As Nov. 2 draws close, I think everyone is
getting a little jittery.

Zack Denfeld

The reverberation chamber of the electronic media is in
overdrive. Jon Stewart appears serious on CNN’s
“Crossfire,” and with a few simple words, exposes cable
“news” for the circus it has become (and my hair stands
on end). “Reality” television has degenerated into a
new level of spectacle, in which viewers gleefully revel in the
misery, exploitation and degradation of other humans.

Sinclair Broadcasting thinks about pre-empting its usually
scheduled broadcast in favor of showing all or part of a
documentary critical of John Kerry days before the election. And
somewhere in America, Michael Moore has his cameras rolling ready
to capture — with his particular perspective — the
absolute debacle this Election Day will undoubtedly be.

In The New York Times this week, William Safire wrote a column
chiding the Kerry campaign for using fear as a tactic to win votes
and then talked about the crackdown on the fourth estate without
mentioning that the attorney general is still, in fact, John
Ashcroft.

Both presidential candidates have used fear as one of their
primary tactics in the campaign season, but Safire should be
ashamed of himself for focusing primarily on Kerry, and then not
naming the Bush administration directly.

President Bush, using the tactics of fear by citing Sept. 11
every time he discussed Iraq, is the reason we are now stuck in
Iraq without a viable exit strategy. It’s a shame that Bush
disregarded the huge mobilizations of citizens concerned about the
invasion of Iraq as a focus group. Perhaps he wishes he had
listened to these people now.

Both candidates have run absolutely disgraceful campaigns in
terms of fear mongering. If one listens to the rhetoric, voting for
Bush or Kerry is a vote for the “terrorists,” and a
vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for Bush. Using the transitive
property of math, it seems that a scared citizen who doesn’t
want to help the “terrorists” would best help the
country by staying home on Election Day, or mounting a write-in
campaign for Stewart, a man who can at least be funny when he
lies.

The media has not demanded that either candidate articulate real
and achievable policy positions on television, nor have they done
nearly enough to debunk the fantasy world the Bush administration
has been living in over the last two years. This is not entirely
the TV media’s fault. Television is a lo-fidelity medium that
flattens out three-dimensional images and reads surfaces very well.
It is not a medium that is very adept at giving people complex
facts that they can digest and make decisions on. That’s why
the rules of how the debate would appear were so contentiously
discussed.

What happened to all the hope that was generated after Sept.
11?

Well most of it was forced underground and had to go hiding when
the Bush administration was totally hijacked by a neo-conservative
philosophy. A lot of the wonderful exuberance that occurred in
communities throughout America dissipated when so-called security
moms tried to make sense out of a color-coded terror alert and
accompanying press conferences that gave no useful information and
basically ended up conveying, “Be scared but not too scared,
if you re-elect Bush.”

Here’s some of the hope I remember after Sept. 11: There
was a national discussion about what was truly important about
life. Despite the president’s recommendation to visit
Disneyland and keep on shopping, people began voluntarily
downshifting, working less hours and at more personally fulfilling
jobs, turning off their TVs, reading more, taking their kids to the
park. There was an outpouring of community volunteering and a
sincere attempt to understand people of different backgrounds and a
desire to understand more about the world that most Americans are
so blissfully ignorant of. The sudden blooming of flags ranged from
beautiful to tacky, but citizens felt empowered, responsible and
hopeful. At one point, the notion almost surfaced mainstream that
part of the war on terrorism could be fought at home by actually
consuming less, not more. Perhaps citizens would start flying their
plastics flags from smaller hybrid cars and bicycles as they
switched their commute routine, or we would collectively decide to
put a tax on gasoline and use the money to research the development
of renewable resources.

Groups were formed, coalitions were built and there was lively
public debate about where America should head in the 21st century.
And then all this energy was squelched as Bush scared the American
public into pursuing his agenda in Iraq, which did not make sense
to anyone from day one. But it’s hard to think straight when
you have been scared out of your mind.

Luckily, despite the challenges, all that hopeful momentum has
continued on. The Internet has become a meeting place for people of
all political persuasions, and although their tactics can be
hateful or hopeful, they are certainly much more useful than the
absolute farce that passes as television and print news. For one,
Web groups often link to actual bills and primary source documents
that you can read and don’t rely solely on spin.
Incredible!

I feel hopeful. But for the people who have gotten caught up in
the spin cycle, get out while you still can; because no matter who
wins in November, there is still hope that American can be safe,
caring and something to be proud of.

 

Denfeld can be reached at
“mailto:zcd@umich.edu”>zcd@umich.edu.

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