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Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Real Cynics

Nasty, vituperative folk like yours truly are collectively derided for our constant jeering and cynicism of the political process and the players. But none of us evil bloggerses hold a candle to the "professionals", the self-styled arbiters of political trendmongering. Russ Feingold just undermined a lot of calcified, cynical assumptions about the motives behind the (frequently unpopular among the kewl kidz) political positions he's taken. [emphases in original]

Despite all of that, when Feingold stood up and advocated censure -- based on the truly radical and crazy, far leftist premise that when the President is caught red-handed breaking the law, the Congress should actually do something about that -- the soul-less, oh-so-sophisticated Beltway geniuses could not even contemplate the possibility that he was doing that because he believed what he was saying. Beltway pundits and the leaders of the Beltway political and consulting classes all, in unison, immediately began casting aspersions on Feingold's motives and laughed away -- really never considered -- the idea that he was motivated by actual belief, let alone the merits of his proposal.

That's because they believe in nothing. They have no passion about anything. And they thus assume that everyone else suffers from the same emptiness of character and ossified cynicism that plagues them. And all of their punditry and analysis and political strategizing flows from this corrupt root.

Not only do they believe in nothing, they think that a Belief in Nothing is a mark of sophistication and wisdom. Those who believe in things too much -- who display political passion or who take their convictions and ideals seriously (Feingold, Howard Dean) -- are either naive or, worse, are the crazy, irrational, loudmouth masses and radicals who disrupt the elevated, measured world of the high-level, dispassionate Beltway sophisticates (James Carville, David Broder, Fred Hiatt). They are interested in, even obsessed with, every aspect of the political process except for deeply held political beliefs -- the only part that really matters or that has any real worth.


Exactly. A huge part of it, as I wrote recently, is the dynamic of the overall coverage -- you could just as well have had Terry Bradshaw giving you the scores on election night as any of the journamalists entrusted with the task. Part of it is that they think they are giving the people what they think they want, instead of what they need, which is facts and information of value, rather than endless speculation and second-guessing. Why not just interview Russ Feingold and ask him point-blank about the rationales for his more "controversial" positions, instead of lazily imputing assumptions and projections onto his public statements?

The other huge part, again, is the institutional conditioning. As Greenwald writes, it is a very ossified, empty view of things. These people have spent their adult lives clawing their way to the middle, and there they remain ensconced. Their default position is to deliberately conflate idealistic passion and commitment with hysterical emotionalism -- except, of course, when it's the organized hysterics and their pet causes. Then we get another eye-rolling exercise in objectivity. They could learn something from the example of Ed Bradley, who seemed to have an actual life and interests outside of the usual rituals of humping the legs of politicos and quasi-celebrities.

But they deliberately choose not to learn from Bradley's example. There's less money down that road perhaps, less face time, I don't know. Maybe it really is just sheer laziness; Bradley at least actually worked for his living, in that he acquainted himself with his interview subjects well before meeting them, in order to have tight, meaningful questions. When the process has devolved into little more than journamalistic Big Macs, those little details get lost by the wayside, and you just have a processed product headed by a faintly recognizable name, lobbing interchangeable softballs, and making sure above all else that due respect is given even when it isn't earned. God forbid you get gang-faxed by Brent Bozell or something.

Fear, timidity, careerism, laziness. These are all ingredients of an inedible corporate newsburger, and maybe a steak would be nice once in a while. We'll see how many (if any) of these folks who felt free to divine Russ Feingold's intent will see fit to second-guess themselves.

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