On Saturday, November 10th, our eyes scanned the editorial page of the Leesburg Daily Commercial and picked up some exceedingly interesting words. Our pulses quickened as we wondered if a kindred spirit had emerged from the great Republican swamp to hurl a blazing Molotov cocktail at the concrete edifice of the newspaper we love to hate. And then our mouths hit the floor in utter amazement at what we read.
Timed almost perfectly to coincide with one of the empire’s annual celebrations of military virtue, Robert Short’s guest column began with an apparently innocuous autobiographical sketch, intended to build a foundation of personal credibility from which he would launch his attack. Carefully draping himself in the red, white, and blue, Mr. Short announced himself as President Reagan’s loyal servant in the “surrogate radio broadcasting organization” aimed at countering Soviet propaganda “through honesty in reporting.” (He meant to refer to Radio Free Europe, and one wonders why he refused to say so. Perhaps he sought an added aura of spook-like mystery.) Upon retiring to Eustis, Mr. Short found the Daily Commercial comfortingly similar in tone to the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper, and regarded it as “well balanced.” Suitably braced, he fired off the following broadside:
Unfortunately, the Daily Commercial has radically changed its content from middle of the road to virtually 100 percent left-wing Associated Press diatribe. Also, the Scripps Howard editorials are 90 percent biased towards the left.
A third annoying issue is the radical left-wing cartoonist Gene Packwood. This individual is always shoving it to Republicans. From the aspect of his cartoons, one would never realize he is a former Marine. I don’t know any Marines who ascribe to his political philosophy.
Other irritants relate to constant propaganda barrages by local left-wing Democrats on your editorial pages. I know what propaganda is, and these people fill that mode with consistency.
It’s terrible a once honorable political party, the Democrats, have to obfuscate facts in such vitriolic, demeaning manners. Worse, they are aided and abetted by the Daily Commercial.
As Steve Irwin used to say, crikey!
Propaganda for Propagandists
It would be tempting to dismiss this remarkable emission as the ramblings of yet another aged Republican mind suffering from the same ailment as the great jelly-bean snarfer himself. But such an interpretation, apart from being an ad hominem fallacy, would fail to do justice to the intentions of the columnist. What we have here – though obviously the author would deny this, with hand on heart – is a piece of propaganda on behalf of propagandists. The editors of the Daily Commercial, far from being upset by Mr. Short’s damning verdict, must have been falling over themselves to rush this to the presses. For if your objective is to push the political center ever further to the right, thereby preventing anything remotely “progressive” from spoiling our nation’s corporate profit binge, then nothing could be more useful than a cover story that tells the exact opposite of the truth about your objectives. All the Daily Commercial needs is for enough gullible readers to think it is – what’s the phrase we’re looking for? – fair and balanced. And if you have people taking pot shots at you from the right, then you cannot possibly be too conservative, can you? Given that numerous readers regard Russ Sloan as an academic because he is employed by what used to be known as Lake-Sumter Community College, we can easily imagine a goodly number being impressed by Mr. Short’s display of his resume.
That said, let’s pick through this rotting ideological carcass and see what it tells us about the cause of death.
An Army of One
Readers may have noticed a certain lack of modesty on Mr. Short’s part. In burnishing his credentials as an expert in the field of propaganda, he gives himself an awful lot of credit:
My task had been, at the urging of President Ronald Reagan, to create the capability to neutralize Soviet Union communist propaganda. This event did occur less than three years after my initial posting. How did we overwhelm them? Through honesty in reporting.
For many readers of the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the spirit of the Gipper lives on like a GOP Camelot. But like all myths, it leaves reality out of the picture. The fall of the Iron Curtain had far more to do with internal collapse and the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev than with the radio broadcasts of the United States. And even if we want to pursue the conventional argument that the Soviet Union couldn’t keep up with Ronnie’s arms race or Star Wars fantasies, it remains far too simplistic to contend that we “overwhelmed” them. And, though the likes of Mr. Short would never admit the possibility, the United States has an imperial collapse of its own to look forward to. Pride, as they say, comes before the fall.
If modesty isn’t Mr. Short’s strong point, statistical analysis fares no better. His conclusion that the Associated Press (AP) and Scripps Howard News Service are, respectively, 100% and 90%, left-wing is nothing more than an ipse dixit. Did he glean this information from the media studies unit of a prominent university? And in this painstaking study, what criteria were used to determine “leftness”? Is the AP considered irredeemably Democratic if it dares to point out that the Tea Party wing of the Republican House caucus was largely responsible for the downgrading of U.S. debt during the last debt-ceiling debacle? If so, they apparently failed to redeem themselves during the recent election campaign, when they ran lengthy articles detailing questionable factual claims by both candidates. Clearly, for Mr. Short, as for Don Magruder, the political center lies strictly within the confines of GOP orthodoxy. And neither one of them has noticed – or wants us to notice – how far that locus on the political spectrum has drifted to the right. For today’s Republican Party bears little resemblance to the party of Eisenhower and even makes Reagan look liberal in certain respects.1 And beyond the tired old charge of media bias, the contention that only the Democrats are bending the truth flies in the face of the endless lies we have all just watched spew from candidate Romney’s mouth. It seems to us that Mr. Short has spent rather too much time presenting information to audiences who are in no position to contradict it: people behind the Iron Curtain were, in a sense, the ultimate “low-information voters.” Put differently, we are not as stupid as he needs us to be.
More fundamentally, which newspaper is this man reading? How can any appraisal of the Daily Commercial be taken seriously when it fails to acknowledge the newspaper’s penchant for the relentless right-wing drivel of Cal Thomas, Star Parker, Deroy Murdock, and Jay Ambrose? Has Mr. Short never read Russ Sloan’s Bottom Line or meditated upon its implications for the overall thrust of this little rag? Are these people not sufficiently conservative to register on his acutely sensitive radar screen? And as for the “constant propaganda barrages by local left-wing Democrats,” has he not noticed the constant propaganda barrages by right-wing Republicans, Bible-bashing hypocrites, gun nuts, and Tea Party simpletons, many of whom merely parrot the dross they have been fed by the aforementioned paragons of Republican virtue? We don’t need any kind of statistical analysis to see which side gets the most column inches: we have the equivalent of a voice vote every week, and the screams of his side are loud enough to be heard by every senior sucking at the state’s Medicare teets. Does Mr. Short not understand that the newspaper, in its attempt to appear neutral, must print a few token letters from the untouchables? Does he seriously believe that, on tactical or purely business grounds, they should confine their space strictly to people as ideologically pure as himself? Did he learn absolutely nothing about the meaning of the First Amendment or the concepts of free speech or free assembly while he was explaining the miracle of America to the Evil Empire?
But the most profoundly objectionable aspect of Robert Short’s guest column is his outrageous claim that the citizens among us who are generally taken to be the very embodiment of American values – United States Marines – do not, and would never, subscribe to any political views that he deems excessively left-wing. And to make this absurd argument by impugning the character of Gene Packwood is beyond the pale. We have done business with Mr. Packwood (though he knows nothing of our involvement with this website). He is, in addition to a talented artist, a fine man, with a quality of bearing and manners rarely seen in this modern world. He does not need us to defend him, and probably cares not one whit for the opinion of Robert Short. But to contend that no good Marine would ever “shove it to Republicans” is to misunderstand the very values that U.S. Marines are supposed to serve.
Neither newly-minted U.S. citizens nor U.S. Marines take an oath promising to be right-wing Republicans. We are all, civilians and soldiers alike, at complete liberty to decide how we will exercise our power as a sovereign people. The scope of that power extends far beyond supporting, or withdrawing support from, any particular party and reaches to the basic question of how our republic is organized in the first place. We the People, let us never forget, ordained the Constitution of 1787. If we wish to repeal that Constitution and replace it with another, just as the framers did in the 1780’s, we have every right to do that. Against this theoretical backdrop – the very essence of American republicanism (with a small ‘r’) – for one political party to arrogate unto itself an exclusive claim to represent “true” American values smacks of the same, single-party dictatorship that Radio Free Europe strove to undermine. As increasing numbers of Americans come to realize that neither political party has their best interests at heart – because they both work for the corporate interests that control our economy – the notions of strict party loyalty and party before country have become profoundly unpatriotic. James Madison attempted to design a system that would rise above parties and interests altogether. He failed, for reasons we have discussed elsewhere, but his ideals should not be drowned out by the propaganda of the plutocrats who threaten to destroy – and are already destroying – the republic Madison designed.
In its spectacular arrogance, contempt for reality, and flagrant disrespect for both the First Amendment and the anti-party spirit of the framing, Robert Short’s guest column is the worst ever printed in our years of reading the Leesburg Daily Commercial. Yet as the right wing continues to exert its inexorable gravitational pull on the political center, this is precisely the sort of hyperbolic nonsense to which we will be increasingly subjected. Under no circumstances can the demos be allowed to see just how far the so-called left has already been drawn. This is the great victory of the plutocracy and a great victory for its propaganda merchants, but a tragedy for the American republic.