Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: 'Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics' by Glenn Greenwald

Review by Joan McCarter
Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics 
By Glenn Greenwald 
Crown Publishers, New York, 2008
Glenn Greenwald is an angry blogger. Fortunately for us, he's also intelligent, insightful, and on our side.
From the time I began blogging in October, 2005, I've written about many different topics, but almost all have a similar undercurrent: the Limbaugh/Kristol/Fox-News right-wing faction that controls the Republican Party and has dominated our political life for the last 15 years, and the multiple ways that our political institutions -- and particularly the Drudgified establishment press -- enable them. Marketing packages aside, this book is about them; how they function; the weakness-driven bloodthirstiness, dishonesty and sleaze which defines them; the indispensable eagerness of the establishment media to be used by them; and what can be done by those opposed to them to change all of that.
It's not about the hypocrisy, it's about damage that the hypocrisy has done to our political processes and to our political discourse, leading to the ultimate example this weekend when the entire media has spent more time and real estate on "Bittergate" than on the fact that the highest officials in our government--including the President--conspired to commit acts of torture. It's the logical outgrowth of the Drudgified political world, which Glenn documents from its inception--creating the myth of the Great American Republican--through this cycle's presidential race.
Glenn must have donned an asbestos suit for this one, because his first line of attack is against that great American icon, Marion Morrison, AKA John Wayne. Attempting to topple that myth, Glenn exposes Wayne's draft-dodging, womanizing, drug- and alcohol-abusing, multiple-divorced self. The reinvention of the Republican male--many of whom mimic his immoral excesses and sordid personal life--along the lines of John Wayne is coupled with highly personalized, gender-based, and diminishing smears against Democratic opponents. Hillary Clinton is a "dyke" and John Edwards a "faggot." The fact that Mitt Romney spent as much on make-up as Edwards did on his haircut is overwhelmed by the cut of Romney's jaw and broad shoulders. Welcome to our Drudgified world:
What is notable here is not so much the specific petty attacks, but rather the method by which they are disseminated and then entrenched as conventional wisdom among our Really Smart Political Insiders and Serious Journalists.  This is the endlessly repeated process that occurred here:
STEP 1 A new Drudge-dependent gossip (Ben Smith) at a new substance-free political rag (The Politico)--or some rightwing talkradio host (Rush Limbaugh) or some credibility-bereft right-wing blogger (a Michelle Malkin)--seizes on some petty, manufactured incident to fuel clich├ęd caricatures of Democratic candidates.
STEP 2 The old right-wing gossip (Drudge) employs his old, substance-free political rag (The Drudge Report) to amplify the inane caricatures.
STEP 3 National media outlets, such as AP and CNN, whose world is ruled by Drudge, take note of and begin "analyzing" the "political implications" of the gossip, thus transforming it into "news stories."
STEP 4 Our Serious Beltway Journalists and Political Analysts--in the Haircut Case, Tim Russert and Brian Williams and Adam Nagourney and the very serious and smart Substantive Journalists at The New Republic--mindlessly repeat all of it, thereby solidifying it as transparent conventional wisdom.
STEP 5 When called upon to justify their endless reporting over such petty and pointless Drudge-generated matters, these "journalists" cite Steps 1-4 as "proof" that "the people" care about these stories, even though the "evidence" consists of nothing other than their own flocklike chirping.
Repeat steps 1-5 until the Republican is elected.
Glenn's argument is strongest and sharpest in his dissection of our political press and how they are played, time and time again, to collude with this myth-making to draw false contrasts between opposing candidates. Thus, the draft-dodging Bush inherently had better national security credibility, according to the traditional media, than the war-hero Kerry. This year, the press has their real war-hero in McCain. But in  covering "the coolest kid in class," they are going to be following the same rules.
The GOP nominee for 2008--John McCain--is, in virtually every important respect, a completely typical Republican presidential candidate. He relies upon character mythology far more than substantive positions on issues to sustain his appeal. He endlessly claims to uphold personal values that he has chronically violated in reality--including his vaunted apolitical, truth-telling independence; his devotion to "traditional family values"; his Regular Guy credentials; his supposed hostility to the prerogatives of the elite; his honor-bound integrity; and his commitment to limited government and individual liberty. One finds, in McCain's actual life, rather than in his rhetoric and media-sustained mythology, one act after the next that directly violates each of these relentlessly touted principles, and in that regard, he is a standard, run-of-the-mill Republican hypocrite.
The electoral dynamic discussed in this book applies to McCain most vividly when it comes to the reverence that most of our nation's establishment political journalists harbor for him. The vast bulk of the establishment press, as many unashamedly admit, are blindly enamored of McCain and swoon in his presence--probably more so than any modern political candidate in many years, if not decades. As a result, just as was true for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush before him, McCain has been permitted to construct a public image that is unscathed by any critical scrutiny from an adoring, even intimidated political press corps.
You can read an excerpt from Glenn's book on the marketing of McCain. It's the destruction of this narrative, Glenn argues, that should be the primary focus of Democrats and the left if we're going to break the cycle.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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