James Carville and President Barack Obama (Reuters/AP)

The perils of partisan punditry in the Obama age

Many of the most consequential political facts reside outside R v. D bickering, and are thus ignored

Glenn Greenwald
September 15, 2011 4:16PM (UTC)

Democratic strategist and CNN pundit James Carville has written an article declaring Obama's political and policy approaches to be abject failures and advising several steps to correct course, such as: fire large numbers of his advisers, "make a case like a Democrat," and "Panic."  At the end of his list of serious grievances against the White House, he includes this paragraph to make clear that he's still a Good Democrat and is offering the advice only because he wants to help the President win re-election:

As I watch the Republican debates, I realize that we are on the brink of a crazy person running our nation. I sit in front of the television and shudder at the thought of one of these creationism-loving, global-warming-denying, immigration-bashing, Social-Security-cutting, clean-air-hating, mortality-fascinated, Wall-Street-protecting Republicans running my country.

Those first three adjectival accusations against the Republicans -- "creationism-loving, global-warming-denying, immigration-bashing" -- are fair enough, but let's look at the last four:









Indeed, the second item on Carville's own list of advice was "Indict," as he complained that the DOJ has not investigated the Wall Street criminals responsible for the 2008 collapse.  So, just as Carville laments, it sure would be horrible if we had a "Social-Security-cutting, clean-air-hating, mortality-fascinated, Wall-Street-protecting Republican running my country."


What Carville's confused, contradictory screed highlights is the difficulty of trying to understand American political conflicts through an exclusively partisan prism of Democrats v. Republicans.  Some issues are properly assessed via that dichotomy, but many -- a growing number -- are not.  Nonetheless, confining oneself to Democrat v. Republican bickering is the admission price to establishment media access -- that is the only prism they understand or permit -- and most pundits thus happily cling to it; indeed, partisan pundits take the lead role in enforcing this orthodoxy and trying to marginalize anyone who deviates from it or resides outside of it.  Political issues insusceptible to this two-team mindset are deemed fringe and rendered invisible.  The result (by design) of this narrow, stultifying framework is that many -- perhaps most -- of the most consequential political developments are ignored.

* * * * *

Just as a few recent, illustrative examples of how the strictly partisan prism distorts rather than clarifies political realities, consider: 


(1) this Washington Post Editorial lambasting the GOP presidential candidates for being insufficiently pro-war (less pro-war than the Obama administration);

(2) this New York Times article on how the bulk of Sarah Palin's political message is hostile to GOP orthodoxy and the GOP itself, and even likely to appeal to liberals: 


She made three interlocking points. First, that the United States is now governed by a "permanent political class," drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second, that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called "corporate crony capitalism." Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private). . . .

Her second point, about money in politics, helped to explain the first. The permanent class stays in power because it positions itself between two deep troughs: the money spent by the government and the money spent by big companies to secure decisions from government that help them make more money.

Ms. Palin’s third point was more striking still: in contrast to the sweeping paeans to capitalism and the free market delivered by the Republican presidential candidates whose ranks she has yet to join, she sought to make a distinction between good capitalists and bad ones. The good ones, in her telling, are those small businesses that take risks and sink and swim in the churning market; the bad ones are well-connected megacorporations that live off bailouts, dodge taxes and profit terrifically while creating no jobs.

Are there any prominent Democrats Party officials voicing that critique? 

(3) this new report on the thousands -- literally -- of ex-Hill staffers who now work as lobbyists, and the hundreds of lobbyists who now work as Hill staffers; the lobbying firm with the greatest number of ex-Hill staffers is the Obama-connected Podesta Group, co-founded by former Clinton White House aide and current CAP Executive Director John Podesta and run by his brother (the Podesta Group spent years lobbying for the Mubarak regime to make sure the money and weapons kept flowing); in second place behind the Podesta Group is the GOP-allied Chamber of Commerce; and congratulations are in order for Jim Manley, Harry Reid's long-time spokesman, who yesterday annonced he was joining the bipartisan lobbying firm of Quinn Gillespie;

(4) the Obama administration ran to the Washington Post Editors yesterday to assure them that they wouldn't be violating Obama's oft-stated pledge to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 by leaving 3,000 troops there, but would instead . . . almost certainly leave far more in Iraq; and,


(5) this extraordinary and very insightful endorsement of Elizabeth Warren's Senate candidacy from Rod Dreher, a long-time, hard-core conservative and former National Review writer (via Andrew Sullivan):

Unless Jeff Jacoby tells me something bad I don’t know about her -- and what I don’t know about Elizabeth Warren is a lot -- I'm rooting for her. I can understand her holding her fire (for now) against the Democrats, for tactical reasons, but if she wins -- and I hope she does -- then I hope she goes to DC with both barrels blazing, and with the understanding that the enemy of the financial interests of ordinary Americans is the capture of both parties by Wall Street and the banks. If she goes to DC and gets captured by Democratic partisans, it will be a colossal waste.

These are the vital truths that have nothing to do with -- indeed, are continuously obscured by -- the repetitive, shallow, cable-news-staple of R v. D punditry.  And it's why partisans of both parties have the same interest -- and work so hard together -- to ensure that it is the only framework that is heard.

Glenn Greenwald

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