to procrastinate and to prevaricate on the right-wing side, and they were never exposed for it. I remember one day, we had the largest number of votes in history in a single day. We voted from morning until late at night. And the reason for that is that every time we had a vote, the Republicans insisted on a recount. So we ended up, instead of having something like thirty-five votes, we ended up having something like seventy votes, simply because the Republicans literally wanted to waste our time, asking for a recount every single time on every single vote. I lived through that. I didn’t see it on Fox. I didn’t see it on CNN. But I had to live through that, knowing that the Republicans were consciously wasting our time, stalling, hoping to drag it out, and not being called to account for it. And I can give you other examples, too. There was one day when dozens of Republicans pretended to have forgotten their voting cards, so they’d all have to vote by hand, and every five-minute vote became a thirty-minute vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressman Alan Grayson, some might say now—and we only have a minute—that you certainly could not be accused of being an appeaser, but you also were defeated. So, other Congress members might take the opposite lesson from your approach. Your War Is Making You Poor Act, you did attract fifty co-sponsors, introducing the Medicare You Can Buy Into Act, that would allow people under sixty-five to buy into Medicare. You went for it, but then you lost your job.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, everybody did. I mean, if you look at how things went last time, of the thirty-four Democrats—sorry, of the twenty-four Democrats who won by ten points or less—and I won by four points last time—of the twenty-four Democrats who won by ten points or less, twenty-three of them lost. And this is true of Blue Dogs, new Democrats, the progressives. If you lost by—if you won by ten last time or less, you lost this time, with only one exception. And then, in addition to that, another forty-four Democrats lost last time after they won last time by more than ten. The neighboring congressman to my east won by fifteen points last time, lost by twenty points this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you run again?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: A thirty-five point swing in two years.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you run again?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Oh, I don’t know. If people want me, then they can have me. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Congress member Alan Grayson, speaking to us from Florida. He represents half of Orlando.


It Was the Banks
by James K. Galbraith

Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve[actually, "nerve," "audacity," & "courage" He also says: "There is an alternative: Mr. Obama can take a stand . . . It’s time for him to try something different."]. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy's failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure - to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy.

As Krugman rightly stipulates, Monday-morning quarterbacks should say exactly what different play they would have called. Paul's answer is that the stimulus package should have been bigger. No disagreement: I was one voice calling for a much larger program back when. Yet this answer is not sufficient.

The original sin of Obama's presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 [by the Bush administration] under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail - with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.

But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced "stress tests," plainly designed so as to obscure the banks' true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was "to get credit flowing again."

The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed - until the fact came out that they'd so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.

But new loans? The big banks had given up on that. They no longer did real underwriting. And anyway, who could qualify? Businesses mostly had no investment plans. And homeowners were, to an increasing degree, upside- down on their mortgages and therefore unqualified to refinance.

These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at "bailouts." They also underlie the economy's failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 - 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn't working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers, with his own record of deregulation, could hardly complain.

To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn't rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them [my emphasis].

President Obama didn't see this. Or perhaps, he didn't want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know about who he really is.

James K. Galbraith teaches at UT-Austin and is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too .


The Obama Postmortem
An Autopsy of a Political Suicide

By Ted Rall
[see link in title above for links within article]

November 04, 2010 "Information Clearing House"

It’s the day after the Republican sweep we all knew was coming. If Obama had any dignity, if he was honest with himself and with us, he would resign. It’s abundantly clear that he isn’t up to the job.

But you don’t become president by being honest or dignified. So now it’s wound-licking time. The President and his cronies are comforting each other. “It’s not your fault the economy sucks,” a Yes Man reassures Obama, sinking his heels into the new Oval Office carpet. “It was like that when we got here.”

Do they scratch him behind his ears? They should. It feels nice.

“It was the poor economy—not the wisdom of the Republicans’ ideas or the brilliance of their tactics—that assured they would retake control of the House,” coos MarketWatch’s Rex Nutting. Which is true. And doesn’t matter. Democrats are taking solace in history. It’s the midterms! The party that holds the White House always loses seats in Congress. Look at Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. They suffered midterm defeats, then roared back to landslide reelection wins two years later. Not to worry! The voters will vote against the other party next time! Which is also true. And also doesn’t matter.

In the broken-down shambles of the excuse for a political system we have in the United States, there’s only one stage
of grief: denial.

Barack Obama may well be reelected in 2012. Considering that the current GOP frontrunners are Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, the odds favor him. But the Obama experiment is effectively dead. There will be no change, and so there is no hope.

Remember what happened to Clinton after the “Republican Revolution” sweep of 1994? He spent 1995 locked in a bizarre “co-presidency” with House Speaker Newt Gingrich before figuring out that his “partner” was more interested in obstructionist sabotage than bipartisanship.

Obama is heading down the same bloody path with John Boehner.

But Clinton did get that second term. During which he accomplished many things, such as…um…well, he did get impeached. Does that count?

I don’t understand why presidents want to get reelected. No president since FDR has gotten much done after his first term. Must be an ego thing. Either that, or it’s cool to have your own chef.

If Obama was going to shine, it was going to be during 2009. Elected by a sizable margin with an undeniable, media-backed mandate for change during a severe economic crisis he could exploit to push through his agenda, Obama also enjoyed the rare luxury of a Democratic House of Representatives and a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic Senate. So what does he have to show for that marvelous gift? Three major items:

One: a healthcare overhaul that increases premiums and insurance company profits, and doesn’t include the public option he and everyone else said was absolutely essential. The good news is, the Republicans will probably repeal or defund this monster before it takes effect.

Two: a financial reform package no one knows about. Which is just as well, since it doesn’t crack down on the banksters.

Three: more dead Afghans.
They’re not much, but I hope Obama is proud of them. That’s as good as he’s going to get from now on. What killed the Obama presidency? Political suicide. There were several death blows:

First and foremost, the economy. 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans told exit pollsters that the lack of jobs was their number-one issue. Obama never proposed a jobs program. He gave trillions of taxdollars to thieving banksters who ought to have been arrested instead, then tried to pass off this outrageous giveaway as economic stimulus. To make things worse, he stuck with an impossibly absurd argument: more people would have lost their jobs without it.

Even if the phony stimulus stopped things from getting worse—and it didn’t—people don’t care. They want the 20 percent of Americans who already lost their jobs—their friends, spouses, children and parents—to find new ones. Obama never addressed that.

He didn’t even try.

Second, he alienated his base. He didn’t even know who his base was.

Obama’s campaign was a potent mix of vague pabulum (“hope,” “change”) and, when he deigned to specify, center-right specifics (stop torture but expand the war against Afghanistan, bipartisan cooperation with the Republicans, no gay marriage, etc.). The problem was that the vagueness that helped him cobble together a winning coalition of leftist and independent voters made it impossible for him govern. Leftists got turned off when he doubled down in Afghanistan and refused to close Guantánamo; independents are notoriously fickle anyway.

If Obama’s advisors had been smart, they would have recognized two truths, one old and one new. The old truth is that the safest time to deliver to your base is the first year of a presidency; the passage of time allows the anger of the moderates to cool in time for the next election. The new truth for Obama was that his base comprised liberals who actually disagreed with much of what he stood for but had paid more attention to the “hope” and “change” posters than to his platform. He didn’t understand that.

Moreover, the world changed between September and November of 2008. Global capitalism collapsed. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes during the next year. Wall Street, bankers, big business, the golden boys of the previous century, were discredited—but unpunished for their countless sins. By mid-2009 America had become a left-wing country, not in the media but among the citizenry, telling polls that their preferred economic system was socialism.

Team Obama didn’t understand that. They still don’t.

The inarticulate rage of the inchoate Tea Party caught the president by surprise. Neither Obama nor the political clones that form his center-right cabinet can see that in a binary political culture anger gravitates to the opposite pole. If Obama were Republican, the Tea Party would be identified with the left. The takeaway is anger, not ideology. People are pissed. They hate the bailouts, but the bailouts aren’t the main point. More than anything else, the American people are angry that their government doesn’t even pretend to give a damn about them.

Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is .

Media Misreading Midterms
As usual, press urge a move to the right

With the Democrats suffering substantial losses in Tuesday's midterms, many journalists and pundits were offering a familiar diagnosis (Extra!, 7-8/06; FAIR Media Advisory, 2/3/09): The Democrats had misread their mandate and governed too far to the left. The solution, as always, is for Democrats to move to the right and reclaim "the center." But this conventional wisdom falls apart under scrutiny.

For months, the problem for Democrats was correctly identified as the "enthusiasm gap"--the idea that the progressive base of the party was not excited about voting. The exit polls from Tuesday's vote confirm that many Democratic-tending voters failed to show up. How, then, does one square this fact with the idea that Obama and Democrats were pushing policies that were considered too left-wing? If that were the case, then presumably more of those base voters would have voted to support that agenda. It is difficult to fathom how both things could be true.

But reporting and commentary preferred a narrative that declared that Obama's "days of muscling through an ambitious legislative agenda on [the] strength of Democratic votes [are] over" (Washington Post, 11/3/10). "The verdict delivered by voters on Tuesday effectively put an end to his transformational ambitions," announced Peter Baker of the New York Times (11/3/10).

Some thought Obama's post-election speech was still missing the point. As the Washington Post's Dan Balz put it (11/4/10), Obama was "unwilling, it seemed, to consider whether he had moved too far to the left for many voters who thought he was a centrist when he ran in 2008." On CNN (11/3/10), David Gergen said, "I don't think he made a sufficient pivot to the center today. He has to do that, I think, through policies and through personnel." Gergen went on to cite Social Security "reform" as an ideal way to demonstrate he was "taking on his base."

The Washington Post's David Broder (11/4/10) advised Obama to

return to his original design for governing, which emphasized outreach to Republicans and subordination of party-oriented strategies. The voters have in effect liberated him from his confining alliances with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and put him in a position where he can and must negotiate with a much wider range of legislators, including Republicans. The president's worst mistake may have been avoiding even a single one-on-one meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell until he had been in office for a year and a half.

USA Today's Susan Page noted before the election (10/29/10):

During his first two years in office, Obama often acted as if he didn't need a working relationship with congressional Republicans. With big Democratic majorities in Congress... he could court a few moderate Republicans such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe in hopes of peeling off a GOP vote or two to block a filibuster or give legislation a bipartisan patina.

This view of Obama's politics meshes poorly with reality. Much of the Democrats' maneuvering over the healthcare bill, for example, was devoted to trying to find any Republicans who might support it, stripping out elements of the bill--such as the public option--that were drawing more enthusiasm from the party base. (A true single-payer plan was rejected from the beginning.) The dramatic escalation of the Afghan War was a major disappointment to the progressive base, along with Obama's embrace of nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. And critics on the left often expressed disappointment with the White House's timid approach to Wall Street reform and economic stimulus.

Yet after the election, it was difficult to find TV pundits who would argue against the media conventional wisdom about an agenda that was too left-wing. Instead pundits were offering plenty of suggestions for Obama to move even further to the right--Time's Joe Klein recommended building more nuclear power plants (FAIR Blog, 10/29/10) and Washington Post columnist David Broder floated a war with Iran to boost the economy and promote bipartisanship (FAIR Blog, 11/1/10).

Bill Clinton, whom media likewise counselled to move right after heavy midterm losses, was frequently held up as an exemplar: "If there is a model for the way forward in recent history, it's provided by President Bill Clinton, who established himself as more of a centrist by working with Republicans to pass welfare reform after Democrats lost their grip on Congress in 1994." (Associated Press, 11/2/10). The advice to move to the "center" was accompanied by reporting and analysis that wondered if Obama was even capable of doing so. "Obama has not shown the same sort of centrist sensibilities that Mr. Clinton did," explained the New York Times (11/3/10).

Of course, Clinton's first two years were centrist--and a disappointment to his base, seriously dampening Democratic turnout in the midterms (Extra!, 1-2/95; FAIR Media Advisory, 11/7/08). And the "Clinton model" failed to build broad Democratic electoral success.

Meanwhile, the pundits had right in front of them, in the sweeping Republican victory, an example of how a political party can organize a comeback--not by moving to the center and alienating its base, but by "using guerrilla-style tactics to attack Democrats and play offense" (New York Times, 11/4/10).

The Economy, Stupid

Much of the election analysis sought to ignore or downplay what was inarguably an election about unemployment and the state of the economy. Reporting that sought to elevate the federal budget deficit (FAIR Action Alert, 6/24/10) as a primary issue of concern served as a diversion--and drove the election narrative into Republican territory, where rhetoric about "big government" and cutting federal spending were dominant themes. "If there is an overarching theme of election 2010, it is the question of how big the government should be and how far it should reach into people's lives," explained the lead of an October 10 Washington Post article. There was little in that article--or anywhere else--to support that contention.

With the economy the overwhelming issue for the public (Washington Post, 11/3/10) the media should have led a serious discussion about what to do about it. Instead, there was a discussion that mostly adhered to a formula where the left-wing position was that nothing could be done to improve the economic situation (when the actual progressive view was that a great deal more could have been done), while the right offered an attack on federal spending but was never required to offer a coherent explanation of how such spending eliminated jobs. As the New York Times' Baker (11/3/10) framed it: "Was this the natural and unavoidable backlash in a time of historic economic distress, or was it a repudiation of a big-spending activist government?"

There were some exceptions--MSNBC interviews with top Republican officials on election night (11/2/10), for instance, revealed that many could not offer a coherent plan for reducing spending or the budget deficit. This should have been a larger part of the media's coverage of the election.

Who Voted?

Some election reporting and commentary treated the results as if they represented a dramatic lurch to the right. As Alternet's Josh Holland noted (11/3/10), reporting like a New York Times article that talked of "critical parts" of the 2008 Obama vote "switching their allegiance to the Republicans" distracted from the main lesson--that many Obama voters of two years ago did not participate in 2010. Republican-leaning voters, on the other hand, did. That fact, along with the disastrous state of the economy and the normal historical trends seen in midterm elections, would seem to provide most of the answers for why the election turned out the way it did.

But much of the media commentary wanted to turn the election into a national referendum on the new healthcare law or the size of government. The exit polls provide some clues about the sentiment of voters, but the lessons don't seem to fit neatly into those dominant media narratives. Asked who was to blame for the state of the economy, most picked Wall Street and George W. Bush (USA Today, 11/3/10). As a New York Times editorial noted (11/4/10), "While 48 percent of voters said they wanted to repeal the healthcare law, 47 percent said they wanted to keep it the way it is or expand it--hardly a roaring consensus."

Some attention was paid to the exit poll finding that 39 percent of voters support Congress focusing on deficit reduction--which would appear to lend some credence to the media message that voters cared deeply about deficits. But the same exit polling found 37 percent support for more government spending to create jobs. Given that polling of the general public shows stronger concern about jobs--the New York Times reported (9/16/10) that "The economy and jobs are increasingly and overwhelmingly cited by Americans as the most important problems facing the country, while the deficit barely registers as a topic of concern when survey respondents were asked to volunteer their worries"--if anything, this finding serves to reinforce that citizens energized by Republican talking points were the ones who showed up to vote (FAIR Blog, 10/18/10).

In the end, the elections were covered the way elections are often covered--poorly. As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research put it (Politico, 11/2/10), "Until we get better media, we will not get better politics."


US Mid-Term Elections:
The Death of Hope and Change

By Andy Worthington

November 04, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- To be brutally honest, those of us concerned with “national security” issues (indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo and elsewhere, trials by Military Commission and accountability for the Bush administration’s torturers) and foreign policy (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) could tell by May 2009 that “hope” and “change” were dead in the water.

Whereas Barack Obama had never disguised his desire to step up the military occupation of Afghanistan, while scaling down operations in Iraq, he had promised — or had seemed to promise — a thorough repudiation of the detention policies at Guantánamo and Bagram, and the coercive interrogations and torture that had stalked their cells and interrogation rooms.

However, although he promised to close Guantánamo within a year and to uphold the absolute ban on torture in a series of executive orders issued on his second day in office, fine words were followed by months of inactivity, as a cautious Task Force of career officials from government departments and the intelligence agencies was convened to review the Guantánamo cases.

By May 2009, with Republicans seizing on the President’s court-ordered release of a notorious series of “torture memos,” issued by Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, as a demonstration of his untrustworthiness on national security issues, a fundamental change occurred.

The reviled Military Commission trial system for Guantánamo prisoners, which Obama had suspended on his first day in office, was reintroduced, as was indefinite detention without charge or trial as an official policy, even though this was the heart of the Bush administration’s program, and even though progressive supporters of the President had presumed that there were only two options for the remaining prisoners: federal court trials, or release.

This was followed by another deeply unsavory official policy — resisting any more embarrassing disclosures about the Bush administration’s torture program by inappropriately invoking sweeping “state secrets” privileges, as, for example, in the case of five men subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, who sought to sue Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing subsidiary that had operated as the CIA’s torture travel agent.

There were also several other disgraces: fighting a court order providing new homes on the US mainland to Guantánamo prisoners (the Uighurs) who had won their habeas corpus petitions but who could not be repatriated (to China) because of the risk of torture in their home countries; fighting a court order extending habeas corpus rights to a handful of foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram from other countries; preventing the release of any cleared prisoners to Yemen after a hysterical overreaction to the news that the failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was recruited in Yemen; replacing the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies with drone attacks on Pakistan; and approving the assassination of US citizens anywhere in the world.

Although Republicans in Congress — and cowardly members of Obama’s own party — bear considerable blame for the descent into paralysis of those few parts of the President’s bold promises that he had not already undermined voluntarily, the end result of the last 21 months of cowardice and compromise is that, on foreign policy and national security issues, there was little positive momentum that a shift of political power in the mid-term elections could actually erode.

That said, losing control of the House of Representatives guarantees that anything the administration might have still contemplated doing — standing up to critics and insisting that, as announced a year ago, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks will take place in federal court, or moving any of the Guantánamo prisoners to a prison on the US mainland — has no chance of happening at all, making the United States a slightly gloomier place than it was before the mid-term elections.

Moreover, given the deepening of Obama’s paralysis that this signifies, it also makes it seem less, rather than more likely that the President and his party will be able to do anything meaningful to lure back the progressive base that helped secure victory in 2008, in time for the 2012 Presidential election, unless, by some miracle, someone decides to try to rein in the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex as an economic necessity (if for no other reason).

That, however, sounds too much like “hope” and “change,” which, to reiterate, are dead in the water in America today.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.

Copyright Andy Worthington

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