JM: Despite the title, the book is about much more than the hypocrisy of Republican politics. That's an old story, and hypocrisy certainly isn't limited to just Republican politicians and right-leaning public figures. So take us beyond the title--we all know about the hypocrisy, so what's new that you want the reader to take away?
GG: As you point out, the book is about far more than mere hypocrisy. That Republicans and politicians generally are hypocrites is nothing new. There'd be no point in writing a book to demonstrate that.
What I do think is new and requires focus is the vast gap between the Cult of Personality the Right uses to win elections and the reality of their leaders. Relatedly, it's vital to highlight how reliable is the tired, lowly script used to destroy the "character" of Democratic candidates.
Our elections are almost completely devoid of any examination of consequential issues or fundamental political problems. They are driven by what journalists Mark Halperin and John Harris have aptly described as the Drudgian Freak Show -- a series of petty, personality-based attacks and demonization campaigns designed to build up the GOP leaders into honor-bound, masculine and strong men of courage and moral fiber, regular guys of sterling character. Democrats and liberals, by contrast, are gender-warped, weak, culturally bizarre, elitist freaks.
The Barack Obama "controversies" of the last two weeks -- from his bowling score to his sudden hatred for Small Town America -- are just the fulfillment of the standard script. When Hillary Clinton was leading the polls throughout 2007, the same types of storylines were predominant about her.
That our elections are shaped by such petty and warped themes is bad enough, as it ensures that our leaders are chosen based on frivolous sideshows. But it's far worse than that. These themes are not just petty and warped, but also profoundly deceitful, because the personality attributes which the media uses to build up GOP leaders into Great Men of Strength and Character bear no relationship to the reality of who they really are. The outcome-determining themes are not just petty but false. And that huge gap, and how it's peddled to the American public, is what the book examines.
JM: I think the strongest chapter for me is Chapter Two, in which you take a hard look at the Drudgification of politics and the noxious role the traditional media has played in elevating the personality-based politics driven by the right to the most prevalent political discourse we have today. It seems sometimes to me that whatever Democrats try to do to reverse this narrative that has been formed against them, we're going to lose because of the media. As long as the media is ready and willing to lap up the stuff the right wing feeds them, how do we change the political narrative? How do Dems "play the refs" when we are so clearly disadvantaged?
GG: I think there are two primary tactics Democrats must start employing if they're to undermine this right-wing/establishment-media monster. First, they have to confront it directly. Americans have increasingly come to despise the establishment press. They knew that they are serving no good purpose. They know that our political culture is broken -- not on the margins but fundamentally -- and the vapid, trashy political press plays a big role in that.
Whoever the Democratic candidate is -- when confronted with tidal waves of petty personality stories from the media -- has to argue that the media's fixation with these issues is destroying our political process, preventing it from fixing the fundamental political problems plaguing our nation. While America is in a recession, mired in an endless occupation of Iraq that is devastating on all levels, and plagued by a Washington elite corrupt at its core, our political press spends its time asking about Obama's bowling, Hillary's cleavage and John Edwards' hair. Americans understand how stupid that is.
Second, Democrats have been extremely poor at engaging these "character" and personality-based electoral tactics. Many liberals are squeamish about using these lowly and ignoble tactics and think they should be ignored, so that they'll "rise above" them.
That's an understandable sentiment, but it has to stop, because it's fatal. Until it does, the Right in this country will wield a huge electoral advantage, and will be able to win elections completely irrespective of the fact that their policies and positions are despised by majorities, even large majorities of Americans.
The point isn't to start lowering oneself to that level and copying the worst parts of the Right's behavior. The point is to neutralize what they do so that it's no longer one-sided. If one country possesses nuclear weapons, a rival country wants to obtain them not to use them, but to render their use irrational, impossible. That's what Democrats and liberals must start doing with these election rituals.
Like most right-wing leaders, the life of John McCain is chock full of dishonorable, ugly behavior. Huge numbers of female voters would be disgusted by the details of how and why he dumped his first wife, after she was in a disfiguring car accident that caused her to gain much weight and lose several inches of height, in order to marry his much younger, prettier and extremely rich mistress with whom he had been committing adultery while his first wife raised his three children.
His public life is filled with corruption, deceit, lobbyist dependency, and a complete lack of principle. He holds himself out as a principled torture opponent but is, in fact, the single greatest enabler of legalizing torture in this country, from his 2005 bill which exempted the CIA from torture prohibitions to his 2006 leadership in enacting the Military Commissions Act to his opposition this year to the waterboard ban.
McCain's character is extremely vulnerable to the sort of demonization campaigns that have destroyed one Democrat after the next. That is true for the right-wing as a whole. Substantial parts of the book are dedicated to demonstrating that in order to undermine, once and for all, the deceitful though potent marketing packaging which the establishment press uses to glorify and put into power right-wing leaders in this country.
JM: You focus quite a bit in the final chapter on McCain, drawing many parallels between Bush and McCain. Given Bush's 28% approval ratings and the utter disaster he's leaving this country in, our best bet in beating McCain is in exposing how similar to Bush McCain is. But how do we break through the traditional media's adoration of him, and the deeply ensconced belief in the public that he's a "different kind of Republican?"
GG: I think preventing the personality mythology of John McCain, as I described in response to your last question, is crucial. If that takes root and that Cult of Personality is erected unscathed, it will be virtually impossible to tie him to anything negative.
But I also think, again, that Democratic operatives need to do a much better job of shaming and exposing the press. The way McCain is being packaged in 2008 -- a different kind of Republican, a post-partisan man of honor, etc. -- is exactly how Bush was packaged in 2000. You can find quotes from the Bush 2000 campaign hailing Bush as a "different kind of Republican."
Pointing out the substantive similarities is easy. The reality is that John McCain was a full-throated supported of virtually every disastrous Bush policy, and even when he pretended to be an opponent -- such as on torture -- he ended up being the leading enabler. But just as important is pointing out how identical is the manipulative wrapping in which both Bush and McCain are disguised.
JM: A surprising highlight for me is the long passage you found from Free Republic, sounding the alarm about a Clinton-era expansion of FISA. Reading that, I was shocked to find practically word-for-word assertions that I've made about the dangerous excesses of an out-of-control executive. How did you find this nugget, and are you (like me) shocked to find yourself occasionally sounding like a paranoid libertarian?
GG: My ability to find that amazing anti-FISA Free Republic article illustrates one of the unique strength of blogs -- its collaborative nature. If I recall correctly, I first found it referenced in a Kos diary two years or so ago. I wrote about it on my old blog in one of the first posts I wrote that received widespread attention, about the barren, cult-like veneration of George Bush by the GOP. That they could pretend for so long while Clinton was President to be vigorously opposed even to Federal surveillance with a warrant, only to then cheer on Bush's warrantless eavesdropping, demonstrates how mindlessly tribalistic they are.
I think the Bush abuses of the last seven years have really highlighted how vital it is for the citizenry and our key institutions -- especially the media and Congress -- to distrust high government officials. That's extremely healthy. That distrust will mean that Americans will insist upon vigorous safeguards in the exercise of power. That will be one of the only healthy legacies of the disastrous Bush presidency -- the almost complete destruction of Americans' faith in the Federal Government should at least lead to increased demands for true watchdog checks on what they do.
JM: Veering slightly away from the book, and following up on that now abandoned but previously deeply-held distrust of the federal government that the Free Republic expressed eight years ago, do you think Republicans are going to be able to do another 180 degree turn on the role of government in our private lives should a Democrat win the White House this year?
GG: What the dominant wing of the GOP has proven more than anything is that they have no political principles. Political principles are but props in their quest for power. That's how they've been able to violate every alleged political value they have when they're in power, from their alleged belief in restrained federal power to responsible spending, to say nothing of their professed belief in traditional moral values and the traditional masculine virtues which so few of them actually exude.
There's no question that, with a Democrat in the White House, they will suddenly re-discover the virtues of Congressional oversight and limitations on executive power. So will the media. That's not an entirely bad thing. Our system relies upon adversarial dynamics of that sort to ensure that no one faction can consolidate excessive power. That's been one of the reasons we have such disaster over the last seven years. The institutions that are meant to check the President and that should have been doing so -- the media, the Congress and, yes, the "opposition party" -- failed so profoundly in their duties.
JM: How do you see your role and the role of the lefty blogosphere in general in the public debate? Where do you think we're succeeding, and what do we need to do better, particularly vis-a-vis the traditional media?
GG: The rise of blogs is, in my view, due to two main factors. The first is the failure of the institutions that I just described -- the media, Congress and the Democratic Party -- to provide any adversarial force against the right-wing faction that has dominated our politics for 15 years.
One of the two critical functions that blogs play is to provide that check, to do battle with that noxious group, to provide a counter-weight to it. The Limbaugh/Coulter/Fox-News Right is not going to go away, voluntarily weaken themselves, or reform. They're a poisonous presence in our country and need to be engaged and crushed.
Ever since the Clinton sex witch hunts, the establishment press has formed a partnership with that group and the Democratic Party establishment failed to recognize how pernicious it really was, and was also afraid to fight it. That's one gap blogs have begun to fill.
The second function is to serve as a check on the media's complicity with all of it -- both by pointing out the media's failures in order to shame them into changing behavior and, as importantly, to provide an alternative to the establishment press, for us to fulfill the watchdog functions that they fail to fulfill.
Blogs have increased their ability to shape media narrative. It's increasingly more difficult for media stars and their outlets to ignore us. We've definitely increased our ability to change the way that Beltway Democratic elites think and behave, as the extraordinary -- and completely unexpected -- FISA and telecom amnesty victory proves. I think many Washington Democrats know that the tepid, fear-driven "advice" they've been fed by the Democratic consulting class has led to nothing but failure, and they are listening more to alternatives.
I think one area blogs can improve is to recognize our own strength and weaknesses. We succeed most when we operate in areas and with messages that the establishment press and Beltway political class aren't already occupying -- i.e., when we innovate and operate as an adversarial force against the political elite. The more focused our objectives, the narrower the individual goals, the greater the likelihood of success is.
We succeed least when we try to replicate what the establishment press and Beltway elite already do, when we just become a carbon copy of them or fulfill functions they are already fulfilling. Huge amounts of blog attention have been devoted to covering the Obama-Clinton campaign, and I'm not sure how much of that has really had an impact, given how crowded that field already is. I don't mean pushback against corrupt media narratives, but rather, having blogs devote themselves to the type of horserace chatter that one finds everywhere else already.
Blogs arose by fulfilling functions that were otherwise unfulfilled, focusing on issues that were otherwise ignored, articulating perspectives that were otherwise unheard. In that is where I think the unique value of blogs lies. The more we do that, the more effective we'll be.
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