The Echo Chamber

Hot angry conservative anchors on FOX News
Hot angry conservative anchors on FOX News

Preaching to the Choir Till They're Frothing @ the Mouth

Let’s ramp up the anger some more. That’s just what this country needs – an intensified adrenaline rush of certainty that “our side” has a monopoly on insight, wisdom and truth. As the Glenn Becks and Ed Schultzes gird their loins for another day of energizing, no make that enraging, their respective ideological fan bases, their cronies jump in across the talk radio dial, and via television’s Fox News, MSNBC, and even the Comedy Channel. By comparison, C-SPAN, the cable network that airs actual Congressional debate, seems almost apolitical.

The widening political polarization in this country isn’t a completely new phenomenon by any means. Burr murdered Hamilton two centuries ago; Brooks caned Sumner on the Senate floor prior to the Civil War. But these worst-case scenarios provide no sort of partisan litmus test for our time. After all, when these sordid events occurred, slavery was still legal and women couldn’t vote. Today’s ideological divide is far more choreographed by media personalities than by any rogue politician, and the current “angry media” trend can be traced back to the early 1990s.

The Bill Clinton years fueled Rush Limbaugh’s initial surge to national fame, or infamy, depending upon one’s political inclinations. Clinton had that certain “je ne sais quoi” that the conservative media just plain loathed. Serial infidelity? The “I feel your pain” empathy? Whitewater? Hillary? Smoking dope but not inhaling? The ability to win elections? All of the above combined to foment a hatred for and a disrespect of a sitting president not witnessed since a disgraced Richard Nixon limped through the Watergate scandal before ultimately resigning.

How likely would Clinton’s dubious impeachment have been without the media of the right lambasting his mere existence, along with his every indiscretion? Undoubtedly, Clinton proved to be a ridiculously easy target for the self-appointed matrons of morality who yearned for his political head. Clinton’s insatiable extra-marital appetites were the ammunition that the GOP, via Ken Starr, fashioned into a perjury charge in the Paula Jones case. Many conservatives, perhaps encouraged by prominent media voices of the right, seemed to believe that adultery itself was an impeachable offense. In fact, the Constitution deems that a “high crime or misdemeanor” be necessary to consider removing a president from office. The resulting impeachment trial drove a further wedge between what appeared to be a fundamentalist, Middle American/ Deep South conservative base against a more secular, largely coastal and urban liberal core.

Following Clinton’s foibles, Texas governor George W. Bush ascended to the presidency promising to be a “uniter” who practiced “compassionate conservatism.” In his debates with Al Gore in 2000, Bush repeatedly referred to being able to “work across the aisle” with Democrats. The bitterly contested election results, most notably in Florida, flew in the face of such non-partisan pledges. The 9/11 attacks temporarily united the parties, but then the run-up to and subsequent invasion of Iraq led to new depths of political division. “Red and blue states” were among the media distinctions emphasized during the Bush years to describe the increasingly divided political terrain.

At the same time, the media chasm between the left and right became more entrenched. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart utilized, or masked itself, (again, depending upon one’s leanings) with humor to relentlessly criticize the Bush administration. Remember Dick Cheney shooting his 78-year-old hunting companion in 2006? Stewart and Steven Colbert garnered weeks of material from that unfortunate episode. More serious subject matter, such as Halliburton’s role in Iraq and the “Scooter” Libby CIA affair, received daily scrutiny through such programming as well. Moreover, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the drunken japes of the twin daughters, and most of all Bush himself, provided endless fodder for Keith Olbermann, Schultz, Stewart and other voices of the left. Concurrently, The Huffington Post emerged online as the left’s alternative to the right’s more established Drudge Report.

However, the media of the right was in no mood to take this liberal browbeating lying down. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel unleashed its big guns, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, more prominently, and more often, into the prime time spotlight. Limbaugh continued his conservative barrage via the radio airwaves.

Enter Barrack Obama and the anger stakes have been raised on both sides of the great media divide. MSNBC now rivals Fox News as the de facto television mouthpiece of the left. Moveon.org paved the way for a spate of increased partisan activity on the internet.

The ideological chasm grows as tolerance to opposing views declines. Town hall meetings and “tea party” rallies turn from surly to surreal, with octogenarians threatening grievous harm upon one another. Congressman Joe Wilson has the temerity to yell “You lie!” at the president of the United States during a nationally televised speech. The depths get deeper.

All right, so you’re good with the trip down political memory lane. Likely I’ve taught you little you didn’t already grasp. You had some idea that the contemporary media had exacerbated its split into left and right camps. And, as opposed to merely reporting the news, over the past two decades, the news organizations and personalities now tend to increasingly shape news events (see the “tea parties” of the right or actions prompted by moveon.org on the left). My point isn’t to debate the merits or lack thereof of an increasingly politicized media, however. My point is that this trend hinders thought, inhibits consensus, promotes intolerance and is generally cancerous to the American body politic.

Never Ending Echoes

The British rock band Yes wisely counseled “Don’t surround yourself with yourself” in their 1971 anthem, I’ve Seen All Good People. Sage advice. Increasingly, however, it goes unheeded by the rapacious consumers of political content in this country. It has become imminently possibly, convenient even, to confront nothing but the views we already embrace twenty-four hours a day. By jumping from print media, to radio, to television, to the computer, one need never be confronted by positions that challenge their own views.

Let’s try it for both sides. Say, a person leans to the right. They wake up and read The Wall Street Journal, on the way to work listen to Limbaugh, check The Drudge Report over lunch, hit some G. Gordon Liddy on the radio heading home, and then curl up on the couch with Beck, O’Reilly and company from Fox News. Bedtime reading? Find your copy of Ann Coulter’s Godless: the Church of Liberalism. Tomorrow, do it all again.

Now for a left leaner. Breakfast with the New York Times, commute to work with NPR, hit The Huffington Post at work while the boss isn’t looking, find Schultz on the dial for the afternoon commute, watch Stewart around dinner time and have a nightcap of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” If you can’t sleep, reread any Rolling Stone editorial about Obama or find your copy of Al Franken’s Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them. And yes, tomorrow promises the same unfettered liberal bacchanalia.

Anger Management

A functioning democracy can be defined by the art of compromise, the ability to reach consensus between competing interests. In other words, to govern effectively, the Republicans and the Democrats need to work together as much and as well as possible. To help facilitate this, liberals and conservatives alike might consider dialog as preferable to a shouting match. While this admittedly makes for a far less dramatic media spectacle, it would inversely promote a more successful political forum.

My political leanings tend toward the moderate left. But I always enjoyed considering William Buckley’s political views, for instance. I read The Wall Street Journal, National Review and even listen to Limbaugh upon occasion. Hearing alternative views to my own interests me and potentially inspires thought and discussion. In any event, it provides a new political lens from which to perceive the events and ideas of the day.

I suspect some of you are cringing. And I get it. Anger is habitual, addictive, a comforting cloak. Believe me, I know. But the way toward better public policy - be it health care reform, economic improvement, or foreign affairs - isn’t through retrenchment. The ever-widening divide between the ideological camps has played out into boorish behavior, predictable rancor, and political gridlock. Thus, we might be well served by attempting to reduce the distance, and the palpable angst, that separates the two ideological camps. The most logical and persuasive evidence for doing so? Look around.

Comments 15 comments

Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 7 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

Excellent hub, but unfortunately most people already have their minds made up, so don't confuse them with the facts.

Cheers!

Chef Jeff


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

good hub thanks


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 7 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Thanks to you both. I appreciate it much.


Matt Wright 7 years ago

Keith,

Thanks for the article. A few observations to consider from your more than a lean right-wing friend:

- If you look at the timeline circa early 1990s, Limbaugh was extremely successful in his syndication before Clinton took to the airwaves.

- I also deplore the rancor and the shouting. However, I think there is merit to "letting a 1000 flowers bloom" in media. I tend to limit myself to people who I can trust to report to me whom I believe share my core principles. Do you think this is too narrow? My intention isn't to stifle good input. With so little time to dedicate to TV, radio, etc., it is to improve the quality of that which comes in. In other words, a person who has different political philosophy at his/her core is not someone whom I care to waste my time with. Example: I already know Olberman would consider me "The Worst Person in the World" if he knew me so why bother. Interested to hear your thoughts on that.

- Recongizing that I'm biased here, I believe that many of the left leaning Democratic leader's idea of compromise is: "Give up your principles and come stand over here where I am and then we can be bi-partisan." Not saying that the right doesn't react in the same manner, but from my point of view it hasn't been the same. To wit: No Child Left Behind (Bush working with Kennedy), Medicare Rx Drug benefit, immigration reform (Bush again w/ Kennedy although it failed). That versus Bush attempt to reform Soc. Sec. being met with utter stonewalling from left.

Good thought provoking article.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 7 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Thanks for reading and for your considerable input here, Matt. I like having smart people read my stuff and react, as you did. Food for thought - your comments - and it's a way to talk and not "shout," so it beats the status quo. PS- I wasn't sure about Limbaugh - I knew him from KC radio years before.


Hobbsie 7 years ago

Kudos Mitchell. People need to hear this repeatedly and you put it eloquently. I don't have to try to consume to mainstream media left/right debate. It's scripted, passed through the ranks, and the storyline develops at the pace of a soap opera. Looking beyond the curtain through multiple administrations patterns emerge. The course seems much more unified than the mouthpieces would ever have us believe. We are all capable of critical thinking. The best successes in our history happened when liberal and conservative thought came together. Why do we have this elaborate dog and pony show where we are spoon fed and inflamed? Let's investigate everything from all angles. We might find we are not a divided country once we all venture down the rabbit hole.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 7 years ago from Indianapolis Author

I heart you, Hobbsie. The "dog and pony" show permeates everything - especially the policy making process - to our detriment.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 7 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

Matt Wright, the key word for me in what you wrote was "report", as in, tell the story, not the opinion. So many in talk radio, both Right and Left, give opinions out as if they were fact. That needs to be taken into consideration before using any talk radio information as "fact".

Cheers!

Chef Jeff


Bobby J 7 years ago

Good to hear you've landed on your feet, man, and a thought-provoking article as well.

I agree with you that media pundits of every political stripe are a big part of the problem, but an intellectually lazy populace and selfish political figures are just more poison in the well.

People watch talking heads that they agree with because it makes them feel comfortable and validated. They'd rather have an obviously skewed version of events spoon-fed to them than take the time to read the facts as they stand and draw their own conclusions.

As for the politicians, biased media make the business of reelection easier by twisting listeners into receptacles that will readily accept whatever soundbytes and stimuli they're fed. The actual business of running the country is just secondary. Furthermore, injecting honest, intellectual debate about the facts -not just blindly spewed rhetoric and vitriol, but honest, fact based conversation between equally matched authorities- would force them to explain complex concepts to a largely uninterested public and swing the conversation in a direction that they can't control. Not to mention that a conversation like that makes for boring television (see C-Span).

Unfortunately, as long as regurgitating whatever someone's heard on TV or the radio passes for "being up on politics" and shouting down anyone that disagrees passes for "political argument" there's no reason for media or politicians to abandon the formula. It simplifies their jobs and keeps them very, very wealthy. Watchdogs of the Republic indeed. It makes me sad... not Herm era Chiefs sad, but sad all the same.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 7 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Bobby J: Thanks much for the enlightened feedback. You reading this validates the efort to write it. A real treat to get your feedback.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 7 years ago

As a person who leans toward the "moderate left", please tell me how you feel about radicals advising this President. Van Jones was a disaster, Anita Dunne admires Mao and Cass Sunstein's views are off the charts. I could keep on going, but I think you get my point. As far as anger is concerned, its presence never adds any good to the discussion. I appreciate and welcome opposing points of view, as long as they don't get personal and stay on point. Great hub....


Frank B 7 years ago

I couldn't agree more. As a conservative who fears a move toward government control of our daily lives, it's important to realize how members of both parties have facilitated our present, scary scenario. One can simultaneously respect, support, criticize, and question the same politician, policy, and agenda. While trust in public figures has waned, researching topics from multiple, divergent sources is as important, and necessary as ever if one wants to paint the most accurate picture possible. This blog was fascinating...and the best part was...you used the word "cronies" in the first paragraph...and quoted "Yes" to boot! Keep 'em coming!


jsmith 7 years ago

"The constitutions of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves;

that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property and freedom

of the press." Thomas Jefferson

I am a big fan of the third President of these United States.


JD 5 years ago

That is a well written hub. I loathe most political commentators. You know that I am fanatically independent. Too many people allow themselves to be pegged left or right, which both hardlines are hypocritical. You either believe in Freedom and the Constitution, or don't. You can't just cherry pick the parts you like. I get tweets from Drudge and the Huffington Post. I enjoy Stewart, Savage, Maher, and Alex Jones though because they are ideological but not partisan. Both parties are fair game. Political commentary is bread and circus as long as you're not talking about who is creating the money? Try zerohedge.com and thedailybell.com.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 4 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Last three commentators: Cronies and Yes, Frank - any time. Smitty, you boggled me but I need to be boggled more often. Jefferson to me was/is a study in contrasts. Slaveholder who espoused personal liberty. Didn't believe a pres had power to purchase land from a foreign gov't, bought he bought Louisiana Territory anyway, etc. JD: More and more I consider who is behind the power....as in, what monied interests want Romney over the field and why. I'll check out your websites. All three: thanks for reading, considering, feeding back.

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