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By Carolyn Kay
You may be surprised to know it is Bill Clinton’s fault that Democrats have not prevailed in the last three national elections.
That assertion does not come from some crazed right winger. It is from a study authored by former Clinton staffers William A. Galston & Elaine C. Kamarck, sponsored by a group of self-described centrist Democrats calling themselves Third Way. The study urges Democrats to refuse to succumb to “The Politics of Polarization”. The authors claim, without offering any proof, that Americans do not like polarization and that polarized politics alienates the 47 percent of Americans who consider themselves moderates. Democrats need those moderates more than Republicans do, the authors say, and Democrats therefore should tailor their message to those moderates, not to the far-out leftists who call themselves liberals.
The authors go on to say that the major reason for Democratic losses in the last three national elections is the defection of married people, especially married women, and Catholics, from the Democrats to the Republicans. Galston and Kamarck present a number of charts and graphs to make this point. They go on to blame the defection on the increased importance many of these voters have expressed for “traditional family values”, and which party they associate with those values.
The study shows that in the 1970s through the mid 80s, Americans favored Democrats by a 32 point (1974) to 12 point (1986) margin when asked which party represented their views and values. By 1998 and 1999, the authors claim, polls showed Americans favoring Republicans by 19 points on “family values”. The authors blame this entire change in opinion on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. This astounding change of 51 percentage points over about 25 years is entirely because of Bill Clinton’s “behavioral flaws”, Galston and Kamarck want us to believe. “As the pollster Stan Greenberg put it, ‘… Republicans have made Bill Clinton their “poster child” for America’s moral decline.’”
The quote from Greenberg is the only hint in the entire study at the real reason Americans have come to believe that Republicans are moral and Democrats are not. It is not the Bill Clinton part of the quote that is applicable, it is the poster child part. The study makes no mention that Bill Clinton was vilified and demonized by the Republican commentariat, their network of media outlets, and their Internet footsoldiers for everything he did or did not do, and what they believed he was thinking, every minute of every day of every year, from the time he stepped on the national stage until months after he left the White House. A study by the British Taylor & Francis Group confirms that talk radio, which until recently was exclusively the platform of the right wing, had an influence on negative opinions about Bill Clinton.
Other Democrats have been vilified by the right-wing media machine, as well. In some cases, Democrats played into the hands of those determined to put and keep Republicans in power and to shut Democrats out. The advantage right-wing media took of the House banking scandals, for example, was one of the main reasons for the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. Clinton’s personal life also provided fodder for these media outlets, and even spilled over to what had been formerly known as the mainstream media. But if real incidents had not been available, some would have simply been made up, such as the Jerry Falwell-sponsored stories that Bill Clinton supported a drug operation when governor of Arkansas and that Clinton and his wife murdered their aide Vince Foster.
Nowhere was it ever touted that Bill Clinton is still married to his first wife, and that they have raised an intelligent, lovely, poised, and charming daughter—as opposed to the large number of Republican politicians and pundits who have left wives and children to marry the women with whom they carried on out of wedlock. Yet Republicans are considered the party of family values. That is not because the facts are on the Republican side. It is because Republicans have used media so much more effectively than Democrats.
The constant barrage of bad news about Democrats but only good news about Republicans, up until only the last few weeks, along with the floods of campaign money Republicans have wrung from American business, are the real reasons that Republicans are in power today. This takeover is not an accident. It is the result of a well-funded, relentless, 30-plus-year campaign by a few rich families with right-wing views to take and keep power. It is one of the mysteries of the universe that progressives have not embraced a plan to put in place a media infrastructure to counter this campaign.
The political center, by definition, should be what most people want. But the right-wing media campaign has succeeded so well that, aside from a few religious issues, what most Americans want is now considered “leftist”. Or “socialist”. Or even “communist”. Some centering is needed, no doubt, but for many Democratic leaders that would mean moving toward what is now considered the left, not further to the right.
Despite the proof shown in this study, that 51 percent of Americans can be persuaded to change their beliefs about the parties, Democrats and their supporters are in no hurry to determine how to counter these harmful myths. There are no studies sponsored by progressives to show how a media strategy could benefit them, even help them win elections.
You just have to scratch your head and wonder why that is.