Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Train Wreck Nation

By Dan Beauchamp

There's an old joke about a man who's taking a test to qualify as a train station master.  The test is simple: There's a train moving 100 miles an hour, one hour out to the west, headed for the central station. A second train, also moving 100 miles an hour one hour out to the east, is also headed for the central station.  Ditto for a third train: same speed, same time out, moving from the north to the station.

The questioners asked the applicant: "What would you do?"

The man thought a moment, and then he said, "I would call my cousin."

The examiners were startled. "Why call your cousin?"

The man answered, "I would tell him to get down here.  There's going to be a hell of a train wreck!"

That't the essential test the media are being given in the present election.  As Paul Krugman in The New York Times argues, if the Republicans win and if they live up to their "Promise to America," we are headed for a train wreck of massive proportions.

The only newspaper to truly report this impending disaster is The New York Times and then only in a lonely column by Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist.

The promised agenda of the Republicans, if carried out, would produce massive deficits and necessitate drastic cuts to social program, and would eventually ruin Social Security and Medicare.

That's not opinion. That the blunt truth of the matter, rejected only by the nuttiest of supply side economists.

We have become the nation of spectacle, not the nation of reality, the nation more interested in the fight than in the outcome, no matter how dire. Of course, the Democrats may pull it off but that's unlikely, especially for the House.

But the important point is that every responsible newspaper, every self-respecting journalist, ought to be deeply ashamed that we have reached this point.  One party is hell-bent on winning in November with a platform that is totally wacko, loudly denouncing debt and deficits and promoting tax cuts that will make our deficits and debt worse while it makes the super-rich richer.

And no major newspaper or television network at the regular news hour is willing to tell this obvious truth on the front page or at the top of the news hour, where no one can miss it.

Everything has drifted into the land of opinion and slogan, and every idea, no matter how stupid or contradictory, must have its day.

I have never watched Fox News. In fact I don't watch much evening news and haven't done so for two decades now.  But we returned for a four-day visit to Albany, New York last week, where my wife Carole and I worked for ten years, I saw Fox News for the first time.

On the first morning of our visit, when I got up for breakfast at the hotel, I found Fox News running, and it ran all the time we were there. When I asked the attendant at the breakfast counter why she had Fox News on constantly, she laughed and said, "Isn't it awful?"  And she left it on.  And people watched.

Carole says it's because Fox News is like "All in the Family," the long-running sitcom; it's so outrageous that people are drawn to it, can't stop watching and listening.  "Fox News" is so plainly and obviously outrageous, so constantly carrying the water for the most extreme elements of society, so frequently skirting the boundaries of racial politics and gossip, that people have become addicted.

It's as if we are mesmerized with the bitter truths about ourselves, the truths we are afraid to say out loud but will watch when so many others are doing so.

Now MSNBC also is extremely partisan from the liberal side, but the format is less news reporting than commentary by prominent liberal columnists, identified as such:  Olberman, Matthews, Maddow. And even I get tired of their endless harangues.

Meanwhile, every day the big story is on Fox News: the impending train wreck for our first-ever black president!  And our best newspapers carry the same story: the increasing inevitability of the same impending collision and subsequent gridlock.

What a wonderful, thrilling fall from grace!

What a train wreck! Let's all watch! And guess what?  After the train wreck, it's going to get even worse!

Let's all buy the newspapers and turn on the television sets!

What a show!

Before his retirement, Dan Beauchamp was professor of health policy at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also at the State University of New York at Albany. He served as deputy commissioner for policy and planning at the New York State Department of Health from 1988 to 1992. This piece is taken from his blog, Tales of Copper City.

No comments: