Saturday, November 08, 2008

All Over but the Lying

by Jamison Foser for Media Matters

On Tuesday, Americans chose as their next president an African-American named Barack Obama who campaigned on a near-universal health-care plan, allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, and a move away from the belligerent foreign policy of the past eight years. Republicans, and some journalists, had spent months (falsely) saying Obama is the single most liberal member of the U.S. Senate -- and maybe even a socialist. The American people responded by electing him in a landslide.

This, naturally, is very good news for the Republicans, according to many pundits. It proves once again that America remains a "center-right" nation.

Right about now, you're probably scratching your head, wondering how the election of the "most liberal" member of the Senate, a man who campaigned on a promise of near-universal health care, could possibly be described as evidence of a conservative country.

To be sure, it requires some creative thinking.

NBC's Tom Brokaw, for example, looked at county-by-county election results and concluded that counties carried by John McCain account for greater land mass than those carried by Barack Obama. This would be meaningful, if only fields and streams and rocks and trees were conservative voters. But they aren't: They are fields and streams and rocks and trees. They are neither liberal nor conservative; they tell us nothing about the nation's political leanings. People tell us something about the nation's leanings -- and more people voted for Barack Obama.

Then there's CNN's John King Wednesday night. Just try to follow his logic:

KING: Without a doubt, the electorate voted for Barack Obama, but still perceives him to be a liberal. And one thing you don't want to do when you win an election like this, a sweeping election like this, is alienate the people here in a place like Cincinnati. Why? George W. Bush carried that county four years ago. You don't want to drive them away.


So, Barack Obama is making inroads in communities that not too long ago voted Republican. The last thing you want to do if you want to keep them four years from now is to alienate them with a liberal agenda.

That simply does not make any sense. John King says Barack won a "sweeping election" even though the electorate "perceives him to be a liberal" -- so he better not pursue a "liberal agenda" or he will "alienate them."

Got that?

Later that same night, King added that Obama "does not get a mandate to be a liberal." Again, this is pure nonsense. John King says voters perceive Obama to be a liberal. John King says Obama won a "sweeping victory." And yet John King says that Obama's sweeping victory among an electorate that considers him a liberal does not constitute a mandate to be a liberal. This is illogical, self-discrediting foolishness.

At least King was considerate enough to debunk his own absurd conclusions in near-real time. Conservatives making similar claims were not so kind.

Media Research Center president Brent Bozell -- who does not get nearly the recognition he deserves for being one of the most clownish figures in the conservative movement -- took to Fox News to announce that Obama had won by campaigning as a "Reaganite" and a "fiscal conservative."

Couple of problems with that claim.

First, Bozell didn't explain what he meant by "fiscal conservative," but its typical meaning -- supportive of restrained spending and balanced budgets -- is so far removed from the actual governing performance of actual conservatives that the phrase ought to be retired from use.

Second, Bozell's claim that Obama won as a "Reaganite" is a little odd, given that it wasn't that long ago that conservatives were saying Obama was campaigning on a "redistribution of wealth" that constituted "socialism." And when I say "conservatives," I mean Brent Bozell. And by "it wasn't that long ago," I mean last week.

(How much of a fraud is Bozell? In 1998, Bozell claimed the media weren't paying enough attention to Monica Lewinsky -- at a time when there were 500 news reports a day on the topic. Now he's alternately claiming Obama is a "socialist" and a "Reaganite." And in his column last week, he complained that a recent Project for Excellence in Journalism study overstated the extent of negative coverage of Obama by including "talk-radio hosts from Rush Limbaugh to Randi Rhodes" who are supposed to "express an opinion." But that complaint is completely false. The study in question specifically excluded talk radio. It's right there in the study's methodology: "Talk radio stories, which are part of PEJ's regular NCI, were not included in this campaign study of tone." If Brent Bozell tells you the sun is shining, you better grab an umbrella.)

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