Most Americans would
probably not describe themselves as liberals. In fact,
since the word "liberal" has been consistently used
by the far right as a pejorative, most people would probably
shy away from applying this term to themselves.
the cold war it was easy to liken liberalism to communism
since support for social programs could be equated with
the support of a communistic welfare state. When the cold war
ended, liberals were portrayed as proponents of governmental
regulation which was inherently bad for business and free
markets. By using the premise that unbridled capitalism
resulted in the greatest good for society; labeling "liberals" as
anti-business was tantamount to calling them anti-American.
In some circles the term "liberal" has come to
be so derogatory that it is routinely tacked on to the
end of any issue to create a noun which conveys the desired
connotation. Using this formula, someone who favors social
programs, is labeled a "tax and spend liberal" who
favors big government at the expense of what is best for
America. Environmentalists become "tree hugging liberals",
who care more about some irrelevant species than about
the livelihoods of their fellow citizens.
despite this type of name calling and it's attempt at demonization,
a majority of Americans remain strongly supportive of the
issues that the name callers would label "liberal" issues.
For example, on the environment, in recent polls a clear
majority support stricter enforcement of environmental
laws, reject the notion that we must choose between the
and the economy and prefer pro-environment politicians
to those who support less government regulation on business.
Likewise on the issue of gun regulation, 57 percent favor
tougher laws and stricter regulations. On the issue of
women's right to choose, 56 percent (averaged over the
last 6 years) are in favor of keeping abortion legal.
(Notes 1, 2, 3, 4)
On these and a wide range
of issues, the majority of Americans favor the so-called "liberal" point
of view. So how are "liberals" consistently painted as
an inferior minority? What is the origin of the stigma?
Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
Most people didn't take it seriously
when Hillary Clinton blamed a vast right wing conspiracy for persecuting
But in fact, her suspicions were not off the mark.
the Nixon administration the right wing of the Republican party
began to change tact in how it interacted with the media, academia
business. Nixon desired a network of loyal conservatives who could
be trusted to fight for his causes and help punish his enemies.
Watergate, this burgeoning conservative network bolstered it's
resources and in the years that followed, right wing think tanks
financial support from conservative foundations for the purposes
of establishing political operatives, influencing public opinion
and infiltrating the media. While much of this work was done using
existing think tanks as resources, the Coors and Scaife foundations
created the Heritage Foundation in 1973 as the model for the influence
peddling that was to come. By the late 70's aided by the manpower
of the Christian Coalition, these groups and notably the Heritage
Foundation would help elect Ronald Reagan.
the Reagan/Bush years the conservative think tanks played a major
role in stopping the Iran/Contra scandal from getting a foothold
in popular opinion and they largely succeeded in their efforts
to thwart investigators, ruin the reputation of journalists and
the credibility of Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
the election of Clinton, the conservatives went into attack mode.
Former President Nixon personally advised members of the G.O.P.
to pursue the Whitewater allegations. Richard Mellon Scaife spent
million for an investigation by The American Spectator called "the
Arkansas Project". And in time, Clinton bashing which began
with right wing sources such as Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, the
Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the Washington Times took
root in the mainstream media.
Even though many of
the stories and innuendos about Clinton were spurious, the attack
financed and spun by the far right paid off in largely discrediting
him. In his recent book "Blinded by the Right" David
Brock admits fabrication and embellishment in his "Troopergate" articles
for The American Spectator which directly helped spur the investigation
into Clinton's sex life. Yet while the suspicions and innuendos
about Clinton were being repeated in the mainstream press, the
completely on Clinton to prove he was innocent after already being
found guilty by the right wing influence mongers.
(Notes 5, 6, 7)
Politics, Changing Perceptions
If the right wing machine had not perfected their craft
so well, it is unlikely that Bush Sr. would have made it through
first term because of the implications of the Iran/Contra scandal.
Instead the efforts of conservative groups were so successful in
controlling the spin that Bush's administration was largely unscathed
and it is doubtful that Iran/Contra seriously hurt Bush Sr.'s reelection.
Bush Sr. was not reelected in part because of the economy, but
it is important to note that Bush Sr. lost in a three way race,
Ross Perot likely siphoning off many potential Bush votes. Yet
perhaps the most important factor in Bush Sr.'s defeat was that
ran as a centrist, thus offering the electorate a different set
of choices. Given the opportunity to vote for a Democrat that often
sounded like a Republican, many voters may have figured that they
were getting the best of both worlds and took a chance.
important as Clinton's centrist stance was to his election, his
from the center helped confuse the playing field in U.S. politics.
By not taking tough stands on traditional Democratic issues,
he helped reinforce the already growing notion that all politicians
By instilling in his colleagues the idea that taking a centrist
stance was the way to stay in power, Clinton influenced Democrats
more like Republicans and this made it harder for the public
tell the difference between the two parties.
Yet the right
wing voices in the media may have been even more crucial in
the shift towards the center. The dominance of conservative media
had the effect
of changing many people's perceptions about America as a whole.
In viewing events and issues through the lens of the media,
be easy to believe that the country had become more conservative
than it really was and accordingly many people may have drifted
toward the center themselves. As a result, politicians who
a shift in their constituencies may have simply decided on
the need to go along for the ride.
Disenfranchisement (media influenced, government controlled
There were three main
candidates which shaped the 2000 presidential elections. Al Gore
had over 26 years of full time
service, had written books, was well versed on the issues and was
intelligent. George Bush had almost 6 years of part time elected
public service, he preferred watching sports to reading, was virtually
clueless on the issues and was not the brightest bulb (but he seemed
likable). Ralph Nader had numerous years of non-elected public
service, had written books, was well versed on the issues and seemed
angered the Democrats most about Nader was when he repeated over
and over again that Bush and Gore were the same. Of course Nader
used the Bush/Gore comparison to gain the greatest political impact,
since he was already courting some of the most disaffected among
the electorate. Yet while it was true that Republicans and Democrats
had grown too similar, Nader's insistence that Bush and Gore were
the same, even though their qualifications where so drastically
different; still seemed outlandish, if not dishonest.
during the 2000 election Nader provoked the ire of many people
that formerly supported him, he has remained unrepentant of his
statements. When attacked for presumably helping Bush win the Whitehouse,
Nader has responded that Al Gore lost the race all by himself;
that essentially it was his race to lose; implying that only a
idiot could have lost against such an unqualified challenger.
counter Nader's argument, one must only look at the media coverage
during the campaign to suggest the opposite: that Gore didn't have
a chance from the start; that from the very beginning of the campaign,
the smallest aspect of Al Gore was analyzed, magnified and distorted.
Stories about how Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet
or to have discovered Love Canal, even though they were based on
played into the opposition's hands and circulated for weeks. In
the weeks before the election, Al Gore was painted as someone who
the minimum could not control his exaggerations and he was often
depicted as an outright liar.
The media largely took
an opposite tact with Bush and some would say they coddled him.
No one in the media asked hard questions about Bush's character,
or qualifications. The problem with Bush's SEC filings on his sales
of Harken stock was already a known fact. The likelihood that Bush
went AWOL from the National Guard and the extent of his past drug
problems had long been strong suspicions. But no reporter ever
asked Bush anything difficult. On the contrary, if the media ever
Bush it was almost always to his advantage. For example, the stories
about Bush's mangled use of the English language were almost always
accompanied by reassurances that despite his grammar, his meaning
was usually clear. And almost from the onset, the public was assured
that despite Bush's ineptitude on domestic issues and his ignorance
of foreign affairs; he would be able to compensate by gleaning
seasoned advisors from his father's administration.
In the aftermath of the election
and the debacle that took place in Florida, Bush immediately had
the upper hand because his campaign had already assembled a legal
team based on his campaign's analysis that Bush might win the popular
vote, but not win the electoral college. But even though the contest
was ultimately decided on so-called "legal" grounds,
the media coverage combined with the efforts of the influence peddlers
in Washington may have played an even more decisive role in the
unfolding scandal in Florida became a battleground for the public's
perceptions and from the beginning most of the media seemed to
make the assumption that Bush had won unless the Gore team could
otherwise. Bush supporters holding Sore/Loserman placards were
among some of the first images broadcast into people's homes. Conservative
pundits cited polls, which later turned out to be internet polls
in which anyone could vote numerous times, and claimed that the
of Americans wanted closure as soon as possible. Countless Republican
officials including George Pataki, Rudy Gulliani, Marc Racicot
and Christie Whitman were paraded on television to show the strong
of the establishment for Bush. At the same time Gore supporters
were told that they were cry babies and sore losers and that they
get over it".
It's hard to conceive that anyone
living in America is not familiar with at least some of the reasons
for the problems in Florida. Everyone has heard about the antiquated
voting equipment and the confusing ballots which caused many to
lose their votes. Probably a smaller number of people may have
that the rate of spoiled ballots in minority precincts was ten
times that of white precincts and that optical scan voting systems
set to reject invalid ballots in white precincts, while this feature
was disabled in black precincts. Yet even a smaller number still
may have heard about the creation of the list of over 60,000 felons
who were ineligible to vote that turned out to be 95% wrong, thus
disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters. But although Florida's
failed electoral system was crucial in giving the election to Bush,
there was another extremely important factor that has gone mostly
undiscussed, except by Nader bashers; and this is that so-called "liberals" failed
to band together in their common interest and vote as a block.
By citing that Bush "officially
won" Florida by only 537 votes, it's been easy for angry Democrats
to point fingers at Nader and make the plausible argument, that
many of the 97,488 votes he received in Florida came from potential
voters. Yet it's surprising that no one ever mentions the 562 votes
for Harris, the Socialist Worker's Party candidate or the 622 votes
for McReynolds, the Socialist Party candidate or the 1,804 votes
for Moorehead, the Worker's World Party Candidate. The amount of
votes these candidates received might seem trivial when compared
to the 5,963,110 votes that were cast by Floridians, but with Bush
being declared the winner by only 537 votes, any one of these other
minority candidates could be blamed for being the spoiler, almost
as easily as Nader.
The high stakes of the 2000 Presidential
election seemed clear to many people as soon as Bush Jr. was named
the Republican candidate. In noting how high the stakes really
were, many analysts and activists pointed to the likelihood that
Court Justice would retire during the next presidential term and
many feared that a Bush presidency would be a decisive factor in
overturning Roe v. Wade. Environmentalists pointed to Bush's involvement
in the oil industry and to his pro-business/anti-environment positions
while he was Governor of Texas. Others simply pointed to the people
that Bush would likely appoint to key positions and warned us that
it would be the Reagan administration all over again.
many angles and many interests there were calls for voter solidarity
to block Bush from the Presidency. Initially many people had
hoped to convince Nader to not campaign in close states. Yet
final campaign stop on the night before the election was in Florida.
the Florida election system not failed, Gore would have been
president. Had Nader and perhaps other candidates relented, Gore
right has done right, the left has not even begun
Liberals fail because they have no direct means of influencing
popular opinion and taking command of the political dialogue. For
this reason, the left is relegated to playing defense while it
is the conservatives who get to ask most of the questions and create
most of the agendas.
The effort to shape the political
agenda and shape public opinion by conservatives over the last
years has cost millions of dollars which was readily supplied by
conservative foundations. At the same time, nothing comparable
was spent by the foundations in support of the left. This is largely
because most of the foundation money given to "liberal" causes
is offered for the purposes of social programs and when grants
are earmarked for media or influence building, they are primarily
to grassroots organizations. On the other hand, many right wing
foundations offer nearly all of their grants for the purposes of
policy development and agenda setting. This results in a disproportionate
amount of money being supplied directly to the conservative media.
For example in the period from 1990-1993, $2,754,263 of grant money
was given to just four conservative media outlets and during the
same period only $269,500 or 1/10th of that amount was given to
the top four progressive media outlets.
(Notes 11, 12)
The influence by the right
in manipulating the media has been further aided by the mergers
of media companies into giant conglomerates. In 1982 there were
that controlled more than half of U.S. media holdings. By 1986
that number had shrunk to 29 and by 1993 the number was only 20.
there where only nine mega-corporations, which dominated most of
the world media. Notable on this list is self-described conservative
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which owns among other things,
the Fox News channel that unabashedly features only conservative
voices and only tolerates dissent from easy to defeat "straw
(Notes 13, 14)
The advent of fewer and fewer
major media companies reinforced the stranglehold that the right
already had on the free flow of information. Fewer media companies
resulted in fewer editors, fewer writers, fewer voices and ultimately
less dissent. This has resulted in the even greater complicity
of the remaining media with the right wing influence brokers. The
prospect of less go-betweens and fewer voices has made the job
of right wing groups all that much easier. The combined effect
media ownership and right wing influence in the media is perhaps
one of the greatest crises facing modern democracy.
far right in America has played its cards well. They have been
succeeded in making their agendas sound better than they really
are and part
of their method has been to stay in attack mode and make their
enemies seem worse than they really are. These are the same people
given us such terms as "pro-life", the "marriage penalty",
the "death tax" and "tree-hugging liberal";
all catchy phrases deftly manufactured to further their agendas.
conservative right has been diligent in promoting it's vision
and it has succeeded in building an empire. So far their crowning
has been in the installation of Bush Jr.; an occurrence that
could not have happened without them. It's clear that Bush's
this group cannot be ignored by Bush himself and accordingly
he has spent nearly all of this administration rewarding them.
(Notes 15, 16, 17)
Although perhaps less
than 10% of the population are members of the far right, their
combined effort through the influence of right wing foundations,
and media was directly responsible for handing Bush the prize.
The Bush tax cut, the breakdown of environmental sanity, the simple
foreign policy of military dominance, the doctrine of unilateralism,
the attempt at faith based initiatives and the attempt to pack
the courts with conservatives have all been preliminary efforts
to reward his sponsors for a job well done. If roughly 60% of the
population is "liberal" on the issues, then the 10% which
thrust Bush into power has succeeded at exerting a tremendous amount
of power over the majority.
Yet no matter how much
money, planning and intelligence the ultra-conservative right wing
has been able to muster, they could not have succeeded on their
own. First they wisely spent their money on influence building
they were able to communicate to the rest of the Republican party.
the need for unity both in the battle for opinion and at the polling
Liberals fail because they have not succeeded
in making a convincing appeal to their base for unity over the
long term. Even though the majority of Americans remain "liberal" on
the issues, they usually fail to bridge the gap between their differences
or create coalitions based upon the relatedness of their common
cause. For this reason, although single issue politics may be effective
for the purposes of lobbying and legislation; single issue politics,
abstracted from the larger picture, fails to draw the left together
in the desire to create a unified agenda.
Creating "liberal" unity
is further complicated by the efforts of third parties. Few true "liberals" would
argue that the Democratic drift toward the center is not troubling,
but unless third parties can organize more than a protest vote,
the influence of third parties on American politics is potentially
more problematic. This is simply because the American electoral
system is winner take all proposition and whoever comes in second
gets nothing. If American politics had a form of coalition government
or a provision for run off elections, the advent of a strong third
party would make more practical sense. But under the current system,
the only way that a third party could share power is if there were
more major divisions in the electorate than exist at present.
Third parties make a lot more sense
on the local level where the issues are clearer and the electorate
is more attuned to local needs. Yet on the national level, in a
winner take all system, unless "liberal" third party
voters can band together in the support of common issues, they
cannot help but
perpetuate the dominance of an opposition which is likely to work
against the things in which they believe. In the aftermath of the
2000 elections, it seems very likely that at least some of the
voters in Florida who voted for the candidates of the Socialist
Socialist Worker's party or the Worker's World party or the Green
party would have preferred a Gore presidency to the one they got.
The past is prologue, the future is up to
The combined effect of centralized ownership and right wing
influence in the media is one of the greatest crises facing modern
resulted in invalidating part of the first amendment. Already there is no
such thing as the freedom of the press. The press is no longer free; it has
been bought and paid for.
It is encouraging that more and
more people are beginning to grasp the extent of the media's distortion.
The next logical step for the left would be to begin to do what the right
so well; to pool it's resources, to form coalitions that work together
toward common goals and become proactive about influence building
The 2002 elections will be a referendum that will create
an impetus for political power no matter who wins. If the Democrats take
additional power, it will be a referendum against Bush's agenda and although
no one should
believe that a Democratic win by itself will create a more idealized
form of government, at least it may be a way to undo some of
the damage that
been done. If the Democrats keep the Senate but do not retake the House,
it will be a referendum on the relative approval of the Bush administration
we can expect to see more of the same stealth tactics and creative agenda
setting which has already given the extreme right so much of what it
has wanted. If
the Republicans take control of both houses, this will be a referendum
that our government has not gone far enough towards the right
and it will give
Bush a virtual blank check to reward the extreme right 10% as quickly
and as extensively
as possible. If you are among the approximate 60% of the population that
is "liberal" on
the issues, I can guarantee that you won't like this last option one bit.
- Dean Heagle ©2002
Shows Pro-Environment Candidates To Do Well in 2002 Elections
(Note 2) Analysis
from 23 polls debunks common misconceptions about voter attitudes
toward environmental issues by Lisa Wade Raasch and Teresa
(Note 3) ABCNEWS.com
(Note 4) ABORTION:
Recent public opinion polls
(Note 5) Bill
Clinton vs. the Right-Wing Machine by Robert Parry
(Note 6) Democrats'
Dilemma: Deeper than Al Gore by Robert Parry
(Note 7) David
Brock & the Watergate Legacy by Robert Parry
(Note 8) Al
Gore v. the Media by Robert Parry
(Note 9) Greg
Palast reporter for the Guardian newspapers and BBC Television's
(Note 10) 2000
OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS Election Date:
11/7/00 Source: State Elections Offices
(Note 11) Foundations
for a Movement: How the right wing subsidizes its press By
(Note 12) Funding
the Right by Matthew Freeman and Rachel Egen
(Note 13) The
Global Media Giants: The nine firms that dominate the world By
Robert W. McChesney
(Note 14) The
50, 26, 20... Corporations That Own Our Media By Ben Bagdikian
(Note 15) Bush
Score Card of Evil (day to day listing of Bush's actions)
(Note 16) Natural
Resources Defense Council (day to day listing of actions on
(Note 17) National
Organization of Women (Bush's record on women)
(Note 18) How
The Greens Have Helped The Republicans Take The Center by Robert
(Note 19) Stampeding
the Herd by Gene Lyons