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November 29, 2005

The World Changed in 1994

-- by John Emerson

The world changed when DeLay gained control of the House in 1994, and then again, in the same direction, when Bush won in 2000.

Since 1994 it hasn't been reasonable to attempt dialogue with Republicans or to bargain with them. They want it all, they have no scruples, and they really want to destroy the Democratic Party entirely. Over the last few years they've also become a fanatical criminal group willing to jettison even their own conservative principles (fiscal conservativism, limited government, etc.) in the pursuit of success and power.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and most Democratic spokesmen are stuck in 1972, or 1980, or 1988 and spend their whole time making sure they don't sound like McGovern or Carter or Mondale or Dukakis. Can't be too liberal, can't be dovish, can't be too partisan, meet the other side half way, there are good points on both sides, etc., etc.

(The same is true of a lot of seemingly-reasonable conservative and moderate Republicans who grumble but don't oppose Bush. They're still fighting McGovern and Mondale, and that's what they're going to do for the rest of their lives no matter what the external reality is. They are Bush's punks, whether they realize it or not.)

I remember the turning point during the Reagan administration, when people figured out that Reagan was for real and that the change was permanent. You could tell which way the wind was blowing from Meg Greenfield's frequent pensive pieces at the Washington Post saying that ideology was out and that "thoughfulness" was in. What she meant was that resistance was out and that it was time to make concessions and cut deals.

None of Greenfield's pieces actually seemed very thoughful; there were no actual new ideas or signs of much thinking, just the proclamation of how things were going to be. Greenfield was not actually a major figure as a columnist; her significance was that she was a gatekeeperfor Post management. Her columns were marching orders directed at other columnists. (During that period I remember seeing strong critics of Reagan, such as Garry Wills or Nicholas von Hoffman -- the ones who didn't get the message -- gradually disappearing from the editorial pages of my hometown paper.)

Kinsley, Kaus, and the whole TNR counterintuitive crew came into their own during that time, and they're not going to be able to change. They have branded themselves, and they can't change brands because if they do they'll have nothing to sell. Kinsley can still write a good piece, but he can't write a string of good pieces because to do so would destroy his marketing schtick.

I've said for a long time that we need new media. This is true for readers, for journalists of integrity, and for the country as a whole. Just during the last six months the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the LA Times (three of the most important content-providers) have all suffered scandal and/or downsizing, and they all have to be experiencing crises of morale. The present media, and most of the people who work for them, are not going to be able to change.

All we need is a few hundred million dollars.

(Posted as a comment on Brad DeLong, November 28, 2005, "Kinsley vs. Kinsley, Round II").

Posted by John Emerson at November 29, 2005 7:29 AM

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