Section 2 - Article Two
The Good Guys Won
The victory of democratic capitalism over godless Communism was a short-lived hurrah for some as the Republican Party quickly found itself in utter disarray. If anti-Communism, the lowest common denominator of Republican politics and the one thing that unabashedly could define what is American or un-American, was gone, then the Cold War politics of the GOP had fulfilled their usefulness. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote:
As the Cold War president who saw the fall of the Iron Curtain, George H.W. Bush quickly had the wind taken from his political sails when he stepped into the 1992 presidential debates with Democratic nominee Bill Clinton and independent candidate H. Ross Perot. With the fear of Communism gone and the victory of democratic capitalism apparent, there seemed to be hope of greater plurality in the political process.
There are arguments that Perot’s candidacy spoiled Bush’s re-election. This is possible, but regardless, Bush’s failure to keep his “Read my lips: no new taxes” election promise; the lingering recession instigated by Black Monday in 1987 possibly perpetuated by Republican’s trickle-down economics and the savings and loan bailout; and Bush’s inability to do little more than attack his opponents during the debates all spelled doom for a second George H.W. Bush administration.
But there were right-wingers behind the scenes with new ideas where to and how to steer the direction of American politics after Communism. As David Brock argues, “Political movements arise from the spadework of intellectuals, not politicians,” and the ideas of the Norman Podhoretzes and architects of trickle-down economics at the Wall Street Journal were spent.(2)
Bill Kristol, chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle (also known as Dan Quayle’s brain), was one intellectual who perceived what could potentially reinvigorate Republican politics after the Cold War. Kristol did not support freedom and tolerance, but rather felt that perceived moral collapse should be the fight now to win on a new domestic front against liberal culture – a culture war.
Although Kristol’s approval of Quayle’s speech attacking Murphy Brown most effectively made his boss look more stupid than already publicly perceived, the underlying message about returning to a more traditionalist concept of morality likely reached a good number of people as well. But the real architect of the neoconservative platform that would take power in the new millennium was Paul Weyrich.
Weyrich began in the early 1970’s to create an infrastructure of right-wing think tanks, magazines, political action committees, coalitions, and political and legal interest groups. He founded the dominant conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. He named the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s conservative organization the Moral Majority. Weyrich saw a huge group of southern evangelical Christians and northeastern Catholics alienated by Democratic civil rights legislation and other social initiatives whose collective resentment could be united against liberal culture.
Their directives were anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-feminist, anti-liberal judges, anti-pornography, anti-affirmative action and anti-sex education in public schools. They stood against multiculturalism and believed the private lives of public people mattered as much and possibly even more than their policies.(3)
If conservative politics had taken over the political mainstream in the United States and marginalized liberal voices as Leslie Gelb stated in 1979, Weyrich was also outside the political mainstream at this time. As Weyrich put it himself, “We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of the country.”(4) He described his views as, “Maoist. I believe you have to control the countryside, and the capital will eventually fall.”(5)
This radical stance intertwined politics and religion and by so doing threw out much rational debate of issues by connecting them to people’s emotions and faith-based beliefs and aiding a ‘for us or against us’ view. The neoconservatives recognized that conservatism needed an enemy to be successful. If an enemy does not exist, invent one.
While the more radical neoconservatives and right-wing religious allies like Jerry Falwell and Sun Myung Moon had an agenda for the future of American politics, their success still necessitated a strong Republican base occupying moderate conservative stances with which typical Americans could identify. If morality and social issues were to be the new domestic front for neoconservatives, Republicans needed something tangible to tie together the ideas pushing this culture war.
George H.W. Bush’s “New World Order” never received a definition and proved a useless, empty catch phrase. But as William Bennett described in 1993 at a gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee where the Omni Shoreham Hotel was decorated with banners stating “No More Bushit”:
The Echo Chamber
This legislation has potentially sounded a deathblow for the freedom of journalism as a government or business watchdog. If freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, then the media consolidation about to occur would put ownership of the established press in precious few hands.
Editorial director of U.S. News & World Report, Harold Evans, remarked in his review of 20th century journalism “What a Century!”:
In 1983, there were 50 companies controlling information dissemination in the United States. At present, there are 6: AOL Time Warner, Vivendi, Viacom, News Corporation, Disney and Bertelsmann.(8)
The massive deregulation of media ownership restrictions in 1996 allowed the largest media players to gobble up smaller, competing newspapers, radio stations, cable television stations, and publishing houses. But mainstream media manipulation by right-wing interests had already been successfully exercised and had aided Republicans in 1994 to vote in a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since President Eisenhower’s administration.(9) Conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer did not move on and become carpenters, but moved on to forward new objectives and see journalism give way to the rise of infotainment.(10)
In 1991, as George H.W. Bush attempted to appoint the conservative judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, a scandal broke out when Thomas’ former associate Anita Hill, a law professor from the University of Oklahoma, came before the Senate confirmation hearing and claimed to have been sexually harassed by Thomas.
After the narrow and controversial Senate confirmation of Thomas to the Supreme Court, certain conservatives were not willing to let the issue simply die. There was a fear that the treatment of Anita Hill and the discrediting of her testimony would create a backlash against Republicans in the upcoming presidential election dubbed the “Year of the Woman”.(11) Thomas’ confirmation was not enough. Hill’s character needed to be discredited.
Elizabeth Brady Lurie served on the board of one of Paul Weyrich’s organizations and wanted to fund a special investigation for the conservative Washington magazine the American Spectator.(12) David Brock, an eager, right-wing bulldog later turned against the Republican Party at Moon’s Washington Times took the job.
“The Real Anita Hill” was published in the March 1992 issue of the American Spectator with a full-page, color caricature of Hill accentuating her African-American characteristics. As Brock describes the article, it was, “a witches’ brew of fact, allegation, hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective labelled by my editors as ‘investigative journalism’,” to defame Hill’s credibility as a witness against Thomas.(13)
The article was a sensation and received extensive publicity as Rush Limbaugh read entire sections of the article on his talk show for days after it came out. Soon after, Free Press commissioned a book from Brock to expand the discrediting of Hill, but also to tone down the vehemence of the attacks in hopes of reaching a wider audience.
The Real Anita Hill was a commercial success, perhaps for the sensational claims within, but it achieved a greater goal. The article and the book kept the topic of Hill and Thomas alive well past the typical lifespan of newspaper headlines. If the claims within The Real Anita Hill were based on rumor or not, the majority of people to absorb the claims against Hill would not bother to check their validity and this gossip would become part of American conscience.
This tactic of creating an echo chamber for an issue proved incredibly effective in setting the media agenda of more mainstream news especially as the internet became a household standard. The 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore explained this media tactic clearly with:
The Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison explains a major problem with the development of this media echo chamber is a lack of responsibility in that:
Morrison remarks too that a problem with the development of the media echo chamber and infotainment is that Americans lack proper media literacy. Many Americans, “look upon The National Enquirer as just a different form of The New York Times with better color pictures perhaps.”(16)
The likeliness of the average American to accept at face value accusations and rumors circulating in the echo chamber Gore describes or airing on Fox News goes hand in hand with the United States’ tradition of anti-intellectualism. The neoconservative culture war allied with conservative Christian organizations attempting to forward issues of morality is aided by this American culture quirk as mainstream media are now baited by conservative media outlets.
The hate mails to RushLimbaughOnline.com, a website dedicated to dispelling claims from the radio talk show host, illustrates well the successful indoctrination of certain concepts through media and infotainment sources by the right:
Whether the majority of Americans actually support conservative politics or if they have just been sold the view on false pretenses that the Republican Party is working to preserve the security and character of what constitutes ‘real Americans’, the Republicans have achieved an incredible success. The Republican Party now controls all three branches of the government for the first time since 1929.(18)
The Liberal Media Bias
The reality of mainstream media, which is now controlled by six major conglomerates, being constantly on guard and attacked with accusations of bias while attempting objectivity allows conservatives to control political debate in the United States to a great extent. However, this is only one success for the neoconservative movement redefining concepts.
The term liberal has been used in vehemently negative contexts to define someone with values that are decidedly un-American. Ann Coulter likened John Walker Lindh’s decision to become a Muslim and work with the Taliban to his childhood in liberal Marin County, California when she spoke to a gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee: “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise, they will turnout to be outright traitors.”(20)
Moreover, the term ‘liberal’ being equivalent to ‘Democrat’ restricts truly liberal or left of moderate ideas from being forwarded in national debate. After investigations pressured the Bush administration to admit they had been informed of potential hijackings before 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that, “Democrats ‘need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions’”.(21) Cheney made this statement, “without specifying any ‘incendiary suggestions’ that any Democrats had actually made.”(22) This posturing by conservatives puts any opponent, especially a Democrat, on the defensive of potentially being accused of being ‘liberal’ or outrightly un-American.
Profit-orientation of mass media firms, advertising as primary income, official sources, flak from groups offended by stories, and anti-Communism – the five elements which control the media in Edward Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s western propaganda model still function, but with a significant semantic adjustment. Anti-Communism as the concept of ‘anti-enemy of America’ still works. New words have been associated with the concept that America’s enemies are now ‘terrorists’ abroad and ‘liberals’ within. Neoconservatives have effectively retooled the Cold War for the new millennium.
After September 11, 2001, dissent against the president, against the suspension of certain civil rights by the Patriot Act, against the War on Terror, or against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have been countered as un-patriotic or even treasonous. Even before 9/11, George W. Bush seemed unaposable in popular discourse by comparison to Bill Clinton. Clinton had a gang of conservative interest groups, commentators and congressional investigators prepared to wage, “a remorseless campaign that they hoped would make life miserable for Clinton and vault themselves to power.”(23) Similarly, Al Gore was repeatedly bashed as a liar in the press for, among other things, being misquoted as claiming to have invented the internet.(24) The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC in 1987 requiring broadcasters to allow equal time for opposing voices on issues permitted the rise of Rush Limbaugh and a slew of right-wing copy cat personalities and pundits. The conservative echo chambers of websites and talk shows such as The O’Reilly Factor now successfully influence the news agenda of mainstream media.
The neoconservative movement has achieved political hegemony in the United States. The ability for the right-wing to instigate media assaults on an opponent’s character while having the media largely overlook the moral history of former alcoholics like George W. Bush, anti-Semites like Paul Weyrich or compulsive gamblers like William Bennett is concrete.
The results are a degradation of journalism as a public trust for the rise of infotainment, a successful campaign to push an agenda of conservative moral issues into the political mainstream, and a hawkish domination of U.S. foreign policy to forcibly push American interests abroad. It appears that there has been a change in historical perspective in recent years that the 1960s was a time when America went off the rails and not a decade when democratic triumphs were achieved.
1. Ref. 7, Brock, 2002, p. 53