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David Sirota
David Sirota
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"Centrists" Running the Asylum

Comment

In the asylum that is American politics, beware a candidate like Barack Obama when he is lauded for moving to "the center" — because usually that means he is drifting away from it.

Over the last month, the Democratic presidential nominee has backed a measure to permit warrantless wiretapping and protect telecom companies when they violate customers' privacy; sent conflicting signals about whether he will reform the NAFTA trade model; and threatened to revise his timetable for ending the war in Iraq. Universally, reporters have billed this dance as a move to the middle. As the Associated Press claimed in a typical description, Obama's shifts are designed "to appeal to the center of the electorate."

However, empirical data proves "the center of the electorate" is exactly the opposite:

— Polls by Quinnipiac University and the Mellman Group found majorities support warrant requirements for wiretaps and oppose immunity for companies that released private consumer information without such warrants.

— Surveys by Fortune magazine, CNN and the Wall Street Journal report that most Americans oppose NAFTA-style trade policies.

— For years, major polls have consistently shown Americans want a firm timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. As just one of many examples, five separate USA Today surveys since 2007 have shown majorities want the president to "set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and to stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq."

So, the undebatable evidence tells us precisely where the center of public opinion is. Yet when a presidential candidate moves away from the center, we are told he is moving toward it. What gives?

Part of the up-is-down distortion reflects perspective — or lack thereof.

Most politicians and journalists who set the parameters of our political debate live in Washington and make six-figure salaries. They are geographically, financially and socially isolated from the blood-and-guts consequences of today's two wars — the one in Iraq and the one on the middle class.

That insulation skews viewpoints.

Indeed, the center of opinion in the nation's capital is very different from the center of opinion in the country at large. In elite D.C., a moderate is one who backs job-killing trade deals, legal immunity for corporate wrongdoers, and wars for oil, regardless of casualties. And so when Obama embraces those positions, Beltway opinion-makers really think he's being a "centrist" — regardless of how far away from the actual center he's moving.

But, then, not all politicians and pundits are completely ignorant of life outside the palace walls. A calculated Jedi mind trick is at work here, too.

When regular folks talk to friends and neighbors, we sure feel like our desire for privacy, disgust with NAFTA and opposition to the Iraq war are mainstream majority positions — and they are. But then comes the barrage.

Day after day, smiling anchormen, blow-dried correspondents and silver-tongued congressmen follow the Big Lie theory of indoctrination, taking to our televisions, radios and newspapers insisting that crazy is normal, the majority is the minority and — most importantly — the fringe is the "center." This is no accident.

These voices of the status quo do not want the status quo challenged. They deliberately broadcast messages crafted to get us — the mainstream — to question our mainstream-ness, while convincing politicians that the Establishment's extremism represents a responsible middle ground.

More Aldous Huxley than George Orwell, these are the methods of modern propaganda, with the celebration of Obama's "centrism" the latest doublespeak. In this brave new world, language is sculpted to skew the "center," intimidating the majority from demanding concrete change for fear of looking like lunatics. It is a slickly packaged process of marginalization and demoralization — one with an underlying goal: keeping the real lunatics running the asylum.

David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," was just released in June of 2008. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Comments

7 Comments | Post Comment
You speak for all of us who are worried that Barack Obama is drifting away. He doesn't need to do it. The Democrats lost their way; sold themselves to the big money media and entertainment. We used to call them limousine liberals. They still ride in limousines, but they sure as hell are not liberals. Don't leave us, Barack. Stick to the young, the real middle class (not the 250 K+ crowd with their SUVs who call us whiners when we complain about $4 gas). Get them excited, like you did in the primaries. You'll win in a landslide and bury Karl Rove for ever.
Tom
Comment: #1
Posted by: Tom Olson
Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:07 AM
David, David, David...

Wake up and smell the zeitgeist... get a real good whiff. Put the pieces together... see the bigger picture.

What is the percentage of the Establishment press that consistently recognizes and reflects what mainstream American opinion really is? What kind of press produces this level of manipulation? How far may have this media influence over the years actually shifted the mainstream opinion of America -- further to the right -- changing what IS centrist? Aren't governmental agencies supposed to insure that our democracy is not being manipulated: that the press, for example, reflect the full range of American opinion? What does not doing so say about the Government, and the FCC? What does this say about the Establishment's respect for American opinion and democracy? What does this say about the validity of our democracy and our government?

"[N]ot all politicians and pundits are completely ignorant of life outside the palace walls". Huh? I think VERY FEW of them are unaware of what mainstream American opinion is; they just pretend otherwise, for the reasons you gave.

So please, put the pieces all together. What kind of media system are we living under? What kind of political system? Can you describe that in a way that will really convey its true character, of the military-industrial-media-government complex that we are living in -- that reality?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Bret Hughes
Fri Jul 18, 2008 10:33 AM
Here's the bottom line. Either Obama wins Ohio and Pennsylvania or he's a dead duck. Obama carried five counties out of Ohio's eighty eight in the Democratic primary. It is a state loaded with Reagan Democrats who will very likely see fifty percent or more of that contingent vote for McCain for reasons of their own racial bigotry.
Obama cannot win there. He will swear that he can and his people will swear they can win Ohio...but they never will.
So, there's two out of three of that famous troika from 2000 and 2004, gone.
That means he won't win the race. Mathematically he can cobble together Virginia with a few states in the southwest and possibly pull it out. Sure, technically speaking he can do that. But no one's ever done it before. EVER...and he's already polling approximately where Kerry and Gore were polling at this point in their individual races.
What does it mean? The race is probably over. It was over at Super Tuesday, when the party nominated someone whom they knew damn well couldn't win Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Larry Stimely
Fri Jul 18, 2008 11:49 AM
Another apt piece of journalism for our side.

Sure they have been brainwashing everyone
to hand them our butts without so much as a
fight for the past (seeming eternity). But I
think the tables are going to start to turn this
year. Thanks, in large part to honest and
objective reportage such as this.

Keep it up, David. Seriously. Don't know
what we would do without you, sir.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Billy Lamb
Sat Jul 19, 2008 1:01 PM
Humans are facing fundamental global forces as implacable and of a magnitude not known since the beginning of the last ice age. The magnitude and duration of the developing cataclysm are simply, (scientific), best guesses proposed by the best minds of our species, based upon fragmentary clues from past epochs. Catastrophe theory suggests that forces slowly and steadily accumulating over a long time scale may suddenly "tip over". The disappearing polar ice and the glaciers suggests that such a tip-over point may be occurring within our lifetimes.
We humans are like deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing vehicle. Neither we nor the deer fully understand the forces behind the light. Like the deer we may not even know the questions.
In this present American political struggle we are still acting as if "all politics are local". Many want Obama give us local answers to our local questions. We still do not understand that the answers and solution to the trials we face are as yet almost unknowable. I do know one thing for certain: I want a leader who has the charisma to gather around him the best minds our species has to offer, the humility to listen to what they have to offer, the intelligence to make some sense of it all, the lucidity to clarify for us the hazards we face, the compassion and acumen to consider our collective wisdom and finally the courage to act.
Obama may not be all of these things to all of us, but he is the best we have right now and may be the best we ever will have.
David Chisholm
Comment: #5
Posted by: David Chisholm
Sun Jul 20, 2008 6:36 PM
Perhaps the meaning of "the center", as it's used in the media, is midway between extremes, rather than "the center of the electorate", as Sirota's column suggests it should be. That seems to fit the data, anyway. Let me suggest that the media expression is a misnomer, a failed attempt to find the right word. The behavior is otherwise correctly described (in the media) as attempting to appeal to voters who don't share the candidate's personal views, in hopes of attracting more voters--still need them to get elected, after all. The FISA vote was pretty harmless, numerically, since Sen. Obama was casting his vote with a decisive majority. If it was strategic--and every word, every action, needs to be strategic from now till November--then perhaps his vote was to demonstrate to those "other" voters that he is capable of tossing them a bone, even if it's only a token bone. I interpret all of Sen. Obama's apparent shifts in position, and his softening of rhetoric, the same basic way the media portrays it: an attempt to convince doubters that he won't stonewall their viewpoints. It's all designed to get that first term. Speaking as one who shares not a single position with Sen. Obama, let me assure the rest of you that I don't doubt his intentions for a moment. If he gets elected, I think you'll be pleased to find he hasn't really changed a bit from the guy you supported in the primaries.
Comment: #6
Posted by: davd w pennington
Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:05 AM
Footnote to my previous post: There will be one small difference between Sen. Obama in the primary, and President Obama, should that come to pass. President Obama will not be bringing the troops home from Iraq. That was a "campaign promise" that was completely divorced from any reasonable reality. So, those of you who supported him for that promise will be disappointed. But, otherwise, he'll be the same guy as President, with the same socialist agenda that he ran on in the primary. I trust you won't be too upset with him for being a rather normal politician, saying what it took to get the votes he needed, even if it was at your expense. The rest of us never believed he represented any sort of paradigm shift, so we won't be surprised.
Comment: #7
Posted by: davd w pennington
Wed Jul 23, 2008 3:55 PM
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