Monday, November 22, 2010

By Republicans For Republicans: Who would referee the closed-circuit Republican debate?

The indispensable Steve Benen runs down the chatter among Republicans against any sort of engagement with non-partisan media:

The Daily Caller's report went on to note that Grover Norquist disapproves of "nitpicking from left-of-center journalists asking questions that will impress their fellow journalists." Far-right activist Brent Bozell was similarly displeased: "When, oh when will Republicans learn? Every four years the presidential debate season takes place. Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal 'moderators' except there's nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them."

Just at the surface, blasting NBC News and Politico as "liberal" seems pretty silly. MSNBC has some liberal hosts in primetime, but NBC News itself doesn't appear to have any political agenda to speak of. Politico, meanwhile, appears to me to lean pretty clearly in Republicans' favor.

Indeed, in 2007, there was an NBC/Politico event, and the moderators were practically deferential towards the candidates, asking one softball after another.

That said, I don't much care either way whether the event takes place, or whether anyone shows up. What's more interesting to me is the competing partisan standards. A year before the 2008 presidential election, you may recall, Fox News was scheduled to host a debate for Democratic presidential candidates. The highest-profile Dems quickly balked at participating in an event aired and organized by a Republican propaganda outlet, and the debate was scrapped.

But it was the reaction from the right that stood out. Bill O'Reilly compared Democratic presidential campaigns to Goebbels; Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes said Dems were guilty of "Stalinism"; and Fox News president Roger Ailes argued in all seriousness, "The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda."

And yet, here we are. Republicans are complaining about an NBC/Politico event, and at this point, aren't facing any pushback at all.

It's a shame and it would be a disgrace if there was that much left for Republicans to disgrace. But what interests me is who would form the panel to moderate such a debate. I very much doubt Rush Limbaugh would be asked, since polls like this one show him as politically toxic and having every Republican sucking up to him would be devastating to the party. It would, among other things, revive the meme that Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party and be worth a couple billion propaganda points for the Democrats. So it can't be Rush. It can't be Michael Savage, for reasons obvious to any follower to politics. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck would probably be out--not for conflict of interest reasons due to moderating a debate with their FNC colleagues, since they don't really care about that stuff (see Beck's pimping of Goldbug for a prime example of this)--so much as because all of these guys insist on self-identifying as independents as a defense against the liberal attacks against them as party hacks. They are party hacks to varying degrees, but the justification behind Fox News is that applying a conservative lens to current events is somehow a corrective for the liberal lens that the mainstream media allegedly uses when presenting the news. Of course, even this frequent justification is misguided, since opposing biases don't just cancel each other out, presuming the bias even exists in the first place. But there is a difference between presenting yourself as just an independent trying to present the news as stripped of bias instead of a Republican trying to get out what the party wants you to get out. It turns out that there is no substantive difference when it comes to the outcomes produced by these two approaches, as Fox News is generally in sync with unapologetic partisan organs such as Weekly Standard, but it makes a difference in terms of perception among your viewers.

So, if O'Reilly and Hannity were to moderate a debate amongst Republicans (I'm guessing Beck would not get an invitation, for even more obvious reasons), they would be inserting themselves into the political process in a way that would severely undermine their professions of "independence" to such an extent that even Fox News viewers might find it hard to justify. It might not matter that much, since Beck has been inserting himself into the political process quite baldly and has not lost support at Fox, but I think O'Reilly and Hannity see themselves very differently than Beck does. And if all those people are off the table, you're down to the second-string right-wing crew, with the likes of Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and so forth. Considering the weakness of the GOP field so far, I wonder if such an event absent a marquee right-wing panel would really summon up all that much interest.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.