The Decline of the Chattering Class and the Rise of the Discussion Class.

You’d never know Barack Obama has an approval rating in the mid-60s. Higher if you poll among Ds and Is and exclude Rs.

I say this because there appears to be no lack of people who are either pundits themselves, or can command the attention of the media, with all manner of advice on how Obama should be talking or behaving (substance appears to be utterly irrelevant). The latest is Bill Clinton, who thinks Obama needs to “sound more hopeful.” I refer to this group of talking heads who with the rise of the cable news networks and the 24 hour news cycle have enjoyed a lengthy run as opinion leaders as the “Chattering Class.” To fill the time — and cut back on actual news reporting, which costs money — the talk radio folks, the cable news shows, and now even the newspapers have created a class of pundits, experts, and analysts who exist for the sole purpose of supplying chatter to fill up the space. Indeed, I am always amused at the criticism that the rise of the blogs means the death of news because the hardcore news folks switched from mostly news to mostly chatter some time ago.

For years, the Chattering Class has controlled and framed debates around policy for most Americans. And, as one might expect, chattering about style and insider games takes precedence over actual substance. Not only is it cheaper and easier, as it requires no expertise, it is self-re-enforcing. This has corresponded, not coincidentally in my opinion, with the general disinterest by an increasing number of Americans in politics and public policy.

But what the Chattering Class talk about and how they frame winners and losers has become so disconnected from the reality people experience that folks have begun to notice. Not merely those “whacky left-wing totally non-mainstream” bloggers at TPM and elsewhere. Frank Rich observed in an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NYT that the Washington press corp has degenerated into the equivalent of a high school clique obsessed with their petty gossip and insular rules that define who is in and who is out.

This is why Bill Clinton, a man who in his prime ranked as one of the most gifted political campaigners to grace the national stage,feels the urge to give some “helpful advice” to the man who not only won the election, but is still clocking in with approval ratings that bespeak of enormous popularity. It is why the news continues to focus on things like whether the stimulus is actually a “loss” and is only gradually, and reluctantly, turning to the question of its anticipated impact. And it is why the Chattering Class is, after unquestionable dominance of public opinion for nearly 20 years, starting to lose it’s ability to frame the issues.

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How Fox News Killed The Bradley Effect

Pundits and talking heads have debated the Bradley Effect (or, as we locals call it, the Wilder Effect) and whether Obama’s current lead in the polls represents false positive. Even before Obama, there existed considerable evidence that the Bradley Effect was fading. Having canvassed this weekend in VA, I have concluded that it has pretty much vanished.

Why? Because conservative talk radio and Fox News have given voters the tools they need to say things that might sound racist, but don’t really make you a racist for saying them. Whatever one may think of this as an argument, it has had the enormous benefit of eliminating the polling problems associated with the embarrassment of being mistaken for a racist when you are simply saying things that only sound racist.

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Cindy Sheehan's Question

So now we’re five years into this goddamn war.

Cindy Sheehan, whose camping out in Crawford, Texas, during the August heat of 2005 did as much as anything to get Americans to see George W. Bush for the puny coward he is, had a very simple question for the man who caused her son Casey to die. Bush had said that Casey Sheehan, Cindy’s son– an Army soldier who was killed by a bullet in the head in Sadr City in April, 2004–had died for a “noble cause.”

Cindy Sheehan asked, “What is that noble cause?”

Rather than answer this question, Bush ran and hid. (Of course. That’s what cowards do.) And then he had some bumsucking speechwriter gin up a response about how the brave soldiers who had been killed in Iraq had died for this reason, or for that. An afterthought, really, but a bumsucking speechwriter can usually be found when George W. Bush needs one.

If you listen to Bush or to any of his apologists or whores or spokespeople, or to war apologists on the TeeVee; to wingnut bloggers, television “news” talking heads & radio oh-so-serious pontificators and teleprompter readers; to Christianist preachers, ingnorami in the street, flagwavers and dolts of every hue and persuasion, they’ll give you some bullshit definition of the so-called noble cause that cost Casey Sheehan his life and Cindy Sheehan her son. But the thing is, whatever bullshit answer they give you, it is guaranteed to be bullshit. It’s not going to be the answer they gave in 2003, or the different one they gave in 2004, or the still different one they gave in 2005, and on and on and on. If it comes from anybody in this administration or from any of its supporters (such as John McBush McCain), it’s going to be the latest bullshit. It’s not going to have anything to do with the earlier, inoperative versions of the bullshit. It’s going to be a hollow, empty lie.

If we ever get a truthful answer to Cindy Sheehan’s Question from a president, such as, “there was no noble cause”, then we’ll perhaps be ready to look at solutions to our current situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Until then, it’s nothing but lies, and sorrow, and waste.