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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media


Immediately following the September 11th attacks, President Bush’s approval rating measured as much as 92% in some polls. The nation, justly, rallied around the President in order to pursue the perpetrators of these attacks.

Nearly five years later, the same polls display the palindromic opposite of previous ratings, down to 29% according to a recent Harris poll. What happened? A number of things happened, but more telling is what has not: we haven’t caught bin-Laden. The War on Terror looks more and more like an Orwellian, never-ending conflict. We are not at war with the people of Iraq; we are at war with Saddam and his al-Qaeda connections. When the mission was declared accomplished and Saddam was ousted, the fighting continued. It was made clear by the 9/11 Commission Report that Saddam had no al-Qaeda connections; suddenly, we had never been at war with Saddam’s al-Qaeda connections; we had always been at war with insurgents (oops, sorry, “terrorists”). It’s a looping web. When one rationale implodes from the weight of a reality stacked against it, another strand replaces it. The problem with this, besides the dishonesty, is that it muddles the mission. The War on Terror suffers chiefly from the fact that our goals have never been defined; when will we know we’ve won? How is it different from the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty, or any number of unwinnable wars our government has sunk into? The real causes of terrorism- post-colonial anxiety and rampant economic disparity to name two- continue unexamined as we update our mistakes from Korea and Vietnam.

There’s too much to get into here. Bush’s list of failures, domestic and international, is in itself impressive. We have an economic boom where no one is getting rich as personal debt and consumer inflation skyrockets. Instead of curbing government excess, our executive branch has never seen a spending bill it didn’t like while it seems the only cuts target social services. Bush’s latest extension of his signature tax cut program promises to save a household making $40,000 the whopping sum of $17 American. The average millionaire will save $43,000. Remove the tax burden from the wealthiest and place it on the middle class. This regressive tax plan ensures that our government works for the people- if those people happen to belong to the top-tier tax brackets. If one were inclined to say so it seems that the plan all along of Bush, the Republican Congress, and Conservative ideologues such as Grover Norquist was to bankrupt the government so as to put it out of business for good. As Norquist himself said, they wish to “shrink government down to the point where it can be strangled in a bathtub”. We saw the outcome of this line of thinking in New Orleans. However, none of that concerns us now.

What does concern us is that Bush took a moment when our nation was indeed unified and allowed his attack dogs to resume their domestic war on “liberals”. He sees these attacks, knows very well that he could put a stop to them at any time, and does not. He could have told the Ann Coulters and the Rush Limbaughs of the media world, look; people may have divergent worldviews, but we’re all Americans- let’s fight this thing together. Leadership unifies disparate groups. Uniters rally people around them, or do such a cracking job that criticism necessarily is isolated. Dividers say things like “You’re either with us or you’re against us” and flounder amid poor policy, blaming others. A divider turns to scare tactics when nothing else will work. Instead of a Roosevelt telling us that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” we have had an environment of constant fear exploited for partisan political purposes at a time of profound, national, emotional vulnerability. Remember those color-coded terror alerts? They seemed to come weekly during the last election. How many of them have we had since?

We wanted to believe, at least for a little while, didn’t we? We wanted a strong leader who would govern in the common interest of all Americans. Instead, we got Machiavellian opportunism. We got a fraudulent war foisted upon us when we were at our most credulous and stricken. Some of us, with suspicions about this war from the start, were branded as terrorist appeasers, enablers. And the critics would be getting the last laugh now, if there was any laughing to be done.

This climate of fear and acrimony is exactly why Bush’s approval rating has plummeted, and why he will be considered a failure in the years to come. Again, a great leader doesn’t divide, he unifies, and Bush has never shown any interest in that. He squeaked into office after losing the popular vote, and he was re-elected against an opponent who garnered the most votes ever in a losing Presidential candidacy. In the meantime, Bush has run his administration like an endless campaign, neglecting the fact that when you have been elected President the entire country is your “base”, not just Southerners, not just the Religious Right.

Now, though, even his base is beginning to shy away as the immigration fight heats up. Increasingly, Conservative media voices have begun to distance themselves from Bush, and some have gone so far as to claim he is “not a real Conservative”. The backpedaling begins on the Right, and the next few months should make for interesting political theater as an approval rating plummets beyond repair.