Four more months to go, but already just about everything that can be said about the presidential election and the candidates has already been said – to death. You have to wonder what the politicians and their media are going to do for the next four months – summer reruns?
The only thing that could prevent people from completely tuning the media out is the possibility that real events, what used to be called news, like war and/or economic collapse will intervene and spare the media from having to recycle political talking points until election day. Of course, today’s politicized “journalists” and pundits are quite capable of filtering any “big” news story through their favorite political prism (see: the Aurora murders).
Nowadays, I rarely get past the first paragraph of a column or essay in which I cannot predict exactly which ax the writer is grinding. Nor can I expect to learn anything I haven’t read many, many times before.
Mark Helprin’s op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is one of those rare efforts that actually makes an original point, for which he deserves much credit. In the tradition of Orwell’s famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” Helprin notes a couple of recent examples of the media’s corruption of language in the service of partisan politics:
Every day it seems, reason and the English language are ravished by contemporary American politics.
For example, as there is no God-given tax rate, when the rate increases it is an increase, not the expiration of a decrease. Were it the latter, one could say that the Bush tax cuts were not tax cuts but the expiration of the Clinton increases, the Clinton increases the expiration of the Reagan cuts, the Reagan cuts the expiration of previous increases, and so on. Such is the thinking of non-effervescent minds that see as a cut a lesser increase in spending than they advocate, or urge passage of a stupendous, juggernaut, congressional bill so that they can find out what’s in it.
The nation appears more and more able to eat whatever words are shoved down its throat. It is told, and does not protest, that Islam is a religion of peace. Islam is indeed a religion of peace, but it is also, quite demonstratively and throughout the world in proof after proof day after day, a religion of war.
As the president travels about, yelling at America and dividing the population into good people and bad people (the bad ones being, purely by coincidence, those who don’t vote for him), he has adopted an extraordinary war cry that might make both Huey Long and Spiro Agnew smile in their graves: Millionaires and billionaires. Income or net worth, he doesn’t say, the idea being to grab a billionaire, turn him upside down, and shake money out of him. But in the president’s logic, this includes, for example, a couple earning $125,000 apiece. The trick is that you can indeed get a lot of money out of such people if you call them billionaires and turn enough of them upside down.
Perhaps the most brazen language diktat has been the mischievous switch of political colors. Stalin would hardly believe it, but blue now supposedly signifies the left and red the right. According to Wikipedia and the Washington Post, so it must be true, the change came in 2000 courtesy of MSNBC and NBC’s “Today” show. It next migrated to David Letterman at CBS, and then went bacterial… Saddling your political rivals with a symbol to which they have been historically opposed is either…[a joke] or numbing cluelessness.
It is the fashion of the hip to purge emotion and elaboration from art, in favor of a cold, conceptualist detachment, whereas people in flyover country are still stuck in 5,000 years of history and tradition, and sneer neither at sentiment nor the beating of the human heart. In art, many conservatives might be red and many liberals blue, but in politics?
Red is the mobile color of passion and engagement, and blue the staid color of reason and detachment. As you may recall, the left champions radical change spurred by boundless compassion, while the right wants to check the passions of human nature as they flow into politics, and to balance opposing powers in a stable equilibrium. Over time, natural affinities for the two colors have been confirmed by adoption—communist, socialist, and labor parties almost always favoring red. But if NBC says to, we had better jump into line. Most of the country has already done so without a thought. Who says “old media” is vestigial? They are highly adaptable, or, as they might say, “Better blue than dead.”
It might be difficult to get this past Putin, but the “Today” show’s guidance would tell us that the place where communist apparatchiks reviewed and may yet review rivers of missiles and goose-stepping soldiers is now Blue Square. The Soviet Blue Army fought the Germans at Stalingrad. Mao, the leader of Blue China, wrote the Little Blue Book, which was carried by the Revolutionary Blue Guard as they sang the Blue China anthem, “The East Is Blue.” And everyone knows that the flags of countries like the former Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, and North Korea are a brilliant, striking blue, just like the caps of the Jacobins.
The “blue towns” of Italy, run by the Italian Communist Party, shared with conservative red bastions the depredations of the Blue Brigades, which might have made Emma Goldman, famously known as “Blue Emma,” happy even during the infamous Blue Scare of 1919. Imagine if you will David Horowitz, a “blue-diaper baby,” clutching a copy of Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Blue October,” as he sits through Warren Beatty’s movie, “Blues,” which is not about music.
It may seem as silly as Dr. Seuss:
Red state, blue state!
What? Texas is red?
New York is blue?
What planet is this?
Who the hell knew?
But it’s slightly more serious, because it’s a little, ignorant tail wagging an old and venerable dog. It is also yet another example of a Fritz-Lang-like, gratuitous submission to spurious authority. There are a lot of those these days, as if it were our heritage, which it is not.
To echo Lenin, a well known Blue, what is to be done? Both change and charity should begin at home. That is, feed your own children and put your house in order before you interfere in the affairs of others. Fluffy media can do what it wants, but perhaps more astute publications might look upon their longer history, higher quality analysis, and greater seriousness than the “Today” show, and revert to tradition so that in their pages Austin is blue and Boston is red. Despite the commands of instantaneous fashion, there are a lot of people, the true blue, who will not ever believe otherwise.
Helprin is certainly correct that the Red State-Blue State shtick originated with Democratic Party media’s NBC, but my recollection is that the late Tim Russert invented the red state blue state map during election day coverage of the absurd 2000 Bush-Gore contest.
Why the color red was switched from its traditional association with the left is a matter of conjecture, but one best explained by NBC’s conscious or unconscious desire to shield the Democratic Party from any connection with communism and radicalism in the public mind.
Thanks to Mark Helprin for revealing an insidious current example of the political corruption of language that Orwell warned of many years ago.