Redefining 'Mainstream'


Last week, in advance of the Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign unveiled their attack strategy for the Democratic convention: Claim that Democrats are undergoing an "extreme makeover" to hide their ultra-liberal, out-of-the-mainstream views.

It may seem implausible that a political party that 54 percent of Americans – according to a CBS News/New York Times poll this month – have a favorable impression of, is "out of the mainstream." But the press corps, credulous as always when it comes to conservative spin, swallowed the Bush camp's talking points, hook, line, and sinker.

Conservative journalists and pundits were most enthusiastic about parroting the GOP's rhetoric, of course. Sean Hannity, best-known as co-host of FOX News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes," was a particularly egregious practitioner of this craft. On his nationally syndicated radio show, Hannity announced: "That's why we call it the Reinvention Convention, 'cause they want to convince you that he is something that he is not. John Kerry is out of the mainstream."

It is less clear, however, on exactly which issues John Kerry is out of the mainstream.

Same-sex marriage? John Kerry opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That position is so out-of-touch, so ultra-liberal that both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney agreed with it in 2000. (They've since changed their mind in a shameless election-year flip-flop designed to appeal to their base.) And according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 38 percent of Americans support the constitutional amendment, while a majority agrees with Kerry that the issue should be left to the states.

What about abortion? Kerry favors reproductive rights for women but voted in favor of a measure that would ban late-term abortions except in cases where the life or health of the woman is at risk. A majority of Americans agree that abortion should be legal in most cases.

Record federal budget deficits? George W. Bush created them; John Kerry opposes them. And while we don't have the polling handy, we'd be willing to bet that most people are with Kerry on this one.

So surely a majority of the American people can't be "out of the mainstream" – unless "mainstream" doesn't mean what we think it does.

To understand the conservative definition of mainstream, we need only to take a look at Jonah Goldberg's writing. Goldberg was asked to offer conservative commentary on the convention by USA Today after the newspaper belatedly realized that right-wing pundit Ann Coulter has no place in a professional newspaper. He has, however, proved no more honest than Coulter.

Goldberg grossly distorted a poll of convention delegates in an effort to make them appear "far to the left of the mainstream." Goldberg claimed that "5 out of 6 say the war on terrorism and national security aren't that important." This, of course, is absurd. Nearly everybody thinks national security is important. But that isn't what the poll asked. Delegates were asked which single issue they "think will be the most important campaign issue in your state?"
Goldberg's distortion was triply dishonest:

  • The poll didn't assess which campaign issues delegates thought were "important;" it asked which single issue they thought will be the "most important."

  • The poll didn't ask for the delegates' personal value judgments but, rather, for their political assessment of which issue would be most important campaign issue among voters in their state.

  • "National security" wasn't even one of the choices presented in the poll, which did, however, include "terrorism," "war," and "Iraq."

CNN senior analyst Bill Schneider (a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, although CNN doesn't share that information with its viewers) also distorted the delegate poll, claiming that 75 percent of convention delegates favor "abortion on demand." Schneider based his claim on a question in which only one of three choices did not involve drastic new restrictions on abortions – unsurprising, then, that most delegates chose that option. But it was certainly not an indication that they "endorse abortion on demand."

There are innumerable examples of the media (particularly the cable news networks) portraying Democrats as strange, out-of-the-mainstream, extreme liberals. For starters:

  • CNN Crossfire host Robert Novak didn't waste any time on little things like "issues" in his rush to portray Democrats as outlandish fiends: He cut straight to the point, referring to Democratic delegates as "flesh-eating people."

  • CNN Live From... co-host Miles O'Brien also painted Democrats as out-of-control weirdos, suggesting that former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean might "melt down or something" during his speech. (Dean did no such thing, as it turned out.)

  • FOX News Channel anchor Greg Jarrett was so committed to advancing GOP talking points that he asked a guest a leading question designed to elicit a statement about Senators John Kerry and John Edwards being liberals. When the guest wasn't sufficiently on-message, Jarrett jumped in to make this highly misleading statement: "I thought you were gonna name the two prominent Democratic groups that gave John Kerry the most liberal rating in the U.S. Senate, and I think Edwards came in fourth."

    Meanwhile at the real convention, speaker after speaker talked passionately but reasonably about cutting the record budget deficit, improving access to health care, and keeping the United States strong and secure. "Out of the mainstream," indeed.

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