Will Rogers famously admitted that all he knew was what he read in the papers; but in his era the print and broadcast press wasn’t controlled by seven or eight corporations; and the nation wasn’t perpetually marinated in a party line electronically amplified by computer effects. And that creates a problem even for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the time and resources to investigate just how much or how little gold backs up the immense credit operation of public propaganda. To an extent that is probably impossible to judge right now, even the most strident critics of the current system underestimate how far things have gone. Outrage by outrage we’re perfectly aware that media isn’t denouncing, Congress isn’t investigating, the government’s prosecutors aren’t prosecuting, and republican judges aren’t punishing the administration and its friends despite their obvious, massive corruption. It is nevertheless considered shrill to add up the bill and assert that the Crony-Industrial Complex is systematically looting the nation. Somewhat like a traditional cuckold, we know and we don’t know the true facts. For example I have yet to hear anybody on television wonder aloud why Mr. Bush, whose economic record is last only to Hoover’s, is still favored to win in 2004. The Press, at least, knows the fix is in, though it stands ready to jump ship quickly enough if the fix unravels.
Educated people may deride the crude techniques the administration uses to impress the natives, but then everybody’s a native. We’re all stuck with what we read in the papers. Anyhow, the right has learned how to buy elite as well as public opinion. Anybody who follows environmental, foreign affairs, and economic policy debates knows that hired guns, backed with serious money and unhindered by academic scruples, dominate debates that used to be the domain of objective scientists and scholars. Pay for conferences on C-SPAN and you set the agenda. Moderate, liberal, and even radical “personalities” will effectively endorse your program by willingly participating as hapless opponents in these professional wrestling matches. After all, a eunuch also has to eat.
Under the circumstances, we should recognize that the whole field of public discourse is strongly tilted to one side and allow for the break. Even if, like me, you are far more a Madisonian than a Marxist, you have to be willing to aim quite a way to the left if you want to hit the ball straight.