Throughout much of last year’s presidential campaign, and right on through the first weeks of Barack Obama’s administration, the media has persistently peddled the falsehood that America is a center-right nation, politically and socially. Now Media Matters has published a study (full pdf here) that thoroughly debunks this notion, and they do it by using surveys and facts that realistically portray the ideological character of the country – something the media may want to check in to.
The Media Matters study is a comprehensive look at the American electorate. It covers virtually every one of the most debated subjects of public discourse: Size of government; health care; taxes; abortion; gay rights. It also examines the demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, and geography. And every case the evidence shows that America is a progressive, and yes, a center-left nation.
And nowhere is this more misunderstood than in the media:
- Tom Brokaw (NBC): “This country, even with the election of Barack Obama last night, remains a very centered country, or maybe even center-right in a lot of places.”
- Jon Meacham (Newsweek): “…insisted that to govern successfully, Obama had to become a center-right leader in order to match America’s ‘instinctively conservative’ streak.”
- David Broder (Washington Post): “…warned that too many victorious Democrats in Congress had ‘ideas of their own about what should be done in energy, health care and education.'”
- Karl Rove (Fox News): “Barack Obama understands this is a center-right country.”
- Chris Wallace (Fox News): “You could make the argument that this is still a center-right country.”
- Chris Matthews (MSNBC): “I’ve noted that we’re right of center except when we’re in a crisis, when we’re left of center.”
- Bob Schieffer (CBS): “These Democrats that were elected last night are conservative Democrats.”
I’m not sure exactly why the press is so brain dead in this regard. It’s not as if the record isn’t crystal clear. Obama was portrayed by Republicans, and most of the press, as a liberal extremist – even as a Socialist, or worse. And yet, Obama won a decisive victory. Democrats have also been winning larger majorities in the Congress with each election cycle. And Obama’s approval rating have maintained stratospheric levels. The public supports the President’s policies even when they are told that it may increase their taxes.
At the other end of the scale, Republicans are descending into historical depths of disrepute. Their de facto leaders are universally despised figures like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. Their policies, I’m sure, would be rejected with equal disdain, if they were to articulate any. As it is, they just regurgitate the same old slogans they have been chanting for decades, and those are not particularly well received.
It will be interesting to see what it will take to get the media to recognize what the rest the country already knows. This is a nation that has had its fill of rightist greed and incompetence. We have ousted many of the representatives in public office who led the nation down a path of war and recession. While we can, and did, adjust the make up of our government to more closely reflect our values, it will not be as easy to fix the media. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.