Conflict of Interest? Surely Not!

Well I feel vindicated. I read an article in The American Prospect a couple of weeks ago that I thought made some staggeringly stupid remarks based on some even more staggeringly stupid assumptions. I almost wrote a Note and Comment about it, but then got too busy with other subjects and so let it slide. But now there is a review in The Washington Post of a book by the same author, pointing out some of the flaws I noticed and some others besides – in particular, the fact (which the Prospect did not make clear enough) that Danny Goldberg is an entertainment industry executive, so his enthusiasm for popular culture has considerable financial interest behind it. There I was thinking he was a political commentator saying all those silly things…

As Washington pundits start analyzing potential strategies for Democrats in 2004, there has been little or no discussion of ways to win back the youth vote, or, for that matter, how to craft a message for people of all ages who process information through the language of popular culture (as distinguished from the much smaller elite who are devotees of the political news subculture).

What on earth does that mean? ‘Process information through the language of popular culture’? Like what? Music? Sit-coms? The latest exploding-building epic at the multiplex? What ‘information’ does one get that way? And what does one process it into? And then even more ridiculous, the notion that there’s something invidious (note the use of the devil-word ‘elite’ – always a dead giveaway that someone is doing some manipulating) about getting one’s information about politics from ‘the political news subculture.’ God almighty – it’s no wonder the US still doesn’t have a national health system: we’re encouraged by anti-intellectual messages like that to ‘process’ our ‘information’ via Harry and Louise ads instead of bothering to read a good newspaper (if we can find one) or magazine.

And it gets even worse:

One obvious flaw in the culture of Democrats is the elitist language. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich carefully researched the impact of various words to demonize his congressional opponents and George W. Bush told his advisers to make a speech on Iraq so simple that “the boys in Lubbock can understand it,” national Democrats routinely go on TV and use phrases that resonate only with political insiders. What percentage of Americans understood Sen. John Kerry’s recent references to Tora Bora or Gore’s incessant mentions of the Social Security lockbox?

Words fail me (that’s another reason I didn’t write the N and C at the time, words really do fail me: I find that kind of thing so disgusting I’m afraid I may begin to rend my own flesh). The elitist language. It’s ‘elitist’ to talk about the actual specifics of policy and potential legislation. Oy veh. Listen, dude, we live in a democracy, people can vote here, don’t you think they have some responsibility to find out about things like Social Security? Do you think we should all just vote on the basis of which candidate is prettier or tells funnier jokes or is most ‘comfortable in his own skin’? Because I don’t!

There’s plenty more, but you get the idea. I do agree – emphatically – that Joseph Lieberman is far too conservative, and the Democrats need to be different from the Republicans, not as like them as possible. But that’s all I agree with him about. Now here’s what The Washington Post has to say:

Some will admire Goldberg’s energetic activism, but unfortunately he is not the best representative for the cause. It’s difficult to differentiate high-minded principle from self-interest here, seeing as how Goldberg is a record-industry man (“chair and CEO of Artemis Records”). When he talks about helping “adolescents who loved and helped create the culture that was under attack,” he is drowned out by the ring of cash registers.

Yes, and those cash registers indicate an even deeper problem, one endemic to US politics:

Goldberg’s problems aren’t just due to entertainment industry prejudice or sloppy analysis. In fact, his book highlights a broader problem on the left. He never squares his libertarian faith in the “free marketplace” with his argument for regulatory politics. Libertarianism and regulation are like oil and water for progressive politics. For instance, the ACLU has opposed many efforts at campaign finance reform. Why? Because reform infringes upon the rights of individual candidates to spend money how they wish. This is just the tip of the iceberg. For how can Goldberg expect health insurance companies to accept regulation for reformist purposes when he is so busy fighting government to keep it from trampling on his own profits?

It’s too little remarked how neatly populist posturing and shouts of elitism dovetail with respect for piles of cash. Lots of people pay lots of money to see Movie X or buy CD Y, therefore Movie X and CD Y are by definition good and anyone who says otherwise is a wicked elitist. What a useful rationalization for an entertainment excutive.

Comments are closed.