Watching America

Compared to how much I study it — a pretentious phrase, I know! — American political culture is something I almost never write about online … or anywhere else, for that matter. It feels too personal, like one’s love life gone awry.

And there are fine folk out there, like my former mentor and NYU professor Jay Rosen, who write about such things so well and speak for me, as it were. His piece today, Agnew’s Resentment Machine: Six Data Points About Culture War and The Campaign Press, is marvelous:

“Here we have one of the most under-covered stories of the 2012 campaign. If the Republican candidates believed the culture war wing of their own party, if they credited it with any genuine insight, if they respected its critique of the journalistic profession, if they thought there was a solid core of truth there, they would not have agreed to participate in debates where the questions are asked by such ideological opponents as Wolf Blitzer and Jon King of CNN, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos of ABC, David Gregory and Brian Williams of NBC, John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times and on and on. As Hewitt said: Hey, these guys are left wing! It doesn’t make any sense!

“Unless… the candidates see the culture war wing of their party as a useful idiot– wrong about what journalists are up to, but valuable for keeping the press in line. Then the debate thing does make sense. The candidates participate because they can predict the questions. They know they’ll be able to get their message out and reach people who don’t watch Fox. And the resentment machine is right there at their fingertips: just attack the questioner and score some points. Notice, then, how conservative culture warriors wail about it, but don’t try to explain this basic weirdness: candidates vying for the title of head conservative voluntarily submit themselves to questioning from the enemies of the conservative state!

“My view: even Newsbusters knows their critique is a joke. They’re just working the refs, and raising money off their Agnewisms. And it’s a pretty sweet gig. Brent Bozell’s 2010 salary: $423,000. He should be raging at the Republican candidates for legitimizing the David Gregorys and John Harwoods of the world. That’s what a real activist would do. Instead we have Hugh Hewitt whining to a New Yorker writer: It’s absurd!!

“Don’t you see the comedy? This is why I say it’s a great story going uncovered. Conservative candidates treat their culture warriors as know-nothings: fools and tools.”

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