give the man a (press) pass

PLA is a new blog, but it's rapidly become one of the absolute best ones out there. Dwight has a lengthy analysis of political rancor which serves as a great historical recap:

After the inauguration, Mr. Bush was afforded a honeymoon period. Although Linda Chavez withdrew her name from consideration for the Cabinet amid liberal calls for her defeat, Mr. Bush got his other nominees confirmed, including very ideological nominees such as John Ashcroft and Gale Norton.

We attended the 1992 inauguration of President Clinton. Due to other obligations we had to leave as soon as the swearing in ceremony was completed. Before we got to Culpepper, Va. (a couple of hours outside D.C.), Rush Limbaugh had announced on the radio that the newly inaugurated Bill Clinton was a �failed President.� Mr. Bush�s honeymoon lasted a bit longer than a drive from Washington to Culpepper.

The tendenct post-9-11 to give BUsh a free hand actually existed well prior to the event. It seems as if Bush has had all eth cards from eth beginning. Since then, he has moved to curtail civil rights, assert a "strike first" doctrine regarding foreign policy, pursued a conservative domestic agenda, wants to create a new Department but wants to avoid civil-service laws (basically guaranteeing that it will be a haven for political appointees), in general basically centralizing the power of the Executive Branch. And yet the only people alarmed are those who are politically opposed - which sounds like a tautology, but illustrates something more fundamental.

The Founders built checks and balances into the Constitution to prevent consolidation of power in any one Branch. In fact, there are 5 branches in balance - executve, legislative, and judicial, as well as the media and the voters (the fourth and fifth Estates).

The flaw in the Founder's reasoning was the assumption that only a single governmental branch would seek ascendacy (most likely the Executive), and that the other branches would immediately act in self-interest to counter. This assumes that each branch acts as one entity of will - but in reality, wit the two-party system, each branch is itself divided into two wills. So now it becomes a Republican vs Democratic issue, and so the self-interest of the Judicial and Legislative branches is changed.

The voters also are part of the Democratc and Republican teams and perceiv their self-interest in those terms as well. Hence, a power play by one Governmental branch (the Executive) can actually absorb the base power of the voters as a weapon to further its cause.

This leaves the media. Despite conservative claims of bias, the media has actually played almost no role. As man in the blogsphere have observed (notably Bill Allison in Ideofact) , a free press is intrinsic to the concept of a free society. My frustration with the media predates this blog - it's why I started the mailing list also. The problem is that the media has two differening self-interests also - it's power as an Estate, and commercial success.

The media is like most other institutions in this country, a capitalist system. To compete with each other, great media outlets used to vie for content. But as a base fact of human nature, the dry intellect is often no match for the racier side - and sensationalism has crept slowly into the media focus over ther past 200 years. It used to be worse (think of Randolph Hearst's tabloid tendencies) and it used to be better (think of theaggressive journalism of the 1960's) but it has been there all along. Precoccupied with increasing volume and circulation numbers, the media is engaged in navel gazing - surviving by treating the Fourth Estate as a business. Which it is. But it is also an Estate, and it's function in our society in that regard has fallen by teh wayside.

What can be done? certainly, the media cannot be changed. That has to come from within. The two-party system won't be going anywhere either - it;s unlikely that Congress will assert itself as a unified Legislative Branch anytime soon, and instead continue to be a place full of Democrats and Repblicans. The Judicial Branch is marginalized and has been ever since the 2000 election (though it dutifully helps the GOP pursue its conservative domestic agenda). The only Estate that has any power is the Fifth Estate.

That's us.

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