As the devil says in Doctor Faustus, “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.” While many Republicans may apply this line literally to their circumstance today, having awoken under the promise of further Obamanation, I think a paraphrase of Christopher Marlowe’s great line is more appropriate. We may replace the word “hell” with “show business” and have a more accurate picture of the American political climate. What this election result tells me is that the fiction of a liberal media is more than just another nonsensical conservative talking point. It’s a remarkably effective device, and one that has kept alive the GOP’s hopes far longer than the transparent lameness of its message and candidate would seem to warrant.
See, when you sell the idea that The Media has a liberal bias, you make it very confusing to consider that the bunch of liberals who run The Media (GE, Disney, etc) are actually the Republican leadership. You also make it easy to throw your voice, using the very media that you own as an apparent ventriloquist’s dummy for the opposition, thereby making what you make it say seem to be true. The message? When you want to stop people from voting, you tell them their candidate has already lost. This is as old a trick as politics can boast. And when you want to maintain your candidate’s viability, of course, you act as if he has a chance.
Oh, I keep hearing, but Obama only took 25 states (maybe 26 if Florida looses the talons of corruption enough to allow a declaration to escape)! And even in most of the states he won, he only won with fifty-something percent of the vote. In terms of popular vote, he only won by a couple of percentage points! That’s half the country that didn’t vote for him! Well, yes, if you ignore the institution that actually elects our president. Predicated on an extrapolation of population data, the Electoral College makes very clear (303 to 206, again not counting Florida) that the election was not particularly close.
It would have been even less close if billions of corporate dollars hadn’t propped up the myth of Romney electability for the last several years. And where were those dollars spent? Mostly on television networks owned in many cases by the same mega-industrialists who funded the ads that pay the networks to run them. As it turns out, you can persuade about 50 million people to vote against their own interests, if you saturate their favorite media with hate-pander. But if you really want to be president, you have to convince the right 50 million, and the GOP simply did not try. The most populous state in the union wasn’t even contested. Nor was the vast majority of the Northeast. Why? It’s interesting to note that those ad markets are more expensive than most. To run a bunch of Romney ads in Los Angeles or New York City would have been an enormously costly charade. Because this entire election was a pageant, a very expensive one but in the long run strategically invaluable to the American Right.
If the GOP had allowed Obama to take this election uncontested, it would have appeared as the ideologically bereft lunatic fringe that it has become. So it had to put on a show. It also had to make sure that Democratic coffers were emptied, because they’re harder to fill (most of Romney’s fundraising came in donations of over $2500; most of Obama’s checks were for less than $200) and therefore more prone to exhaustion. Next time, middle-class Democratic checkwriters may feel that they have done their part to win a war that should now be over, while the Koch brothers will correctly view that “war” as a game only in middle innings; and they will still be billionaires. And maybe by then they’ll have manufactured a figurehead who isn’t a vulture-capitalist member of a bizarre religion, more of a Bond villain than a candidate.
Even the state that elected Romney governor ten years ago voted against him by twenty percentage points when he tried to run for national office. Romney was a sacrifice bunt, a place-holder while the Tea Party-ravaged GOP leadership pulls its act together and learns how not to lean on old saws like “less regulation” and “more drilling,” tropes that were guaranteed to lose them the half of the electorate who can read The Economist.
It was a show. We watched, we became enthralled, we were purged. But it’s not over. This show never is.
About the Author: Jason Rohrer was educated in California, New York, Russia and Bulgaria. He reviews film and performing arts for stageandcinema.com, contributes to American Theatre Magazine, and co-hosts the podcast Jason and Todd Talk through Lousy Films. He tweets as @RohrerVacui.