The news channel MSNBC has never veered from its commitment to being the public propaganda arm of the Democratic Party’s sophisticated and deftly camouflaged management infrastructure. The news outlet casts itself as the voice of middle-of-the-road reason, always ready to denounce the principal source of evil in the universe, the nefarious Putin-Trump alliance, while bravely fending off the assaults of the irascible, undisciplined Democratic progressives who foolishly seek to overturn the rational order.
Theirs is a well-oiled system that smoothly combines media and politics in a formula that has thrived for three decades, built around a powerful engine fueled by corporate funding.
Following the debacle of all of the channel’s favored centrist candidates in Nevada, journalist Joy Reed, one of MSNBC’s prominent voices, in the guise of analysis of the latest Democratic primary, expressed this stirring complaint regarding the Sanders movement: “They’re turning the tables over and they don’t care what the potential result is. They’re the hungriest. No one is as hungry, angry, enraged and determined as Sanders voters. Democrats need to sober up and figure out what the hell they are going to do about that.”
The message is clear: In a democracy, one should never trust voters, nor should one take the time to ask oneself why they might on occasion be “enraged.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Dangerously committed to defending one’s principles and continuing to promote ideals of generosity and solidarity in a society that is certain it can run very well without any ideals and that perceives such commitment to be a form of destructive, antisocial, irrational behavior not dissimilar to that of a rabid dog.
The Democratic Party has a vocabulary problem that appears to be getting worse by the day. The most obvious word in this election cycle has been “socialism.” None of the usual commentators cares to define it because just evoking it will always achieve the goal of producing a strong emotional effect. Since at least the 1950s, Republicans on the extreme right have affirmed that the term “socialism” is a synonym for Soviet-style communism.
Now a good part of the traditional Democratic Party seems to have adopted that belief, in agreement with its Wall Street masters, such as billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman who, in describing candidate Bernie Sanders, asserts: “He’s not a socialist. He is, rather, a communist.” Traditionally a contributor to Republican causes, Cooperman is now actively supporting the nouveau Democrat, Michael Bloomberg.
But socialism isn’t the only embarrassing word that strikes fear in the heart of Democrats. They have been juggling dangerously with the utterly undefinable notion of “moderate,” which in practice seems to mean anyone skilled at accommodating the powers-that-be and not posing any serious questions about why or how at least part of the population may seem enraged. Then there’s the mystifying problem of having to classify their own members using a range of traditional terms whose meanings seem to float off in different directions: conservative, liberal and progressive.
In his often deliriously unhinged analysis of Democratic politics, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews compared Sanders’ victory in Nevada to what the French call “la débâcle” of 1940, when Nazi Germany overran France and took control of the nation, prompting De Gaulle to call Churchill and tell him, “It’s over.” Earlier in the month, Matthews compared Sanders to Fidel Castro, who he claimed had in the past planned, presumably with Sanders’ help, a mass execution of Americans in New York’s Central Park. But now Matthews seems to prefer the Hitler analogy. Everyone knows how enraged the Nazis were — the same Nazis who executed members of Sanders’ family in Europe.
Nevertheless, even Chris Matthews can have rare moments of relative lucidity. In a seemingly rational moment after the Nevada disaster, he broke down the segmentation of Democratic voters, maintaining that “two-thirds of people who call themselves Democrats are either liberal or very liberal.” It seems to make sense, though he gives no clues about what he means by “liberal” and “very liberal” and says nothing about the other third. But we can assume it includes “moderates” and individuals like Bloomberg, who may be called conservative Democrats.
The three categories Matthews uses to describe today’s Democratic Party — liberal, very liberal and moderate-conservative — may or may not stand for something in the real world. His nomenclature does tell us something about how the Democratic Party has evolved over the past half a century. At the time of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and even Jimmy Carter, the adjective “Democratic” was deemed synonymous with “liberal,” at least everywhere outside of the deep South.
The Republicans in those years referred to themselves as the conservative party, but one that included a significant high-profile liberal wing. Personalities like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javitz or Mark Hatfield called themselves “liberal Republicans,” and Democrats could feel comfortable voting for them or seeing them elected.
Before the civil rights movement, the Democrats in the South were an important component of the Democratic Party, an essential part of Franklin Roosevelt’s coalition. They tended to be not just socially conservative, but avowedly racist, if not white supremacist. The one thing they had in common with northern Democrats, however, was their sense of belonging, in their majority, to an underclass of the powerless and poor. The Democratic Party saw itself as the party of the common man. It could include both socially aware progressive intellectuals in the north and what was often referred to as “poor white trash” in the South.
The Republicans were the party of business and moneyed interests. It embraced everything from culturally conservative small-town shopkeepers in the Bible Belt, guided in their values by everyday pragmatism, to East or West Coast business leaders, bankers and advertising executives, many of them proud of flaunting their flamboyant lifestyles.
By dividing today’s Democratic Party into three branches, Matthews seems to believe that there is an essential core that groups together moderates and conservatives. He assumes it possesses a gravitational power that can attract social liberals, those whose values tend to focus on identity politics. Most of these social liberals have learned to live and thrive as economic conservatives.
Then there is what Matthews calls the “very liberal” or progressive wing. It includes Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, as well as the young Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the squad.” Matthews thinks of them as a group of annoying Cassandras who in all cases should be excluded from power. The conservative-moderate Democrats, such as Matthews himself, appear to be interchangeable with moderate Republicans. That is why former Republican Mike Bloomberg can be welcomed as an authentic Democrat.
This correlates with the fact that for Republicans like Leon Cooperman or Clint Eastwood, Mike Bloomberg playing the role of a Democratic presidential candidate perfectly reflects their political ideals, whereas they see Trump as a potential troublemaker because of his unpredictability, therefore similar to an extremist.
For many of the personalities who have a voice in the liberal media, things have taken a bleak turn. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is also worried and compares the Democrats’ dilemma to that of the Republicans in 2016 who grudgingly succumbed to Trump: “The Democratic Party, no less than the Republican Party, looks like a derelict ship awaiting capture by a band of pirates.” Some journalists thrive on their ability to invoke fearsome comparisons: Nazis, Castro, the brownshirts (recently invoked by MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd), and now swashbuckling pirates.
When will Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun appear in their analogies? (The quick answer: never, since that would require a basic knowledge of history that they probably feel is beyond the intellectual horizon of their audience).
The Nevada shock has left them clutching at straws. Douthat is hoping that the Democrats will consult the #NeverTrump Republicans who can advise them on what not to do when an uncontrollable candidate starts generating too much momentum for the party establishment to stop: “But there’s still time for conservatives who opposed Trump to offer some advice to Democrats who want to nominate someone other than the Vermont socialist.” Republicans who turn Democrat for the sake of an election, Democrats who think Republican to maximize their voting base — that is the order that needs to be preserved at all costs.
The problem is that none of the planned solutions has paid off. A month ago, the Democrats were counting on Joe Biden. That hope virtually disappeared after the results of the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses. Amy Klobuchar and Peter Buttigieg obviously would have no serious impact in states with significant minority populations. A week ago, Democrats had pinned their hopes on Bloomberg, believing his unlimited supply of cash could get the job done. That received a visibly mortal blow from Elizabeth Warren at the Las Vegas debate.
Now the Democrats have a new problem. They must acknowledge that Sanders’ support comes not only from the “enraged” extremist enthusiasts. The Nevada results show that he has attracted moderates as well, as The New York Times reports: “Mr. Sanders not only won among self-described liberal voters, but also made inroads with moderates for the first time. Among self-described moderate or conservative caucusgoers, Mr. Sanders was the top vote-getter, albeit narrowly: He captured 25 percent of such voters, while Mr. Biden won 23 percent, according to entrance polls.”
And, as The Atlantic highlighted last week, “Sanders may be the least polarizing candidate in the presidential field, at least according to surveys of ordinary Democrats.”
The Democrats may actually have a winner, if by Democrats we mean Democratic voters. Polls even show that Sanders could beat Trump. But the Democratic establishment and its media appear too enraged to notice.
[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money. Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.