Shortly after Obama completed his tour of the Middle East and Europe a few weeks ago, I was chatting with a European friend who at one point made a curious statement.
He said, “I don’t see a chance Obama will loose the election”.
Instantly, I was struck by his confidence, for nowadays the last thing on my mind — and the minds of all my offline friends — is the notion Obama has the election in his pocket. I cannot think of even one person with whom I’ve discussed it who deeply believes Obama has much more than a even chance of winning. Those of us who support Obama are at best “cautiously optimistic”.
Of course, I am only speaking of my circle of friends here. I’m sure there are many Americans — somewhere there must certainly be many Americans — who think like my European friend that Obama can’t loose. But I don’t know those people. The only people I myself know are at best guarded in their optimism.
So, I explained a bit of that to my friend, which prompted him to demand what was going on with us Americans. Was it really possible we could vote for McCain? Could McCain actually win? My god, were we a nation of idiots?
I’m afraid I was forced to concede the short answer was “yes”. There are quite a few Americans — even quite intelligent Americans — who, when it comes to politics, are de facto idiots.
Come November 4th, Americans will vote for McCain in the millions. To be sure, some of us who will vote for McCain on that date will have sound reasons to vote for him. But many — so very many of us — will vote against our own values and interests when voting for him. So, yes, if a “political idiot” is someone who votes against his or her own values and interests, then indeed America is full of political idiots.
Now, the hard part, it turns out, is explaining why that’s the way things are in America. Simply put, there are numerous causes for it. Some of those causes are present not only in America, but I assume, are present everywhere in the world — since fundamental human nature is everywhere the same. But I decided to tell my friend about just one cause — and that cause is arguably more in force in America than in most other places.
I think anyone who has not lived in America, and yet who wishes to understand American politics, needs to take into serious consideration the role the traditional American media plays in systematically turning Americans into political idiots. I’ve heard the traditional media in most Western European countries is independent, insightful, and diverse. But that’s not how any knowledgeable person is most likely to describe the traditional American media.
On the contrary, in America, it is only a myth the traditional media is independent, insightful, and diverse. Instead of being independent, most of the traditional media is owned by a mere half dozen or so large corporations. Instead of being insightful, most of the traditional media is factually wrong on important political issues. And instead of being diverse, most of the traditional media is right of center by world standards. All of that has been amply documented.
Of course, I cannot do the subject justice in a brief blog post, but there you have the problem in a nutshell. Or, at least, you have the surface of the problem in a nutshell. One of the major causes of political idiocy in the United States is the traditional media’s systematic — and largely unchallenged — distortion of truth.
To take a minor example: The media has been portraying Obama as moving towards the center of the political spectrum in recent weeks. But by world standards, Obama even at his most liberal was in many ways center right. So, by world standards, he has not been moving towards the middle in recent weeks — he’s been moving further right. Yet, the American media portrays Obama as a leftist, and sometimes a dangerous leftist.
It turns out that is a systematic distortion on the part of the media. Real leftists get almost no coverage or exposure in the traditional media. Consequently, they are almost invisible to the majority of Americans who rely on the traditional media for most or all of their news. Instead, the media pretends the center is the left; the center right is the center; and the far right is the right.
Through what amounts to a con, a whole segment of the political spectrum has been marginalized in America and it’s positions deemed too radical to be politically viable.
Moreover, given that distorted view of the political spectrum, John McCain can plausibly claim to be a moderate. By world standards, he is of course far right, and his vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin, is radical right. Yet, because the media distorts the political spectrum in this country, McCain can not only plausibly claim to be a moderate, but he can plausibly claim Barak Obama is a leftist. “Leftist” is almost a dirty word here, and so that claim can have a great impact on many voters.
Now, all this talk of left, right, and center is just a comparatively trivial example of how the traditional American media systematically misleads the American people. The point, however, is the traditional media systematically misleads voters in such numerous and meaningful ways that quite many Americans will vote against their own values and interests come November. They will only think they are voting for someone who represents their values and interests.
The irony in all this is it’s arguable Americans are more frustrated today with the way things are going than they have been in many decades. And yet, millions of those frustrated Americans will vote for more of the same.
There seem to be many reasons why that will happen. But surely one of those reasons is the traditional media’s systematic distortion of facts. So, I reckon I’d answer my European friend with this: Yes, you can see Americans as political idiots, if you wish, but would not any people anywhere be political idiots if they had been as systematically and cunningly lied to by their media as Americans have been? Put differently, if you give someone a false road map, can you really blame him or her for getting lost?