Thursday, January 31, 2008

What's Up With MoveOn?

I am a member of I believe that they do a lot of good work. I have even sent them a few bucks. But lately they have taken a direction that exposes some disturbing flaws. One current campaign is to mobilize members to ensure a "progressive landslide" in November. That sounds like a worthy goal, one that I would certainly get behind. Trouble is there is not a progressive candidate in sight that one can vote for. It seems that MoveOn chooses to conflate "Democratic" with "progressive". A very cynical ploy, in my judgment and one that is difficult to fathom. MoveOn leadership certainly knows what a true progressive is, so they also know that of the original slate of Democratic presidential wannabes the only one with real progressive credentials is Dennis Kucinich, and maybe Mike Gravel. Edwards is a populist trying to sound like a progressive but without the record to validate him. Clinton and Obama are certainly no progressives. So what is MoveOn up to? Progressives out here know we don't have a horse in the race. MoveOn is not fooling us. Is MoveOn trying to fool the rest of their membership? Is there not some risk in confusing people into thinking any Democratic candidate is a progressive candidate? Does that not subvert the meaning of "progressive"?

I am unpleasantly reminded of the activities of Lyndon LaRouche's U.S. Labor Party in the 1970's. A covert right-wing group with Fascist tendencies, its members posed publicly as socialists in an attempt to subvert and discredit real socialist and communist groups and their members. I really hope MoveOn does not have some hidden agenda but my gut is sending me a warning.

While thinking about that matter I had another realization. MoveOn boasts of being strongly pro-democracy ("Democracy in Action") and has repeatedly organized mass movements for good causes. But the way the organization operates is hardly democratic. In its relationship to it members this is a top-down outfit. I could find no forums on the web site, no place there for members to have open discussions on issues with the leadership or other members. There are MoveOn "groups" on Facebook but since I am not registered with Facebook I don't have access and therefore can't know what they are about. Why is this not available to me with my MoveOn membership alone? The only experience I have had with offering input to MoveOn is when they specifically solicit it. The leadership maintains strict control over the agenda. They decide what questions get put to the membership. In my book, this is not Democracy in Action.

Well hidden on the web site is a spot where one can make comments or suggestions. The following notice appears there: "We value your comments and suggestions. While we are unable to personally respond to your comments and suggestions all information coming to us, whether through email, surveys and other member driven communication, is shared with the staff on a regular basis." Not exactly an open invitation to become involved in participatory democracy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Superficial Media

After watching the Democratic candidates debate on Tuesday, January 22 I was struck by the similarities to the genres of "reality" programs and "infotainment" shows. The geniuses who have handed us a two year presidential campaign season have handed the media, especially the broadcast and cable TV channels, a gold mine. Who needs news when one can air all "politics" all the time. However, after already campaigning for a year do these candidates actually have anything new to say? What is it going to be like from now until November? With their positions already well staked out all that is left besides repetition is muckraking and mudslinging. The TV pundits, commentators, analysts and consultants have their hands full. The challenge is to hold on to their viewing audience for the next nine months in the absence of anything new and of substance to talk about (actually, there are many substantive issues to be addressed but these are equally ignored/neglected by the candidates and the media folks). In order to do that, shows on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc. have substituted Hillary, Barack, John and the others for Britney, Paris and Lindsay as subjects of their excessive scrutiny and superficial or misplaced analysis. Their view, or that of their corporate masters, is that serious, in depth discussion of issues that matter deeply to the American people is bad television. It won't sell their advertisers' products, or worse, it might expose the role of the parent companies in contributing to those very issues that are causing such grief to the country.

So rather than add fresh insights, accurate information and objective analysis to the unfolding events of the campaign, these shows tend toward the sensational as a means of attracting and holding viewers. They endlessly replay provocative sound bites, exaggerate or inflame candidates' comments that may (or may not) have some racial or ethnic edge to them and beat to death minor issues that have no significance to anyone but, perhaps, the commentators. They also encourage silly and pointless sparring between "liberal" and "conservative" commentators. All to fill air time. There are so many words being spoken about so little it is truly astonishing! These are the people for whom the term "talking heads" was invented.

The one program that I would cite as an exception to the typical news programming characterized above is Countdown with Keith Olberman. Although not completely exempt from the criticism noted above Olberman has been given a longer leash by the network bosses, allowing him to make more pointed criticism of the Bush Administration and individuals in it, including the President himself. NBC appears willing to take a calculated risk that it will attract more viewers. Presumably, an increase in viewers of a more progressive persuasion will more than offset a loss of viewers of a more conservative persuasion, resulting in a net gain. I am under no illusion that the continuation of the Olberman show represents a leaning to the Left by NBC. It is simply business. As long as the advertisers are pleased Olberman will remain.