Gene Lyons: Outrage and scandal are media exaggerations
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Some days I wonder if I’m qualified to express opinions about American politics anymore. See, I’m not particularly angry, and I also doubt that voters in general are any more worked up than usual.
Voter outrage is mainly a media trope. Even at Donald Trump rallies, there’s a whole lot of sheer entertainment and play-acting.
Not that make-believe outrage can’t have actual, even deadly, results. But does anybody really believe Mexico will pay for Trump’s imaginary wall? Not really, but it makes people feel daring to play ”let’s pretend.”
Sure, it’s a presidential election year, and people do get excited. However, people also work themselves into temporary frenzies over the NCAA basketball tournament, but everybody shows up for work after their team loses. Thankfully, for most Americans, politics is a lot more like sports than civil war.
Back during Bill Clinton’s first term, I often suspected that what was really bugging the Rush Limbaugh listeners was that they spent so much time stuck in traffic.
Writing at Bloomberg.com, Jonathan Bernstein puts it this way: “My view is that Trump is doing well precisely because things aren’t particularly bad for the U.S. right now. In difficult times, voters take their responsibilities more seriously, and wouldn’t embrace the buffoonery of a reality-television star.”
Following a posting on Mother Jones by the invaluable Kevin Drum that shows job openings and salaries rising, consumer optimism improving and gasoline prices way down, Bernstein adds that “the Obama years haven’t resulted in recession, soaring inflation or a foreign misadventure with major American casualties — in other
words, anything that produces serious political reaction.
“Barring that, an entertainment version of politics has some appeal,” he writes. ”And Trump puts on a good show.”
And people do like a show. Not for nothing was Trump inducted into the professional wrestling Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, the feigned horror of establishment Republicans who sought Trump’s approval even as he flogged the absurd fiction of President Obama’s birthplace in Kenya fails to convince.
Remember The Donald’s claim that private detectives he’d sent to Hawaii would soon bring back shocking evidence about Obama’s birth certificate? Never happened, of course. But it was left to the president himself to lampoon Trump to his face at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney said not a perishing word. None of them did. Too late now.
Eric Sasson at The New Republic expresses similar skepticism toward the idea of angry, alienated Democratic voters. If people are so sick and tired of establishment politicians, he wonders, how come Hillary Clinton’s doing so well?
“The voter we almost never hear about . . . ” he notices, “is the Clinton voter. Which is surprising, since Hillary Clinton has won more votes in the primaries than any other candidate so far. She has amassed over 2.5 million more votes than Sanders and over 1.1 million more votes than Trump.”
Indeed, Hillary’s lead over Bernie Sanders is far greater at this point in the cycle than President Obama’s lead over her in 2008. Despite his supporters’ near-heroic inability to face the arithmetic, those are the facts.
Sasson continues: “We never hear that Hillary Clinton has ‘momentum’ — what she has is a ‘sizable delegate lead.’ No one this cycle has described Clinton supporters as ‘fired up’ — it’s simply not possible that people are fired up for Hillary. No, what we gather about Clinton from the press is that she can’t connect. She has very high unfavorable ratings. People think she is dishonest and untrustworthy. She is not a gifted politician. She is a phony. Hated by so many.”
Hated, but winning handily. How can that be? Granted, there’s a lot of brutal rhetoric directed against Hillary Clinton from Sen. Sanders’ more impassioned supporters, many of whom appear ignorant of the fact that they are recirculating propaganda fomented by the right-wing industry dedicated to slandering both Clintons for going on 25 years.
It was The American Spectator that first dubbed Hillary ”The Lady Macbeth of Little Rock” — that is, an accomplice to murder — back in 1992.
Meanwhile, no less an authority than Jill Abramson, until quite recently the editor of The New York Times, has essentially conceded that the newspaper has never given Hillary Clinton an even break.
In a remarkable interview in Politico, Abramson doesn’t quite admit that Times-created ”scandal” narratives from Whitewater through the current hullabaloo over her State Department emails have been somewhere between wildly exaggerated and pulp fiction.
But she does talk about how “we . . . expect total purity from a woman candidate.” Abramson adds that “Where I think Hillary Clinton faces . . . certainly more of a burden is that the controversies she’s been in are immediately labeled, you know, ‘travelgate’ or ‘emailgate’ . . . if you actually asked people what about any of these controversies bothers them, they don’t know anything specific about any of them.”
Well, no kidding.
In my experience of scandal monitoring, that’s because there’s nothing specific to know.
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