Think of this as Volume 17, Number 37 of the newsletter I have written weekly since March, 1997. Enjoy.
When you're in power, you're naturally playing defense. When you're in the 5th year of a Presidential cycle, you're also expecting bad things to happen. Lincoln didn't survive 1865, McKinley didn't survive 1901, FDR's 1937 was an annus horribilus and the horrors that were unearthed about Nixon in 1973 destroyed him.
Compared with that, the problems Barack Obama has faced are minimal. The economy hasn't been great but it's growing. Syria almost blew up on us but it didn't. Every effort to inject fear has been followed by a relief rally. Health reform is coming into force. Next year's off-year elections don't look like a disaster.
Still, liberals are mostly pissed at this Administration. The NSA revelations have a lot to do with it. The fact that the crooks who got us into the Great Recession are still walking around free. The fact that the President's legislative initiatives aren't just stalled, but they're being slowly reversed, in both state houses and the Capitol.
If you're doing politics, if you're doing talk, you need heat. Chris Hayes is a nice guy, but he's got no heat. More important, it seems that the entire liberal movement has become becalmed in 2013.
There are three things that can happen in politics, and politics are always happening. You're either playing offense, you're playing defense, or you're making stuff up. The conservative movement has become great at making stuff out, so it makes out great at times like this. Liberals don't like doing that. Aww...you're fee-fees are hurt by that. Put your man pants on, grow a pair, and get to work.
Maybe MSNBC doesn't understand what “making stuff up” means. It means going on offense. It means taking on someone, someone you can define as “bad,” over an issue you can define as “good.” It means focusing attention on that bad thing, and winning small victories you can then build into big ones. (To the right, High Times.)
Liberals don't want to do that. But I'm not talking here about liberalism. I am talking about ratings, about doing TV. TV ratings demand that you keep people on the edge of their seats every day, especially if you're running a talk show format, as MSNBC is. You need to find stories you can own, ride them hard, ride them to victory, then find other stories just as good. Sounds unfair, you say, like picking off fleas with a magnifying glass. But that's the business.
There's a second problem that the New Yorker story didn't discuss, a story that's just as important. MSNBC is disconnected from its own news division. Fox can always throw a story to a local affiliate, interview the reporters and anchors, and get the “facts” that the talent then spins into ratings gold. CNN does the same. NBC News is ashamed of MSNBC, and most of its talent wants nothing to do with it.
That needs to change. MSNBC, CNBC, and NBC are all one thing, under Comcast. It doesn't mean they have to have the same editorial opinions. You're not going to turn Maria Bartiromo into a liberal, any more than you're going to turn Rachel Maddow into a Teahadist. But the news division needs to serve them both, on both the local and national level. Once in a while foreign correspondent Richard Engel comes on Maddow, looking and acting like Joel McCrea in the movie, and they have a good time. But other than that I rarely see NBC on MSNBC air, let alone local reporters. I'm more likely to see Brian Williams on Jon Stewart's show than on the MSNBC network. Hey, Brian, Comedy Central is owned by Viacom.
The way you get national journalism stars is by finding local stars and building them up. Everyone on the national news started as a local reporter. The MSNBC hosts started as talk show hosts or activists. They haven't paid their dues as reporters. Get someone who has and connect them up. That's how you'll find those great, local stories that you can turn into national ones. That's how you'll get back on offense.
But as disappointing as MSNBC has been this year, the liberal blogosphere has been worse. They've taken their eye off the ball. They've been co-opted. They've gotten comfortable, complacent – dare I say conservative? And they've handed victories to the other side as a result.
In the days leading up to the Colorado recalls, sites like DailyKos took their eyes off the ball. Rather than focusing on the ground game, they focused on trying to raise money. They did it in a half-hearted manner. They got out-shouted, they lost, and America lost as a result. The Terrorism that is Second Amendment absolutism will roll on, and children will die, because Markos Moulitsas took his eye off the damned ball. Guns are the crack cocaine of our time. The pushers of guns reward hoarding behavior and acting out. The berzerker incidents just multiply. Where are we on this? Maddow can do a “gun outrage of the day,” every day, from now until doomsday. Why doesn't she? Why doesn't Hayes?
Too many people in Left Blogistan have pulled the ladder of opportunity up, now that they're gotten what they wanted, and left some great people behind. Digby should have her own talk show, regular guest spots on MSNBC, or at least be writing for Talk of the Town. Firedoglake has gotten as complacent as hell. AmericaBlog reads like it wants to become The Nation – no one reads The Nation, kids. Worse, the effort to find new, young voices on the left seems to have stopped dead. Can you think of one discovery, one new bright young voice, who has appeared in Left Blogistan over the last two years? I can't. (I don't count. I'm 58.)
In some ways, I am as whiny as the rest of them. There is a time in our historical cycles when the new Thesis naturally goes into a clinch. This is one of those times. It was tough being a Republican during Watergate. I know because I was one of them. It was a lot easier being one in the late 1930s – Frank Capra was a Republican. The heat came out of the Lincoln coalition just as the Civil War ended, and while the Radicals continued to pursue the South most decided to focus on just making money, taking the spoils victory had won them.
I get it. But there are so many things so deeply wrong with our society right now – inequality, gun violence, education, the right to vote, the fate of the whole god-damned planet, or at least the mammals now at the top of its food chain.
I don't like to see time being wasted.