It’s impossible to pinpoint any single factor that determined the Democrats’ defeat on election day, but a significant disadvantage that is going unremarked in the discussion of “God,” “gays” and “values” in the election’s aftermath is the naked partisanship and political dishonesty of the conservative punditocracy who dominate our public discourse.
Given the reality of a 24/7 propaganda machine in the place of what was once a largely nonpartisan media structure, Democrats must compete at a significant disadvantage in any contested election. Evidence of the pundits’ willingness to cast aside traditional measures of disinterested analysis, or even nominal self-respect, can be found in the almost universal assumption, adopted without a shred of evidence, that Osama bin Laden’s video election intervention would prove an unambiguous boon to the President’s hopes for his first legitimate election victory.
Immediately after the video surfaced, virtually every voice in the public square accepted the Bush campaign’s amazing contention that the terrorist who taunted Bush, mocked him, attacked his nation and then escaped retribution–despite Bush’s schoolboy macho posturing at the time–would remind voters of why only George W. Bush could be trusted to protect the nation. While the assumption that Bush was “winning” the terrorism issue was not without foundation, this too was largely a reflection of the mainstream media’s unwillingness to focus either on Bush’s failure to capture bin Laden or on the benefits bin Ladenism has clearly enjoyed as a result of Bush’s incompetent invasion of Iraq. As the Christian Science Monitor reported, experts such as Rand Corporation vice president Bruce Hoffman believe that, given the above, “Bin Laden probably prefer[s] the current administration.”
In light of all this, pundits might have been expected to mount a coherent argument to justify their eagerness to read from the Rovian script. Alas, this would be wishful thinking. As the folks at Media Matters have helpfully documented, the baseless consensus that the bin Laden broadcast benefited Bush included, among others, William Safire, Peggy Noonan, Sean Hannity, Roger Simon, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, Dick Morris, Karen Tumulty, Mike Barnicle, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Morton Kondracke, Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Cook, Lawrence Kudlow, G. Gordon Liddy, Stephen Hayes, Major Garrett, Jeff Greenfield, Neil Cavuto, Fred Barnes and Bill Gertz. Each insisted that the bin Laden intervention either intended to help Kerry, would help Bush because voters would perceive bin Laden as wanting to help Kerry or would simply help Bush because that’s the way things are. Given that the grand total of sources inside Al Qaeda shared by this collective hot-air production factory is approximately zero, one can only assume that they were projecting their own prejudices. (Many, including Safire, pointed to the pre-election bombing in Spain as a precedent, apparently unaware that evidence indicates it had actually been planned years before the US invasion of Iraq and Spain’s agreement to join the US-led “coalition.”)