Monday, April 17, 2006

The Rise of the Howard Beale Party

Outrage over politics is about as old as humanity itself, the players and outrages change from time to time, though in recent years - really since the mid 1990s - more and more people are looking for something besides the single party systems of Repubs and Dems. Single party because other than an occasional vote, the behavior and tactics are mostly alike for the Right and the Left. Thanks to a stream-lined process of endless fundraising and manufactured hysterics from the "Contract With America" crowd, federal representatives and senators must run high-dollar national campaigns. The concerns of a state or region of a state are by-passed to meet the needs of the national party.

No, I never liked the proposals of the architect of the new Right Wing, Newt Gingrich - the man who taught Tom DeLay how to grab power. There already exists a "contract" between voter and government, called The Constitution. And if we decide it needs changing, there is a process for doing so. Trouble is - it takes time, years really, to change it. So attempts to by-pass that process via Executive Orders or Patriot Acts race ahead, quicker than a streak of lightning. Few people read the thousand-plus pages of that so-called Patriot Act before it was approved - with enough bluster and bureaucracy, it's easy to overwhelm the senses.

Shallow tactics aimed at "control" are obvious, however, even celebrated. But the Grand Old Propaganda has truly failed - even exploded over the last few years and there are hopes the Democrats may take the majority in the fall elections

... Democrats face a far more forbidding challenge in attempting to nationalize the election. Reapportionment has left fewer contested districts. The political machine built by the right still has no Democratic equivalent. In 1994 the country was at peace. Now the Iraq War--even as Americans turn against it--divides Democratic politicians from their voters. Rebuilding after the Katrina catastrophe blurs partisan differences on the role of government. Yet the potential for a landmark election is clear. The corruption and crony capitalism of the Republican Congress and Administration are sources of unending scandal; it is simply the way they do business. The folks who came to make a revolution stayed to run a racket, and independent voters might well conclude that it's time for them to go. Moreover, Katrina exposed the tragic costs of the conservative scorn for government, and it brought to public attention the spreading poverty that marks Bush's failed economic policies.

Just as Clinton and the Democratic Congress's failure to deliver on a central promise--affordable healthcare--turned voters off in 1994, heading FEMA with incompetent cronies exposed the fact that Bush and the Republicans punted on the central promise they made after 9/11--that they would keep America safe. And the response to Katrina revealed how out of touch the antigovernment crowd is. To defend the Administration's ineptitude, they sang from the conservative hymnal, charging that the Administration's failures prove big government doesn't work (the Cato Institute even called once more for abolishing FEMA). They blamed the victims, or as Linda Chavez, head of the Civil Rights Commission under Reagan, said of those who were stranded: "You are dealing with the permanently poor--people who don't have jobs, are not used to getting up and organizing themselves...and for whom sitting and waiting is a way of life." Senator Rick Santorum called for "tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out." (He later amended this to exempt the one-fifth of the population in the Katrina disaster area that did not own a car.) But Karl Rove realized this wouldn't sell, so Bush vowed to spend whatever it takes to rebuild the Gulf Coast, while ruling out any rollback of his top-end tax cuts to pay for it. Conservatives then detailed offsetting spending cuts--mostly in Medicaid and Medicare, as well as other poverty programs--that would only add to the misery of the most vulnerable.

The Outrage, oh the Outrage.

The wild cards in the upcoming election cycle belong to the "outraged" and the blog-writer activism, noted in the Washington Post recently and extremely evident on the Web. Plainly put - the candidates that can give a voice to the ever-more angry public may have an edge.

However, I also have a theory that this particular viewpoint, given birth as the GOP's Martyr - Richard Nixon - collapsed in Watergate, and public doubts have grown in all the many many other "gates" that have followed. The Outraged already have a slogan, from a 1976 movie about politics and popularity, the demise of journalism and the rise of the Fed Up American - "Network". Just change the reference from television to the internet "network" and you'll be amazed at what you find, too.

I vividly recall sitting in a theatre in Atlanta in the fall of 1976 as the brilliantly insightful screenplay by writer Paddy Chayefsky (already schooled in the Fear of Communism craze from the 1950s). He wrote not only to capture the terrorism-filled and fearful American mind of the 1970s, but he expertly captured the ideas that have been dominant in politics ever since.

In the movie, Howard Beale, a veteran news anchor (one imagined Walter Cronkite at the time, whose daughter played a Patty Hearst-styled character in the movie) decides to announce his despair filled plans for suicide on the evening news. Wild curiosity follows, and the network sees a chance to boost it's ratings by letting the man ramble on and on - which does in fact bring huge ratings. A savvy programmer and the network bosses seize the moment and build on it - a TV landscape of shows structured of gossip, terrorism, fake reality shows and prophetic spin on the news. It's like tuning in to television in the 21st century.

After prepping his audience with a rant on how bad it all is and how helpless Americans feel, he offers the first step of recovery:

"Get up out of your chairs and go to your window. Right now. I want you to go to the window and open it and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!' ... Things have got to change. But you can't change them unless you're mad. Go to the window."

When Beale does a rant about corruption in the corporate world, noting how "Arabs" own more of corporate America than anyone really understands, and this time he tells viewers get up and send telegrams to the White House, expressing opposition to a proposed merger plan, he gets a whopper of a speech from his own corporate boss, who explains there are no nations, only a system of currency which must be served.

Howard Beale ultimately falls victim to the corporate world, who arrange for terrorists to kill him on live television. The movie left the entire audience speechless that night back in 1976, a few hundred Americans sitting in utter quiet at the end.

Now, thirty years later, more and more people are recalling Howard Beale, whether they know it or not. They are mad and if one side or another can channel the anger to power, it will happen. The real fear in the political world is that the Outraged have figured it out - that something new must happen.

Who will win in the battle for the hearts and minds?


  1. Anonymous2:44 PM

    Did you see my Public Airwaves?

  2. I did read that yes indeedy, Wintermute.

    Often find many interesting facts and studies via your site.

    I suppose a question I should have more plainly asked in this post is Are Bloggers the Equivalent for Howard Beales now?

  3. Good question, Joe. I wonder that myself. I read Digby a lot, and of course old Howard Beale is there each time I visit.
    The thing is, we have been through six very important years with leadership that is so up the corporate wazoo that I personally believe the middle class and the poor are sick of it.
    Liberal bloggers have honestly been the only consistant community where other like-minded people could communicate where they weren't labeled unpatriotic. There hasn't been a "liberal" media in years since Faux news showed up and began TELLING people information and only reported news for ratings. Network News and CNN followed the dollar. Corruption and violations on the principals of this country have been tossed to the wind out of fear and money.
    Yes, 9/11 happened, but wasn't the terrorist who went after Oklahoma's Federal Building a skinny American guy.
    I digress.

    The times are a changing. People are sick and tired and aren't going to take it anymore. Will it happen immediately, no.
    Will it happen, hopefully.
    I'm all for balance. It's the dictatorship of America that I find to be terrifying.
    Off rant.

  4. I stuck my head out my window and yelled...nobody gave a poop...nobody gives a poop untill the man comes to take their kids off to a useless war. That day is on the way too if we can't find a way away from this greed at the top.


    Okay, I love that movie. Here's the thing - I worry the average American is more poorly educated and willfully ignorant now than in 1976. I worry that the average American nowadays has been sucking on the corporate teat for so long that he's gotten too fat and lazy to give a shit. Do bloggers = Howard Beale? Maybe so, but who's listening?

  6. I'm mad as hell, but I have a terrible feeling that I am going to continue to take it. I'm afraid I'm a victim of my longer lesh and bigger cage.