A week ago I attended a panel discussion on the election of Schwartzenegger, put on by Bay Area Dems. Speakers that day included California’s Controller, Steve Westly, and Treasurer Phil Angelides. The panel included several high-level campaign consultants and ex-Clinton-White House officials.
Each panelist offered reasons they thought the recall occurred. Lots of high strategy was discussed. The reasons included the unpopularity of Davis, the failure to find and use a consistent framing narrative, the entry of Democrats into the race, failure of Get Out The Vote efforts, and others.
I listened to the panel and couldn’t get over the feeling that all these smart people were missing what to me is the most obvious component. I think that we can’t ignore that when you turn on AM radio you hear nonstop ridicule of Democrats and praise for Republicans. There’s just no way around this. This is what radio IS now, and this has to have an effect, not just in California, but nationwide. (I’m using AM radio as my example, but the fact is that the right dominates every communications channel.) Before the California election every AM station I tuned into was promiting Arnold all day, every day, nonstop. I mean national as well as local talk shows. Sean Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, etc. All of them, all the time. They were talking about how the Democrats had caused all the problems in the state, and how “we” all want Arnold to get rid of Davis and “fix” the state. All day, every day.
I have a little bit of a marketing background, but I don’t think you need to be a professional to know that marketing has an impact on people. It’s pretty basic that repetition drives a message into people’s consciousness. And what is going on around us, on the radio, on TV, in the newspapers, and from the Right’s politicians is repetition. Coordinated repetition of strategic messages.
In most parts of the country there is NO OTHER SOURCE OF INFORMATION. The public is saturated with right-wing messaging from radio, Fox News, and right-wing local newspapers. People like you and me don’t tend to listen to these right-wing talk shows, but I think we should. I think we need to understand the extent of right-wing domination, we need to experience it, and it would benefit our understanding of America to know what they are saying, every day. I listen when I’m driving somewhere — usually turning it off in disgust after a few minutes of lies — but I try to listen in several times a week.
There are a lot of people listening to this stuff. When you only have limited sources of information and everyone around you is in agreement on certain points, it’s hard to resist joining them. Most people are not newshounds. They form their opinions based on hearing a few filtered news items, and from a sense of what most people around them are thinking. For example, everyone has heard about the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued and got rich, and thinks there are too many lawsuits. This story is a flat-out lie, intentionally spread to further a right-wing agenda, but it is accepted as fact by almost everyone in this country. This is an example of manipulation of an information-poor environment to generate conventional wisdom. THIS is what is going on out there in America. Marketing professionals know how this works and know how to use it. When your message is repeated to a distracted public without opposition, your product sells.
It’s also much of the reason that Democrats are completely on the defensive, even in their own minds.
1) It doesn’t matter what your messages, arguments, merits, etc. are if the public doesn’t hear them — and hear them repeatedly.
2) The general public isn’t paying attention, and almost all of their information comes from right-wing dominated sources. (CBS cancelling the Reagan miniseries demonstrates the extend of right-wing’s domination of ALL sources of information AND the Right’s understanding of the importance of furthering thisdomination.)
Update — I just came across this piece by Thom Hartmann. Here’s an excerpt:
“The result of conservatives buying their way into our airwaves has been a conservative transformation in average Americans’ political viewpoints. Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads tune in to coast-to-coast, dawn-to-midnight conservative talk radio, and many have come to believe the right’s slogans and myths.
Thus, traditional American values of community and compassion have been replaced with the conservative notions that greed is good and corporations can better administer a democracy than a freely elected government. A vast national right-wing echo chamber across the AM dial has propelled conservative Republican candidates into office [emphasis mine – DJ], led us into two wars in two years, and succeeded in burying the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush administration while continuing to blame all things bad on Bill Clinton.”