Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Simultaneous Decline Of Reportage and Rise Of Pollsters

In his ceaselessly amazing ability to digest the stalest of middlebrow horseshit from the (assumably overly generous) book deals granted our country's pundit class, Thomas Frank compares the arrogant and (incite/insight)ful coverage of the '68 Chicago riots by Norman Mailer to the fluffy, self-congratulatory "adventures in polling data" found in political consultant Douglas Schoe's Declaring Independence and pollster John Zogby's The Way We’ll Be. Here's the meat:
At the pinnacle of all these trite formulations, the pollster places the sleepiest, most shopworn cliché of them all, the cliché to which Zogby has dedicated his book and apparently his life: the “American Dream” and its “Transformation.” To me the idea is so thickly meaningless, so impenetrable, that I would rather just forget the whole thing. Zogby insists, however, that the American people get it and even adore it. Yes, “the public understands the new American dream just fine.” Apparently, what he means is this: Americans used to want merely to get rich, but now they understand that there are limits, and so they want greenness and authenticity and all the other aforementioned clichés, clichés that (by the way) powered countless similarly banal books all through the 1970s and beyond.

I mock, but the American Dream is a banality that apparently never requires definition and yet is capable of launching our pundit class on endless expeditions to the shimmering El Dorado of . . . the center.

Ah, the center! Now there is the place to be. The existential radical Mailer wouldn’t be caught dead there, but at least he was willing to identify its coordinates correctly: In 1968, “the center” obviously meant the Great Society liberalism that was shared by Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Nelson Rockefeller alike. Corporate liberalism was simply the logic of the nation’s political machinery, and everyone knew it—although plenty of people hated it. These days, of course, the proper political writer is no existentialist, and he dares not locate himself anywhere but the almighty center, that omphalos of triangulated righteousness. It is simply understood that you cannot possibly have anything worthwhile to say about American politics unless you can see the error of “both extremes” and know in your heart that the two parties behave in every situation as precise mirror images of each other.

There’s another telling difference: When our contemporary pundits take up the banner of centrism, they never mean Great Society liberalism, even though it’s easy to find polls that show the public still strongly approves of, say, national health care, safe workplaces, equality, the public financing of Social Security, and so on. To them, “the center” always seems to mean a sort of soft libertarianism: free markets, free trade, low taxes, and no more of that infernal bawling about moral values. The center, in other words, always turns out to be a perfect reflection of the political longings of the white-collar class.

[via Maud Newton]

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