Saturday, July 20, 2013

Trayvon Martin In Our Political Age

Over at The Atlantic James Fallows wrote a great piece about the difficulties facing journalists who still want to cover American politics with the classic "both sides do it" view of David Broder fame. As he sees it the dysfunction of the modern GOP is making this position increasingly untenable:
Yet all of the energy, pressure, and big personalities in this party -- and, you've guessed, I am talking about the Republicans -- are pushing it closer to its fervent but outnumbered base and away from more centrist positions and candidates who might give it a better national-election chance. That's the story behind the primary challenges that knocked off the likes of Dick Lugar and gave us the likes of Todd Akin. It's the story of the repeated debt-ceiling showdowns and filibuster abuse, plus the vote to eliminate Food Stamps. It's the story behind the intra-mural GOP struggle over the immigration bill. The party's Super-ego, in the approximate form of the Bush family (plus business allies, some evangelicals, etc; and technically maybe all these amounting to the party's Freud-parlance Ego) is pushing for approval. The party's Id is doing everything it can to resist.
This contest will be chronicled in our histories -- but, as I've pointed out once or twice, it poses surprising challenges for mainstream journalism of the moment, given reporters' strong instinct to remain "fair" by keeping equal distance from the main parties' views.
I think that this is an excellent point. While most journalists try their darndist not to come out and just say the increasingly obvious truth that the GOP has become a deeply dysfunctional political party, this is becoming harder and harder every day. And we might be in for a change in the near future.

Fallows' argument also gave me new insight into the Zimmerman/Martin saga we've been watching. As his colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in his "Fear of a Black President" article Zimmerman went from being perhaps the most hated man in America to a hero to conservatives after President Obama announced that "if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon." Before the comment none other that The National Review had written a column entitled "Al Sharpton is Right" after Obama spoke the wheel turned completely and Zimmerman became a folk hero to many on the right, with Sean Hannity, Rush and everyone else jumping up to defend his good name.

It's kind of amazing really-imagine if Bernard Goetz had become a hero to Democrats after a speech by president Ronald Reagan proclaiming "if I saw four people shot on the subway I'd be scared too"-and I don't think you can understand the change in public perception of Zimmerman and Martin outside of the context of the weird politics of our era.

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