Friday, June 25, 2004

Segregated news?

From a piece in yesterday's Guardian:

Switch on the wireless: Rush Limbaugh for conservatives, National Public Radio for liberals. The TV: Fox on the right, PBS on the (perceived) left. New research by demographer James Gimpel shows that even the towns and neighbourhoods of the US are coming to look this way, as Americans engage in voluntary political segregation, choosing to live only with like-minded folk. The result is a "patchwork nation", reinforcing a map already painted in clear shades of red and blue. In Democrat blue are the west coast, rust belt and New England. In Republican red are the south, the plains states and the Rocky Mountain west.

What it amounts to is a divided nation, if not two nations living in one country.
We've been hearing a lot of commentary along these lines. And there is a great deal of truth in these words.

Red state denizens, particularly those of the fundamentalist persuasion, live in a self-contained universe. They take a perverse pride in their ignorance of art, culture, history and foreign lands. Objectivity is now a vice; any news not catering to conservative bias is damned as liberally biased. Any assertion that does not fit one's preconceptions is considered a satanic deception.

How, then, can we get the message past this wall? Only one tactic will work: sheer repetition.

In the 1980s, I never saw a complete episode of Miami Vice. Yet I knew everything about the show. I knew what kind of clothing they wore, what kind of music was featured, the atmosphere, the style of cinematography, the names of the actors and producer. I knew these things without wanting to know them.

How did this unwanted information enter my brain? Repetition. No matter what kind of a "wall" you erect, a truly powerful cultural meme will seep through the cracks.

We have to keep repeating certain ideas, certain facts, until they become impossible to avoid. Ideas such as these:

* The economy almost always does better under Democrats.

* The average laborer worked fewer hours and had more disposable income before Ronald Reagan made supply side economics a point of theology.

* The fact that Eisenhower had a mistress does not mean he was an evil schemer or a habitual liar.

* America was prosperous when taxes were at their most progressive; the wealthiest taxpayers in the late 1950s were in the 88% tax bracket.

* We need to tax the rich now to fund the search for oil alternatives.

* A "Manhattan Project" to develop and control new forms of energy will do much more for our power and prestige than will building another ultra-expensive weapons system.

* Religious leaders who run partisan television or radio programs should not be exempt from taxes.

* The Fairness Doctrine worked.

* Unregulated corporations can be as dangerous as unregulated streets. If all policemen vanished, only thugs would brave the city streets. A similar anarchy took hold when Reagan removed regulation from the Savings and Loan industry.

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