Sunday, July 20, 2008

the "new mainstream center"

A recent Daily Kos post got me thinking about the corporate media’s current definitions of the political “right”, “left” and “center.”

That post referred to an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about political blogs, looking at who reads them, how effective they are, and what their potential is to generate political change. The piece was generally rather unremarkable. But it included this bit:

To determine just how polarized blog readers are, we constructed a measure of political ideology by drawing on blog readers' attitudes toward stem cell research, abortion, the Iraq war, the minimum wage and capital gains tax cuts. Using this measure, we then arrayed respondents from left to right. Here's what we found.

Readers of liberal blogs were clustered at the far left...

So, what does "the far left" mean?

Here are the attitudes of Americans as a whole on the five issues that the LA Times used to characterize ideology (all from, which collects poll results from various pollsters and groups them by subject):

Iraq War:

Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Iraq?

Favor 30

Oppose 68
Unsure 2

If you had to choose, would you rather see the next president keep the same number of troops in Iraq that are currently stationed there, or would you rather see the next president remove most U.S. troops in Iraq within a few months of taking office?

Keep Same 33

Remove Most 64
Unsure 3

Stem Cell research:

There is a type of medical research that involves using special cells, called embryonic stem cells, that might be used in the future to treat or cure many diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, and spinal cord injury. It involves using human embryos discarded from fertility clinics that no longer need them. Some people say that using human embryos for research is wrong. Do you favor or oppose using discarded embryos to conduct stem cell research to try to find cures for the diseases I mentioned?

Favor 73

Oppose 19
Unsure 8


Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases?


All 19
Most 38

Most 24
All 13

Unsure 6

Minimum wage:

Do you favor or oppose an increase in the minimum wage?

Favor 80

Oppose 18
Unsure 2


Which of these groups do you think they are paying their fair share in federal taxes, paying too much, or paying too little?

“Upper-income people”:
Fair Share 24
Too Much 9
Too Little 63
Unsure 4

Fair Share 15
Too Much 6
Too Little 73
Unsure 6

If these five issues provide the relevant metrics, an overwhelming majority of the US public is now “far left.” Put another way, what the corporate media characterizes as “far left” views have become the “mainstream center.”

While you are at it, you can add to the list of mainstream America’s “far left” views the issue of gays in the military. According to yesterday’s Washington Post, 75 percent of Americans now support allowing gays in the military – as opposed to 44 percent in 1993. That support cuts across party identification and now includes a majority of Republicans. Yet another “far left” position that happens to be held by three-quarters of the American people.

This brought to mind one of the right-wing’s favorite canards, repeated endless in this campaign cycle: That Barack Obama is the most “liberal” member of the Senate. The source of this claim is the National Journal, which conveniently also found that John Kerry was the most “liberal” senator in 2004.

So let’s take a look at some of the things that the National Journal deems to be the “liberal” position:

  • Voting to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission is the “liberal” position. Who knew that “Homeland Security” was “liberal”?

  • Establishing a Senate Office of Public Integrity to handle ethics complaints against senators. (This is one of two votes that supposedly made Obama more “liberal” than Hillary Clinton.) As a general matter, the National Journal deems any kind of ethics reform or transparency in government to be “liberal.” Good government is now, apparently, an ideological issue?

  • Any measure supporting the “pay-as-you-go” budget rules (i.e., requiring that spending increases be matched by tax increases or decreases in other spending; and requiring that tax cuts be matched by spending cuts or increases in other taxes). These are the rules that were supported by large bipartisan majorities in the ‘90’s and that led to record budget surpluses and federal spending growth at rates much lower than the growth in GDP and much lower than federal spending growth under subsequent Republican control. In other words, according the National Journal, fiscal responsibility is now the “liberal” position, even if it results in slower growth in government spending. This is in contrast with the ‘90’s when the infamous Republican “Contract with America” promised a Constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets. Back then, fiscal responsibility was deemed the “conservative” position; now it is the “liberal” view – apparently for the sole reason that Republicans now oppose it.

  • Any measure that is pro-immigrant or pro-immigration is deemed “liberal.” By contrast, allowing Mexican trucks on US highways is deemed “conservative.” So letting Mexicans into the country is “liberal” unless they are driving trucks, then it is “conservative.” Go figure.

  • Voting to approve the 2008 federal budget is deemed “liberal.” How you can take all the thousands of items in the federal budget and characterize them collectively as “liberal” is beyond me – that would include, for example, US military spending greater than that of all the rest of the world combined. (Of course, had Obama voted against that budget, Republicans would have run attack ads claiming that he voted against the military, against the intelligence agencies, against Homeland Security, etc.)

  • Following along the same lines, repeal of the estate tax (paid by less than 2% of estates) at a time the country is fighting two wars and is running record budget deficits is deemed “conservative.”

  • Increasing auto fuel efficiency and all other measures supporting energy conservation or alternative energy is “liberal.” Apparently going further into debt to the Chinese to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran while unfavorably altering the climate of the planet is the “conservative” approach.

  • Limiting the deployment of most Army troops serving in Iraq to 12 consecutive months is deemed “liberal.” Similarly, requiring longer rest periods for US troops sent to war (i.e., requiring that troops have as much time in the US between tours of duty as they spend in the war zone) is “liberal.” Both of these were longstanding practices of our military before the Iraq war strained our military to the breaking point. “Supporting the Troops” is now the “liberal” position.

You get the idea. Who decides these things? (Well, in this case, obviously, the National Journal.) At what point in time, for example, did the corporate media collective decree that fiscal responsibility and support for the troops switched from being “conservative” to be being “liberal”?

You may be wondering, how does John McCain rank on the infamous National Journal liberal/conservative score? According to the National Journal, McCain got NO RANKING:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the only other senator whose presidential candidacy survived the initial round of primaries and caucuses this year, did not vote frequently enough in 2007 to draw a composite score. He missed more than half of the votes in both the economic and foreign-policy categories.

So while it’s a pretty good bet you have head the claim that Obama is the Senate’s “most liberal” member, I’m certain you haven’t heard that McCain received no ranking in the same study. The reason I’m certain of that is because, as Media Matters documents, none of the corporate media reported it in the course of repeating the Obama claim. That’s right, the corporate media simply ignored part about McCain missing too many votes to even receive a ranking.

But, in case you’re interested, according to
Congressional Quarterly, McCain voted with Bush 100% of the time in 2008 and 95% of the time in 2007. Bush’s Third Term, indeed.

Turns out, McCain is WAY out in front for the
most votes missed by any Senator: He has missed 62.6% of all votes – the only other Senator to miss a majority of votes was Tim Johnson of South Dakota who, as you may recall, suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage and spent several months recovering. Even then, Johnson only missed 50.3% of Senate votes. Apparently a senator would have to die to have a worse voting record than McCain.

(So now you are probably asking, what about Obama? Despite a much longer primary campaign than McCain, Obama only missed 43.7% of the Senates votes – casting 50% more votes than McCain.)

Oh, and despite being the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain attended ZERO of his own
committee’s six hearings on Afghanistan – not important, I guess.

And now McCain is
running attack ads against Obama asserting that as chairman of the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Obama failed to hold a single hearing on Afghanistan. I bet you didn’t know Afghanistan was in Europe, did you? But, see, according to McCain, since we have NATO allies in Afghanistan, the war there falls under Obama’s subcommittee jurisdiction (even though Committee chairman Biden thinks otherwise).

But I wouldn’t be waiting for the corporate media to report McCain’s failure to attend his own committee’s six hearings on Afghanistan.

Presumably, to do so would be “liberal.” Or some such nonsense.

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