Sunday, November 19, 2006

Libertarian Blogs and Voter Contempt 2

A friend of mine was a minister in the Thatcher government. He had a chauffeur driven car - a old brown Ford Mondeo. He turned up at an event one night and saw the editor of The Times getting out of his car. It was a new Jaguar. Journalists sit in judgment on the private lives and financial dealings of politicians. But journalists, in Britain at least, are richer and almost certainly more corrupt. (British politicians are almost certainly the least corrupt of any developed nation, whatever bloggers say. If you don't believe me, check out Japan, Italy, France or the US.) Yet it is the politicians who gave journalists this power in the mid-nineties when they suddenly decided that the next day's headline was all that mattered. This compromised both sides of the deal. The journalists accepted the politicians' agenda and the politicians accepted the journalists' power. Neither side was, therefore, able to do its job and neither side showed any concern whatsoever about the effect of politics in the real world. Of course, politicians should be monitored, called to account, jeered at if necessary, but only by a genuinely independent press, not one in thrall to tedious little Westminster games. Bloggers inherited the fatal mid-nineties deal. They, therefore, play this same game and, in order to do so, create this fiction that our politicians are, somehow, uniquely nasty people doing a uniquely nasty job. Insofar as they keep this up, yes, they are debasing politics. Unfortunately, it is the dumb politicians who continue to help them. Politicians look in the mirror, see Caliban and then issue a press release about it. The debased hacks and bloggers caper about in the happy knowledge that they are Caliban.


  1. George Walden, perchance?

    I think there's one further element in this: the public. It's the shallowness of the public which the cynical journalists pander to, and it's the cynicism of the journalists and the shallowness of the public which the politicians pander to.

  2. Of course, politicians should be monitored, called to account, jeered at if necessary, but only by a genuinely independent press, not one in thrall to tedious little Westminster games.

    More than that - I think you know the press is owned and not along party political lines.

  3. I think the journos -- the really good ones, that everyone reads -- feel a great deal more like Prospero than Caliban. But what they really are is Ariel, changing the winds of fortune, sometimes making us see things that aren't there (ex., Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, thanks to J. Miller of the NYTIMES).

    But for any of these people to have any power, we have to read about them. And the way newspapers are going, soon there won't be much to read anyway except celebrity news: Britney and Nick Lachey together! Beckham bends it like Borat! Prince Charles does his West End debut, in a revival of "Pravda"!

    Whaddya think, Bryan? And you regular commenters, the band of merry men? In the end, it is the readers and citizens who give public figures all the power they have....

  4. Perhaps there is alot of truth to the idea that politicians and the media are both part of a kind of magician's illusion keeping the duped public's attention fixed while something very different is being perpetrated in the shadows. Their soap operas being more or less irrelevant and we are merely being shown as little or as much as the illusionist can get away with showing us. "Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people."
    Theodore Roosevelt
    "The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson."
    - Franklin D. Roosevelt
    Or Disraeli's "The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not
    behind the scenes." And as for the media, "We know in the not too distant future, a half dozen corporations are going to control the media. We took this step (merger) to ensure we were one of them"--Time Warner spokesperson.

  5. "Of course, politicians should be monitored, called to account, jeered at if necessary, but only by a genuinely independent press..."

    What is a genuinely independent press? Why is that important? We can't ever get such a thing, so let a partisan free press battle it out in the market-place of ideas.

    Your underlying premise seems to be that politicians should not be debased by bloggers and journalists. They cannot debase politicians, they can only expose politician's own debasement. If our politicians were honest men with noble goals they could not be debased.

    Your argument that British politicians are less corrupt than their foreign counterparts is irrelevant. The degree of corruption is not the issue.

    What you seem to be missing in all of this is the anti-political agenda of the "libertarian bloggers". They don't belong to political parties. They want to expand the non-political, non-governmental space in society.

    Undermining the legitimacy of politicians is essential to this aim.

    Matthew Taylor's recent comments about libertarian bloggers fuelling a voter crisis are disingenuous.

    Stephen Tall* puts it well "Mr Taylor’s argument is a little muddled. If the ‘net-head’ culture is ‘rooted in libertarianism’, it’s hard to see how this “adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government”. Unless Mr Taylor is complaining about that rare breed of libertarians which demands more government intervention.

    What I think Mr Taylor’s argument is really about - though he’d deny this - is the resentment of those who’ve been accustomed to being at the centre of political debate, intrigue and gossip finding their club is no longer as exclusive as it once was.

    Labour politics is ironically circular: in order to continue fighting the class war, the class war must never end. As a result, Labour politicians are imbued with an impregnable aura of self-righteousness: because it is their job to save the lower classes from themselves. It is the ultimate in infantilisation. That they do not, cannot, trust the public is why the public increasingly distrusts them."


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