And let us recall the extended unpleasantness in Florida four years ago. Almost from the beginning, the Timmies and Chrissies and Jeffies and all the tiny Foxies were unanimous that somebody, somehow, should act to avoid the “constitutional crisis” that would occur if we all just followed, well, the Constitution, which has in it provisions that would have made for a messy couple of months but which, after all, would have stuck us with George W. Bush anyway, and would have avoided giving William Rehnquist one more opportunity to debase himself.
There was an unmistakable subtext throughout the coverage that the American people needed “closure” because they couldn’t be trusted to govern themselves, a belief quite obviously shared by five-ninths of the Supreme Court. It has its roots in the developed sense within the media and its audience that self-government consists mainly of the media’s ability to navigate from one disconnected episode to another -- which is why speakers at the Republican convention could cite both Richard Nixon and Reagan’s dubious finagling in Central America with impunity from the podium, secure in the knowledge that nobody would point out the obvious fact that Watergate and Iran-Contra were both way stations on the road leading to the bunker in which our government has stashed itself. The connective tissue of institutional memory has been allowed to wither to the point where both of those festivals of felonies seem as separate from one another as two sitcoms that premiered 16 seasons apart.
There is a tedious ongoing debate about why the political media behaves the way that it does, but there seems little doubt that modern rightist campaigning and the modern political media share views of their primary audience that are uniquely consonant with each other. Neither one takes the work of self-government seriously any more -- the rightists, because it would interfere with their plans to restore the shine to William McKinley, and the media, because the work of self-government makes terribly bad television. It’s to the rightists’ political advantage to have the children parked in front of the TV, and it’s to the economic advantage of the political media to provide the simple and flashy distractions.
In 2000, as the very notion of an elected president hung in the balance, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court pronounced that there was no constitutional right to vote for president, but what were we fed? A cheap B-movie thriller, starring Timmy and his Magic Marker and Jeffy and his magic anecdotes, and this was as good as it got. Basic institutions of government cracked at their foundations -- perhaps permanently -- and we got a dumb-show cliffhanger from a bunch of television stars, glistening with unctuous reassurance and utterly terrified to tell the truth to us about what was plainly happening under their noses. And it hasn’t gotten any better since then. We were lied into a war because it was easy for the liars to create a television drama and easier for television to broadcast it.
Small wonder, then, that we are in the hands of people who do their jobs firm in the belief that we are children. The media encourages them to believe it, and they encourage us to act like it. Let us cheer the silly meat-puppet from California who couldn’t even make a decent movie, because it’s a hoot to see him up there slandering Hubert Humphrey. Let us believe that an entitled pack of think-tank gangsters is keeping us safe by playing mumblety-peg in the most volatile region of the world. Politics is something the grown-ups do in the parlor. Let’s all get tucked in and pretend that we didn’t see Daddy half-blotto at the dining room table, holding his head over a stack of bills that are dangerously overdue.