Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Raise the Shire

Peter Daou writes:

The third button on the Daou Report‘s navigation bar links to the U.S. Constitution, a Constitution many Americans believe is on life support – if not already dead. The cause of its demise is the corrosive interplay between the Bush administration, a bevy of blind apologists, a politically apathetic public, a well-oiled rightwing message machine, lapdog reporters, and a disorganized opposition. The domestic spying case perfectly illuminates the workings of that system. And the unfolding of this story augurs poorly for those who expect it to yield different results from other administration scandals.

Here’s why: the dynamic of a typical Bush scandal follows familiar contours…

1. POTUS circumvents the law – an impeachable offense.

2. The story breaks (in this case after having been concealed by a news organization until well after Election 2004).

3. The Bush crew floats a number of pushback strategies, settling on one that becomes the mantra of virtually every Republican surrogate. These Republicans face down poorly prepped Dem surrogates and shred them on cable news shows.

4. Rightwing attack dogs on talk radio, blogs, cable nets, and conservative editorial pages maul Bush’s critics as traitors for questioning the CIC.

5. The Republican leadership plays defense for Bush, no matter how flagrant the Bush over-reach, no matter how damaging the administration’s actions to America’s reputation and to the Constitution. A few ‘mavericks’ like Hagel or Specter risk the inevitable rightwing backlash and meekly suggest that the president should obey the law. John McCain, always the Bush apologist when it really comes down to it, minimizes the scandal.

6. Left-leaning bloggers and online activists go ballistic, expressing their all-too-familiar combination of outrage at Bush and frustration that nothing ever seems to happen with these scandals. Several newspaper editorials echo these sentiments but quickly move on to other issues.

7. A few reliable Dems, Conyers, Boxer, et al, take a stand on principle, giving momentary hope to the progressive grassroots/netroots community. The rest of the Dem leadership is temporarily outraged (adding to that hope), but is chronically incapable of maintaining the sense of high indignation and focus required to reach critical mass and create a wholesale shift in public opinion. For example, just as this mother of all scandals hits Washington, Democrats are still putting out press releases on Iraq, ANWR and a range of other topics, diluting the story and signaling that they have little intention of following through. This allows Bush to use his three favorite weapons: time, America’s political apathy, and make-believe ‘journalists’ who yuck it up with him and ask fluff questions at his frat-boy pressers.

8. Reporters and media outlets obfuscate and equivocate, pretending to ask tough questions but essentially pushing the same narratives they’ve developed and perfected over the past five years, namely, some variation of “Bush firm, Dems soft.” A range of Bush-protecting tactics are put into play, one being to ask ridiculously misleading questions such as “Should Bush have the right to protect Americans or should he cave in to Democratic political pressure?” All the while, the right assaults the “liberal” media for daring to tell anything resembling the truth.

9. Polls will emerge with ‘proof’ that half the public agrees that Bush should have the right to “protect Americans against terrorists.” Again, the issue will be framed to mask the true nature of the malfeasance. The media will use these polls to create a self-fulfilling loop and convince the public that it isn’t that bad after all. The president breaks the law. Life goes on.

10. The story starts blending into a long string of administration scandals, and through skillful use of scandal fatigue, Bush weathers the storm and moves on, further demoralizing his opponents and cementing the press narrative about his ‘resolve’ and toughness. Congressional hearings might revive the issue momentarily, and bloggers will hammer away at it, but the initial hype is all the Democrat leadership and the media can muster, and anyway, it’s never as juicy the second time around…

Rinse and repeat.

It’s a battle of attrition that Bush and his team have mastered. Short of a major Dem initiative to alter the cycle, to throw a wrench into the system, to go after the media institutionally, this cycle will continue for the foreseeable future.

I agree with this assessment, and I’ll go further to say that it reveals a great deal about the two sides in this story. If the Bush supporters get away with it this time, it will prove beyond any objective doubt that they have no scruples, that all their crocodile tears about the rule of law during the Clinton impeachment seven years ago was just a naked power-grab, and that if they are given the chance, they will choose ruling over governing any time.

Conversely, if the Democrats and the liberals allow them to get away with it by following their previous pattern of being shocked, saddened and “outraged” but do nothing more than that, then they have no right to win another election and they will have forfeited whatever moral high ground they claim for their mantle of leadership.

There’s a wonderful scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King — the book, not the film — where Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to their beloved Shire only to find that it is now under the rule of a dictator named “The Chief.” (Spoiler: if you only saw the films and you wondered what happened to Saruman after Isengard fell, he found another place to live under an assumed name.) The returning hobbits decide to start a rebellion.

“No!” said Merry. “It’s no good ‘getting under cover’. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.”

“Do what?” said Pippin.

“Raise the Shire!” said Merry. “Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long as they don’t know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire. The Chief’s Men must know that. They’ll try to stamp on us and put us out quick. We’ve only got a very short time.” [The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd 1969 (paperback edition), p. 1044.]

Now it’s our turn.