Jane Hamsher, editor of FireDogLake, has coined the term “Veal Pen” to describe the process by which the Democratic Party disciplines liberals. “The White House controls its left flank and maintains discipline,” so that they can carry out a “neoliberal agenda”
Why would a Democratic Administration, that came into office promising “Hope and Change,” throw liberal supporters under the bus, and not value their help in implementing more liberal policies?
I have a provocative idea–use the propaganda model laid out in Manufacturing Consent, the groundbreaking book, written by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, to illustrate how the Democratic Party limits liberal policies.
The propaganda model, as propagated by Chomsky and Herman, lays out a structural critique of the inherent bias contained within the media. They describe the propaganda model as a way to focus on the “inequality of wealth and power and its effects on mass-media interests and choices. It traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their message across to the public.”
The five components of their propaganda model, or filters, fall under the following headings: 1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass media firms. 2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media. 3) the reliance of the media on information provided by the government, business, and “experts” funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power. 4) flak as a means of disciplining the media. 5) anti-communism as a national religion and control mechanism.”
This propaganda model has proven to be a powerful method of media analysis, but how does it apply to the Democratic Party and its influence on liberal or left policies in general?
Let’s substitute the Democratic Party for media, plug it into the propaganda model, and see what we discover.
The first filter is ownership. I wrestled with this one. I mean, who the fuck owns the Democratic Party? But then it hit me. It’s not the ownership per say. Similar to the way that the concentration in ownership of the media eliminates competition, the ownership by the Democrats of the so called “liberal” party in America blocks any other parties from forming that would truly represent the left in America.
The second filter is advertising. The media is largely funded by corporate advertising which imposes a severe limit on their reporting. For the Democratic Party the dominant funders of the party represent the advertisers, and under the Obama Administration that equals Wall Street. The need to raise a lot of money to be elected, ensures that there is a narrow range of policies that are acceptable. Wealthy donors fund Democratic candidates for office and if they are not happy with policies they can cut off funding and or fund other more conservative challengers. Why do you think the Blue Dogs exist?
The third filter is sourcing, or the sources of information that are perceived to be legitimate that the media can safely use within the time constraints imposed by commercials. Can you say–conventional wisdom? This idea of sourcing relates to which voices are given credence and which voices are muzzled. Within the Democratic Party the sources that are dominant are the neoliberal think tanks, such as the the Hamilton Group, the Third Way and the Brookings Institute, etc, that consistently advocate policies that benefit the wealthy and corporations. As for the voices that are muzzled, I’ll let Hamsher take that one “the Obama Administration is corralling big liberal DC interest groups,” making sure that they don’t advocate any policies that challenge their ability to protect Wall Street. “If you criticize the White House on financial issues your funding would dry up.”
The forth filter is “flak,” or what happens to you when you do advocate liberal domestic policies, or alternatives to empire and endless war. Like the media, the Democratic Party is susceptable to pressure from corporate donors, the Pentagon and other powerful government figures, in the form of media statements, e-mails, phone calls, and other modes of complaint or threat. The Obama Administration has shown its clear hostility to liberal policies, with advocacy groups that crossed him confined to the”Veal Pen.” Within the blogosphere there exists Pro-Democratic Party agents like Daily Kos, Booman, Balloon Juice and Move-On that use “flak” to deter any progressives straying from the party line. With Obama’s presidential campaign gearing up we are seeing more and more of this pressure to fall in line and support the President.
The final filter is that of anti-communism. Even though the Soviet Union went out of business and communism has ceased to be a world wide force does not mean that its utility as a tool to demonize has lessoned. As Chomsky and Herman note, “Communism as the ultimate evil has always been the specter haunting property owners, as it threatens the very root of their class position and superior status. This ideology helps mobilize the populace against an enemy, and because the concept is fuzzy it can be used against anybody advocating policies that threaten property interests.” Just like the media, the Democratic Party is under great pressure to demonstrate their antipathy to anything that smacks of communism, and this causes them to behave very much like Republicans with their foreign and domestic policies. The fuzziness Chomsky and Herman describe, helps explain the demonization of Occupy Wall Street as some sort of communist threat to the elite.
The practical effect of these five filters are the policies of the Democratic Party. If you’ve been paying attention the last three years you might recognize them. From not prosecuting criminal acts committed by the Bush Administration to healthcare reform, to HAMP, to their policy of coddling bankers, to the surge in Afghanistan, to the torture of prisoners in offshore gulags, to the signing of the National Defense Appropriation Act, to assassination of Americans, to drone strikes, the list goes on. I reserve special condemnation for President Obama using his bully pulpit to spout untrue, right wing bullshit to a nation generally made up of dullards.
This behavior by the present Obama Administration tracks historically. Since President Woodrow Wilson and the Red Scare, the Democratic Party has sought to be a bulwark against radicalism, socialism, and communism, essentially saying politically: this far and no further to the left. Since the fall of the Soviet Union the Democrats have moved ever more to the right, as if to prove Margaret Thatcher correct–“there is no alternative”–to neoliberal capitalism.
Yet the Democratic Party still maintains the fiction that they are the left in America. The Republicans play along with this kabuki by demonizing non-existent liberals and portraying the President as a wild eyed socialist.
And, no, I’m not advocating for Republicans, or Libertarians, or Ron Paul. But if you’re advocating for progressive policies you better damn well understand the present political reality.
I know, this is pretty far out stuff. The three people that read my blog probably think I’ve got the tin foil hat on just a little too tight.
But being provocative and challenging conventional wisdom is the whole point of this blog. Right?
Stay tuned in for future episodes when we discuss how little Timmy Geithner is really an alien rather than just a sycophantic suck up.