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writing for godot

CNN and NYT Provide Cover for Private Servant/US Senator Marco Rubio

Written by Carl Peterson   
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 01:24

Marco Rubio's recent appearance at a town hall in Florida showed that he is who many progressives already thought he was: a shallow young careerist unlikely to spend much time seriously considering his constituents as flesh and blood human beings.  You know--humans whose internal organs are entirely destroyed, not merely pierced, when hit by a slug from an AR-15.  You know--humans who get sick and die when they can't get healthcare.

Marco was there not because he is brave, although, admittedly, by the debased standards of our historically craven Republican Congress, merely meeting with his own voters probably shows that Marco is more vertebrate than the abysmal professional Republican average.

Nor was Marco there out of an overflowing of compassion; that was certainly clear to anyone who watched him explain that he takes money from gun interests because "they buy into my agenda...and I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda."

This was a moment of truth for Marco.  If he did not appear at the town hall, he would miss a chance to prove to his Masters that he has the mettle to serve them as they demand to be served.  His Masters were certainly watching: the NRA and the Koch Brothers among them.  And those were the eyes Marco sought to impress.

If his motivations for appearing at the town hall were not so obviously careerist, and if he were not so evidently in thrall to his Masters, you might be tempted to say that it required bravery for Marco to appear at a town hall/wake for 17 recent assault weapon murder victims. When you earned an A+ rating from the NRA and have long fought against any gun law changes that might have saved the lives of the murder victims, as Marco has, you would naturally have some justification for being apprehensive about enduring painful, public criticism at the town hall/wake.  So, there is little doubt that Marco's appearance at that event required willingness on his part to endure such criticism, and that shows bravery, doesn't it?

I would certainly not call it bravery, but was it an act of audacity?  Audacity, unlike noble bravery, is open to anyone, even the ignoble, like for example Marco Rubio, who is willing to face the arrows of opprobrium in the interest of achieving the desired prize.  An act of bravery hazards great danger or suffering for some greater ideal, and is not simply taking a risk for personal gain or choosing between two dangers which is worse, and avoiding that one, as Marco did when he appeared at the town hall.  Marco's dilemma was, "If I do not appear at the town hall, I will look like I'm afraid, and the Masters will discard me as unfit to be considered for 2020.  If I appear at the town hall, I may be exposed to public criticism as complicit in the deaths of the 17." Faced with these two unpleasant options, Marco made his choice:  But was it audacity?  Marco's appearance at the town hall exposed him to the transitory unpleasantness of actually looking at his constituents face-to-face and pretending to really care about what they were saying, but in return it gave him the chance to shape his own destiny, and it avoided his greatest fear: offending the Masters.

Yes, Marco perceived that it was too dangerous to his career for him not to appear at the town hall, and he saw, correctly (at least for now) that failing to impress the Masters is much more dangerous to his ambitions than working against the flesh and blood interests of his own constituents.  Marco simply made the calculated, rational choice: not the audacious or brave one. In accordance with his most closely held values--his career--Marco acted rationally by not only appearing at the town hall, but by defending there his opposition to gun control.  It may have looked like audacity, but actually lacked the heedlessness of audacity.  This was simply a clear-thinking servant confirming to the Masters that they were right to have confidence in him, notwithstanding his dismal performance in the 2016 presidential campaign.

You may have noted, if you have been around long enough to remember the way politicians use to behave in public, back when they were more or less reliably concerned about voter wrath, that things are different now.  Professional Republicans, when they are talking in front of TV cameras do not even attempt anymore to appear to be talking to their constituents.  That is because they don't feel the need to talk to their constituents; Fox does that for them, and anyway they are performing for a much smaller group of people: their Masters.  That servile relationship to their Masters, if it goes on long enough, seems to impart an automaton-like demeanor that is becoming common among professional Republicans.  (Marco Rubio exhibits definite automaton-like demeanor.  Devin Nunes provides an extreme, eerie demonstration.  Sometimes, when I watch Nunes, I wonder if the pod people are already taking over.)  Underlying this demeanor is the simple Master-Servant relationship that insulates most professional Republicans from concern about danger to themselves emanating from their constituents, insulated because they are too preoccupied with attending to the Masters who control their political destinies to care much about offending their own powerless constituents.

For reasons that I won't attempt to tease out here, the day after the town hall CNN published an "analysis" by political reporter Stephen Collinson, titled Rubio takes the heat but finds his voice during CNN gun town hall. The "analysis" set forth in the article finds that Rubio was courageous for even showing up at the town hall:  "But it took steeliness that is unusual in the current crop of politicians nonetheless, as Rubio faced a searing cross-examination from relatives and friends of those who lost loved ones, and defended policies hewed from the orthodoxy of the National Rifle Association."

I object here that anything that is bold enough to call itself "analysis" should not lower its normative standards to conform with the debased norms of the human objects of its analysis.  That defeats the main purpose of analysis, which is to look deeper while maintaining an independent standard of judgment.  Just because practically all Republican members of Congress are now conspicuously and to the point of depravity without courage, that does not confer "steeliness" on Marco Rubio for meeting publicly with his constituents.  It used to be that meeting with constituents was simply part of the politician's job, not a reason to praise the politician for courage under fire, as CNN did for Marco Rubio.  But that is what happens when the analyst adopts the same perspective as the politicians he purports to analyze.  Republicans are now often squeamish about facing the temporary unpleasantness of meeting with their constituents, but many of those who have faced irate voters at town halls know that it is very likely that they will be reelected anyway.  Marco Rubio faced some temporary unpleasantness at the town hall, but his appearance presented no near-term threat to his political career, and besides, the citizens at the town hall were far more respectful and gentle with Marco than they needed to be.  Far more gentle and respectful of him than he is of them when he votes in the Senate.

What you see in progress in Stephen Collinson's CNN article is the normalization of a debased Republican Party.  This is just what analysis, if done properly, would prevent.  Good journalistic analysis should look below the play of surface phenomena to examine the deeper motivations of our politicians.  The shallow analysis and laudatory tone of Stephen Collinson's article could have been written by a member of Marco Rubio's staff.  But unlike Stephen Collinson, Marco's staff is supposed to adopt Marco's perspective.  They work for him.

A few days after the Collison article, The New York Times (NYT) published on the front page of its Sunday paper an article with the headline NRA's Muscle Built on Votes, Not Donations, with the sub-headlines Power of Mobilization, and Strategy Limits Emphasis on Direct Spending on Candidates. As I read the article I wondered if the NYT was deliberately trying to help Marco Rubio maintain his viability as a presidential candidate in 2020.  My past experience of reading the NYT has shown repeatedly that it places its propaganda claims on the front page, while publishing its more-or-less straight reporting articles in the middle pages.

The central claim of the article was that the NRA's power is not the result of buying politicians, but of its ability to mobilize NRA members to vote out of office politicians who are not sufficiently pro-gun.  In other words, the NRA does not spend much money to entice politicians with carrots, rather it scares them with sticks.  And the sticks it uses are tools well within the norms of the American democracy.

In general, the article makes a persuasive case that the NRA's power is not solely based on buying politicians, but the article's propaganda element becomes clear when it claims that the NRA's gifts of money to politicians are miniscule.  "Compared with the towering sums of money donated to House and Senate candidates in the last cycle--$.1.7 billion--the NRA's direct contributions were almost a rounding error."  However, the NYT seems to be deliberately downplaying the importance of NRA money spent on behalf of key politicians like Marco Rubio.  The article focuses on the relatively small NRA direct donations to candidates, but only lightly touches on the subject of NRA campaign spending on behalf of favored candidates.  If this money is counted, as the New York Times itself did in an October 4, 2017 op-ed piece, key Republican politicians have each received millions of dollars in funding from the NRA.  Marco Rubio comes in at number 6 in the Senate at $3,303,355.  Is it so wrong then to think of him as being owned by the NRA on the issue of gun control? your social media marketing partner
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