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“What Fox News Has Wrought”: Roger Ailes And The Politics Of Resentment

When New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman set out to write a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, he knew that Fox’s PR machine would do everything it could to discredit him. Sherman’s answer, it seems (the book hasn’t yet been released) was to be as thorough as he could (he conducted over 600 interviews) and hire fact-checkers to pore over the manuscript. Nevertheless, what’s now beginning is essentially a political battle over the book, with Sherman on one side and Fox on the other. I would imagine that media outlets that report on it will do so in pretty much the same way they do any other political conflict. I’ll surely have more to say once I get my hands on it, but for now I want to address one thing about Ailes and Fox

This morning, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple takes Sherman to task for a portion of an interview he did with CBS This Morning in which Sherman failed to provide particularly good support for his contention that Ailes “divides the country.” In fairness, it came right at the end, and Sherman doubtless had plenty more to say. I’m not sure what Sherman’s answer is, but I’ll tell you my answer. Before that, here’s the portion of the interview:

O’Donnell: You say he’s divided the country.

Sherman: Yes, he has.

O’Donnell: How?

Sherman: Because his ability to drive a message: He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience. You know, he comes from a blue-collar factory town in Ohio, he speaks to…

Rose: So what’s the message that divides the country?

Sherman: He speaks to that part of America that feels left behind by the culture. You know, it’s the old Nixon silent majority, which is what was his formative experience.

Wemple asks, reasonably enough, “What’s divisive, after all, about understanding what ‘resonates with a certain audience’? What’s the problem with speaking to Americans who feel ‘left behind by the culture’?” What’s divisive is the way Fox does it.

And the way they do it is through resentment. You have to remember that the typical Fox News viewer is a 70-year-old white guy who wants America to get the hell off his lawn. Fox feeds him resentment like it was the water of life. When he tunes in to O’Reilly or Hannity or any of the other Fox shows, he can bathe in resentment, of anyone who doesn’t look like him or think like him. All of his troubles and our nation’s troubles are their fault, he’s told again and again and again. They aren’t just wrong, they’re trying to destroy everything he holds dear. What we need in office are people who will crush them like bugs, and what we need on our TV screens are people who will stand up to them and shake a fist in their despicable faces.

But wait, you say, don’t liberals do the same thing with their rich-hating class warfare? Don’t they peddle resentment too? The difference is that when liberals talk about things like inequality, there’s a policy agenda behind it. They want to do things that would lift the fortunes of the non-rich, like raise the minimum wage or empower workers or enhance educational opportunities.

The resentment that Fox peddles, on the other hand, is agenda-free. There isn’t some set of policies they propose to limit the influence of pointy-headed college professors and uppity black people and the lazy moochers stealing your taxes. It’s resentment for resentment’s sake. Which, if you’re a television network, is more than enough, because all you want is for those angry viewers to keep coming back. In fact, it’s much better if they never get what they want, because then they’ll stay angry, and they’ll keep watching.

It isn’t just Fox, of course. Other conservative media peddle the same thing, and some politicians have even built entire careers on resentment. But Fox is the epicenter, and given how successful they’ve been at mining, crafting, and encouraging resentment, there’s little reason for them ever to stop.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 13, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Fox News, Roger Ailes | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Old Fashion Muscular Tough Guy’s”: Christie Scandal And A ‘Feminized Atmosphere’

It stands to reason that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) admirers are going to defend him as the bridge scandal unfolds. There’s even a predictable defense: the governor wasn’t responsible since he wasn’t aware of his aides’ alleged misconduct.

But some of the arguments Christie’s allies have come up with are more striking than others. Fox News’ Brit Hume, for example, was asked yesterday about the governor’s reputation for bullying those who disagree with him. Hume responded:

“Well, I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old fashion tough guys, run some risk. […]

“By which I mean that men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like a kind of an old fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That’s the atmosphere in which he operates. This guy [Christie] is very much an old fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s how it is.”

Perhaps this is the best Republican media can do given the revelations?

I’ll confess I didn’t see that one coming. The Christie administration is accused of abusing its power, seeking petty political retribution against perceived enemies, using public resources as a weapon that endangered the public, and then lying about it.

Leave it to Fox’s senior political analyst to explain that the governor is the actually victim – he’s the muscular tough guy being treated unfairly because of his old fashioned masculinity. Team Christie isn’t “thuggish,” Hume assures us, it only appears that way because of the darned “feminized atmosphere.”

Apparently, we should feel bad for the terrible burdens the Republican governor must feel, being so tough and muscular in an environment that doesn’t fully appreciate a “guy’s guy.”

Elsewhere on the Sunday shows, the RNC’s Reince Priebus, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), and Rudy Giuliani all equated Christie’s bridge scandal with the IRS story from last spring, apparently unaware that the comparison is remarkably stupid.

The RNC’s Sean Spicer added that last week’s developments in New Jersey are proof that Christie is “what America is yearning for,” a point echoed by Karl Rove, who said the governor blaming his staff is emblematic of “what we want in a leader.”

None of these folks, by the way, appeared to be kidding. These are their actual talking points.

Kathleen Parker, meanwhile, believes Christie may ultimately thrive because conservatives will think journalists and news organizations are being “mean” to him. “What is certain is that the only thing the Republican base hates more than a liar and a bully is a bullying media,” she wrote. “Once that common enemy is established, the perceived victim often becomes the victor.”

It would appear for many Republicans in media, efforts to address Christie’s controversy on the merits are over. Indeed, they never really started in the first place.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 13, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enemies Of The Poor”: Republicans Are Doing All They Can To Hurt The Poor

Suddenly it’s O.K., even mandatory, for politicians with national ambitions to talk about helping the poor. This is easy for Democrats, who can go back to being the party of F.D.R. and L.B.J. It’s much more difficult for Republicans, who are having a hard time shaking their reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

And the reason that reputation is so hard to shake is that it’s justified. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor, and they would have inflicted vast additional harm if they had won the 2012 election. Moreover, G.O.P. harshness toward the less fortunate isn’t just a matter of spite (although that’s part of it); it’s deeply rooted in the party’s ideology, which is why recent speeches by leading Republicans declaring that they do too care about the poor have been almost completely devoid of policy specifics.

Let’s start with the recent Republican track record.

The most important current policy development in America is the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare. Most Republican-controlled states are, however, refusing to implement a key part of the act, the expansion of Medicaid, thereby denying health coverage to almost five million low-income Americans. And the amazing thing is that they’re going to great lengths to block aid to the poor even though letting the aid through would cost almost nothing; nearly all the costs of Medicaid expansion would be paid by Washington.

Meanwhile, those Republican-controlled states are slashing unemployment benefits, education financing and more. As I said, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the G.O.P. is hurting the poor as much as it can.

What would Republicans have done if they had won the White House in 2012? Much more of the same. Bear in mind that every budget the G.O.P. has offered since it took over the House in 2010 involves savage cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other antipoverty programs.

Still, can’t Republicans change their approach? The answer, I’m sorry to say, is almost surely no.

First of all, they’re deeply committed to the view that efforts to aid the poor are actually perpetuating poverty, by reducing incentives to work. And to be fair, this view isn’t completely wrong.

True, it’s total nonsense when applied to unemployment insurance. The notion that unemployment is high because we’re “paying people not to work” is a fallacy (no matter how desperate you make the unemployed, their desperation does nothing to create more jobs) wrapped in a falsehood (very few people are choosing to remain unemployed and keep collecting benefit checks).

But our patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position: the more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates. A large fraction, in some cases 80 cents or more, of each additional dollar they earn is clawed back by the government.

The question is what we could do to reduce these high effective tax rates. We could simply slash benefits; this would reduce the disincentive to work, but only by intensifying the misery of the poor. And the poor would become less productive as well as more miserable; it’s hard to take advantage of a low marginal tax rate when you’re suffering from poor nutrition and inadequate health care.

Alternatively, we could reduce the rate at which benefits phase out. In fact, one of the unheralded virtues of Obamacare is that it does just that. That is, it doesn’t just improve the lot of the poor; it improves their incentives, because the subsidies families receive for health care fade out gradually with higher income, instead of simply disappearing for anyone too affluent to receive Medicaid. But improving incentives this way means spending more, not less, on the safety net, and taxes on the affluent have to rise to pay for that spending. And it’s hard to imagine any leading Republican being willing to go down that road — or surviving the inevitable primary challenge if he did.

The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.

Will this ever change? Well, Republicans weren’t always like this. In fact, all of our major antipoverty programs — Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit — used to have bipartisan support. And maybe someday moderation will return to the G.O.P.

For now, however, Republicans are in a deep sense enemies of America’s poor. And that will remain true no matter how hard the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio try to convince us otherwise.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 12, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Poverty, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Chris Christie’s Conservative Problem”: A Great Many Never Trusted Him In The First Place

What is the greatest fear of conservatives when they warn against the dangers of big government? It is that a leader or the coterie around him will abuse the authority of the state arbitrarily to gather yet more power, punish opponents and, in the process, harm rank-and-file citizens whose well-being matters not a whit to those who are trying to enhance their control.

This, of course, is a quite precise description of what happened when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides ordered the closure of some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. Their motivation was political payback. The result: thousands of commuters along with emergency vehicles, school buses and pretty much the entire town of Fort Lee, N.J., were thrown into gridlock.

Using public facilities for selfish ends is the very definition of corruption, which is why this scandal bothers people far outside the conservative orbit. It took months for the episode to hit the big time because so many (the governor claims he’s one of them) had difficulty believing that government officials would act as recklessly as Christie’s gang did — and with such indifference to how their actions would affect the lives of people in northern New Jersey who were bystanders to an insider game.

Christie was finally moved to condemn the indefensible only after the smoking gun emerged in the form of e-mails from his staff and his appointees. Their contents reflected a vindictive urge to squelch all resistance to the governor’s political interests.

And this is the problem Christie hasn’t solved yet. At his epic news conference Thursday, he focused again and again on how loyal staff members had “lied” to him and how he felt personally victimized. What he never explained was why he did not press his staff earlier for paper trails so he could know for certain that all his vociferous denials were true. He didn’t deal with this flagrant foul until he had no choice. Saying he had faith in his folks is not enough. Christie still has to tell us why he did not treat the possibility of such a misuse of power with any urgency.

Even assuming that Christie’s disavowal of complicity holds up, he faces a long-term challenge in laying this story to rest. History suggests that beating back a scandal requires one or more of these assets: (1) a strong partisan or ideological base; (2) overreach by your adversaries; or (3) a charge that doesn’t fit people’s perceptions of you. Christie has trouble on all three fronts.

If Christie has a base, it consists of Wall Street donors, a media fascinated by his persona and relative moderation, and some but by no means all members of the non-tea-party-wing of the Republican Party.

He does not have the committed ideological core that Ronald Reagan could rely on to overcome Iran-Contra. He does not have the Democratic base that stuck with Bill Clinton during his sex scandal because the excesses of a special prosecutor and then of a Republican House that impeached him came to enrage Democrats even more than Clinton’s misbehavior.

What of Christie’s base? Wall Street is fickle and pragmatic. The media can turn on a dime. And the Republican establishment, such as it is, has alternatives. Oh, yes, Christie also has support from some machine Democrats in New Jersey who have made deals with him. But they will be even more pragmatic than Wall Street.

Overreach by one’s enemies is always a possibility, but there are no signs of this yet. Christie’s detractors have every reason to take things slowly and methodically. They will enjoy dragging this out.

And as has already been widely noted, the Christie operation’s penchant for settling scores is legendary. This charge fits the existing narrative about the guy so well that Christie had to say the words, “I am not a bully.” Denials of this sort usually have the opposite of their intended effect.

Christie has one other obstacle, and this may be the most important. A great many conservatives never trusted him, and a tale that plays so perfectly into their critique of government could make things worse. Erick Erickson, the right-wing writer, captured this rather colorfully. People sometimes want a politician to be “a jerk,” Erickson wrote on Fox News’ Web site, but “they want the person to be their jerk,” not a jerk “who tries to make everyone else his whipping boy.”

To win Christie some sympathy on the right, defenders such as former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour quickly deployed the GOP’s first-responder technique of attacking “the liberal media.” But liberals are the least of Christie’s problems.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 12, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Radical Becomes Normal”: The Fight Over Unemployment Benefits Underscores The Right’s Extremism

So this is showdown week in Congress for extension of unemployment benefits. Frankly, it looks bleak. No, it’s not that the public is against it. In fact far from it—58 percent support the extension in a new poll. But as I’ve written a kajillion times these last few years, it unfortunately doesn’t much matter what the people think. Republicans in Congress care only about the views of the more radical half of their party. And in that same poll, Republicans opposed the extension 54-42.

As long as that remains the case (and there’s no reason it’s likely to change), “UI,” as they call it on the Hill, seems a heavy lift. Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

But let’s take a step back here, because introducing a little bit of historical context shows just how extreme the Republicans’ position is, and it shows us how, over time, what used to be crazy-radical becomes normal with the people.

When George W. Bush was president, noted Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Jim Lehrer’s PBS show last week, unemployment benefits were extended five times, “no strings attached any of those times.” So as long as it was a Republican president under whom their constituents were out of work, they were happy to vote to extend the benefits. The last extension under Bush, in late 2008, passed 368-28 in the House of Representatives. Remember, this was with no “pay-fors,” in the argot. This vote took place a month before Election Day, which may have partly motivated 142 Republicans to vote for it with only the real hard-shellers going against it.

Now let’s move forward to 2010. We have a new president from a different party. The economy is struggling. The Republicans of course haven’t exactly been supportive of Barack Obama’s agenda, but on this one, they’re ready to agree. All but one. Jim Bunning, then a GOP senator from Kentucky, insisted that he wasn’t against extending such benefits, but he was against increasing the deficit by a few billion bucks.

But even then, the Senate GOP leadership wasn’t with Bunning. I remember that time well. Bunning had a few defenders among his colleagues, but basically, his position was seen as extreme by Democrats and even many or possibly most Republicans. Bunning finally got the message after a couple of weeks of antics—which included him whining that his noble filibuster against helping the nation’s jobless was preventing him from watching an important Kentucky Wildcats basketball game—and relented.

But what was considered extreme and nutty then is standard operating procedure today. A key development here was Rand Paul saying a couple of weeks ago that benefits beyond 26 weeks just make people lazy. That unleashed the right-wing id. In addition to that, of course, there’s the standing GOP House opposition to anything with Obama’s name on it. And this is how radical becomes normal.

Friday, I was at a meeting with a group of House Democratic lawmakers. They offered a few ideas about how they might get Republicans to agree. John Garamendi of California talked about a few billion being spent on a program in Afghanistan that he thought the GOP might play ball on. There were a few other notions, but none of them, I noticed, bruited with much confidence that they’d actually get anywhere.

Several echoed Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro in saying that they just have to win the battle in the court of public opinion. “These are Americans’ stories,” DeLauro said. “When people hear them, they’re moved.” There’s no doubt that that’s true. But it was true of gun safety, and it was true of immigration reform, and numerous other things.

I don’t know if the Democrats can win this on the floor. Maybe the horrible jobs report from December helps a little, maybe not. But since public opinion is already on their side, they can at least take this issue and make it hurt Republicans in states with high unemployment or Republicans who are singing a different tune than they did in 2010, a list that starts with Mitch McConnell, who agreed to the 2010 extension and is now going around saying that if Democrats want UI benefits extended, they’d have to agree to a one-year delay in the individual mandate under Obamacare.

And if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 13, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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