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Political Animal

Triumph of the Bullies

By Brian Morton | Posted 6/4/2003

Some years ago, long before we emerged from our chrysalis to become the ever-lovin' Political Animal, fearless wielder of the first-person plural (officially used only by kings, editors, pregnant women, and people with tapeworm), we were a humble little radio reporter, toiling away in the burrow of a local station's news department.

Across the hall from that news department were the mighty lords of the manor, the radio talk-show hosts, men of bombast and opinion, who thundered about all and sundry with all-knowing certitude.

One day, we came across one of these lords in the hallway, near the studio door. With a smile, we recall saying, "You know, some day I'm gonna have to call in and crush your argument." The lord replied, "It will never happen."


"Because," he said with the grace of a casino owner, "I control the buttons."

In a nutshell, this explains the political climate of today. The game is rigged. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own the media, and the price of ownership has gone up. The big guys will always win. And, as they say in the time-honored parlance of the schoolyard bully, Quit whining about it.

Election stolen after your guy got a half-million votes more? You lost. Quit whining about it.

Don't like the fact Congress passed a $1.3 trillion tax cut benefiting the wealthy while you got a measly $300? Why doncha give back the money then? Quit whining about it.

Or, as one writer (anonymous, of course) e-mailed us after we mentioned how the Dixie Chicks got penalized by the media oligarchy, "Get a grip, quit whining, and begin to appreciate how fortunate all Americans are to have strong leadership who won't leave us open to more mass murders." History will probably not alert him to the irony of his words.

Far from the humility of which our new commander in chief spoke back in January 2001, or the compassion of which he spoke during the campaign of 2000, we are now fully in the Era of the Bully, where it is fine for the strong to prey on the weak, as long as there is an adequate (not plausible, just adequate) rationale.

Back in March, U.S. foreign policy over the invasion of Iraq left us wide open to the charge of bullying. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank listed a travelogue of nations slinging the term: "arrogant bully" (Britain), "bully boys" (Australia), "big bully" (Russia), "bully Bush" (Kenya), "arrogant" (Turkey), and "capricious" (Canada). Diplomats have accused the administration of "hardball" tactics, "jungle justice," and acting "like thugs."

And don't forget the famous term for the poor used by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, the favorite print echo chamber of the right: "lucky duckies" who pay no taxes. Not a day after this president signed a so-called $300 billion tax cut into law (it really will come out closer to $800 million), the paper was defending cutting millions of families out of the child tax credit in the bill. Official prevaricator Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, said, "There's a whole other, larger group of Americans, tens of millions, who still pay income taxes, who now will pay less income taxes, as a result of this tax relief. And that's why, in the president's judgment, this is fair to all Americans."

If that statement were rendered in 1970s New York Post-speak, it would read, "Bush to Poor: Drop Dead."

It's good to be a bully in 2003. All you need is a lot of money and a lot of power. Movies stink because Hollywood bean counters bully studios for moneymakers to pay off the debt incurred by gobbling up more studios in megamergers. Television stinks because programmers seek the lowest common denominator in ideas, reality TV, in order to grab the most eyeballs for the cheapest prices in order to charge the most money for advertising. The programmers, of course, are bullied again by the network bean counters who require 35 percent-plus profit margins.

Newspapers are run by conglomerates bullied by the bottom line and held hostage to competition from TV and cable news outlets that almost never bother to run corrections when they are wrong, much less acknowledge that they can be wrong.

Over the past few weeks, a drama played out in Texas, where a group of renegade Democratic lawmakers left the state in order to prevent a quorum, to stop a Republican majority from eviscerating precedent and the state's congressional districts in a plan designed by über-bully House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to increase his party's seats in Congress.

In the course of this sorry little playlet, state GOP leaders apparently snookered the Department of Homeland Security's tracking apparatus into looking for the private plane belonging to one of the lawmakers, and then a commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered all records of the search destroyed. Those same Public Safety officials are now demanding the names of the sources a Texas Democratic representative used to find out that there was paper-shredding going on. Just like bullies do.

There's no shame anymore, no humility--just heavy-handed brute power, wielded by the powerful against the poor, the powerless, those in the minority. But why should they care? Quit whining about it.

They control the buttons.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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