Monday, April 21, 2008

In The Wall Street Journal?

I never thought I'd be grateful to Rupert Murdoch. But in today's Wall Street Journal, there's a column by Thomas Frank that speaks more sense about politics and the media than anything I've seen in this sorry and never-ending political season. And it's not a one-off. As of mid-May, Frank will be a regular Journal columnist.
Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas, says the media have got Clinton and Obama all wrong. Because Obama is an intellectual (and doesn't hide it), he's accused of being an elitist, while Clinton's knocking back of shots and tales of sharp-shooting seem to have persuaded the media that she (despite her years on the Wal-Mart board of directors) has got the common touch.
What's missing here is any clear idea of who the elite actually are. Guess what? They're rich people. Not just rich, but insanely, outrageously rich. But because they drawl, and leave off their g's, and generally don't fit the media's elitist stereotype, he argues, they and their supporters somehow persuaded the media - and the voters - that they represent the common folk. They "perfume themselves," he says, "with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers."
Personally, I've been trying to avoid getting exercised about the Democratic race. I figure I exerted the only power I've got by voting in the New York primary; the next chance I've got to actually do anything is seven months away. And since I find it hard to imagine circumstances in which I'd vote for McCain (or Ralph Nader), I'm not going to have a whole lot of choice even then.
But on the subject of campaign coverage I am very exercised. Yes, George Bush has degraded and trivialized the presidency. But I'm beginning to think it's not entirely his fault. The process of running for president trivializes and degrades the presidency. The nonsensical and irrelevant questions that exercise the media for days on end, the fixation on how much cash the candidates have raised (and not on who's giving it to them, and why), and the breathless reporting of the tiniest details of campaign strategy, degrade and trivialize the presidency. And they trivialize and degrade the candidates as well.
So please, the next time you hear someone accuse Obama - or Clinton, or anyone else - of trying to create class warfare, call them on it. There's a myth in America that we're all middle class. But that's all it is, a myth. It's becoming increasingly clear that ever since the Reagan years, the rich have been getting richer and the rest of us have been struggling mightily, and often unsuccessfully, to keep from getting poorer. But somehow, the rich, and those who have helped to make them so, have managed to pull the wool over a lot of eyes, including a lot of eyes in the media. It's time to let some light in.
And when I think that it's The Wall Street Journal where that light's going to shine, all I can say is I'm hornswoggled.


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