The Iowa caucus drama is likely hook press and media on their overload of horse race politics adrenalin. What excitement! Eight point spread for first place! Election night commentators were in a wonderful mood. It was all so entertaining.
The horse race political framework will continue to be hard wired in everything we see or read. Any discussion of the substance of issues will have to be relevant to that process framework. It goes without saying that analysis of the ideology that justifies journalists’ substance free coverage will be very rare. Among the rare exceptions, Eric Alterman has denounced false objectivity driven by false ideology of “balanced” reporting and equivalence of extremes, in what Paul Krugman has called “post–truth politics” and Katrina vanden Heuvel has listed as one of the three issues that could determine the outcome of the elections (WP, 1/3).
In addition, the mantra that Democrat extremes balances Republican extremes can’t be open for debate because just describing the positions on each of the supposedly “balanced” Republican and Democrat “extremes” gives the game away. One side wants to get rid of Social Security, abolish the Federal Reserve and Environmental Protection Agency, and bomb Iran and the other side – hold on! – wants to let tax rates return to pre Bush 43 levels?
Just how extreme the Republican positions are is not just an entertainment question. The genuinely extreme positions of the Republicans are important and consequential, especially when coupled with “pledges”. This policy wonk was unaware of the Republican “pledge” to appoint only anti-abortion officials to key health and justice agencies until I found it buried in a long unreadable side-by-side comparison of the positions of the “Iowa Seven” in a December 31 article in the New York Times (New Years Eve! Just the time to curl up and – finally – get briefed up on the issues!). You might think that the word “pledge” would ring a bell in some editor’s brain. Republicans signing on to the Grover Norquist no tax hike “pledge” almost – again – brought the US government to a halt in December. Republicans have proved they will stick with their pledges through whatever battering of storms of fact, reality and national interest. No reason to think the appointments pledge would be different.
Two of the top three Iowa caucus winners, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, have signed the appointments “pledge”, leaving Mitt Romney out in the cold liberal never, never land. Whatever their chances of making it to the White House many of their pledging persuasion will certainly be in Congress. It is worth spelling out exactly what this pledge means in terms of American democracy and values.
Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen in a recent talk at the WNDC sees the “fusion of religion and politics” as a problem. He urges citizens to “put the spotlight” on problems. Nothing could spotlight the problem of the fusion of religion and politics more than the religion driven qualification for public service and government employment that the Paul/Santorum pledge would institute. Who would play the non-democratically elected role of Norquist, passing perhaps on the sincerity of the applicants’ pledge? Would nameless religious fundamentalists behind non-accountable high spending PACs get another hold on wielding power in a grievously weakened American democracy? The framers of our constitution would be shocked. If only one set of religious beliefs qualifies you for government service and excludes others, then Americans are not “free and equal”.
This is an interesting subject. Our journalists may be too giddy with the fun of Iowa political entertainment to tell us anything about it.