Emaciated Beast —
Note: The political views contained within this post belong to the author and not the collective blog.
As many of you are aware, the United States government is in the middle of a shutdown that is essentially a repeat of the 1996 shutdown waged against President Bill Clinton over budget battles. As with 1996, the present shutdown affects non-essential workers and services, and once the government ultimately reopened the result was Bill Clinton routing Bob Dole in the Presidential election, while Republicans lost some House seats.
This time around, the polls look even worse for Republicans with the 2014 Midterms just around the corner. That’s why the blame game has become central to this story, even though 63% of Americans put the blame squarely on the GOP. The electoral fallout from Ted Cruz’s gambit is why establishment Republicans have tried to nip this legislative revolt in the bud, to no avail. And every day, the Republican ship is taking on more water.
What’s a party to do?
Well, if you’re the propaganda arm of the Republican Party (aka Fox News), then you spin the shutdown as entirely Obama’s fault, while simultaneously downplaying the negative effects for those too savvy to fall for the claim that the hostage-taker is the victim.
Throughout the first half of 2013, Senate Democrats have asked to go to conference committee on the budget (where you would negotiate the terms) 18 times, but the House rejected each one. Finally, Republicans called for a conference committee moments before the last Monday’s midnight shutdown deadline. Leveraging this superficial offer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted this photo saying, “We sit ready to negotiate with the Senate.”
Ignoring these basic facts, Fox News pushes stubbornly ahead with its ridiculous claim that President Obama won’t negotiate (Pro Tip: If only one side is making demands, then only one side is at fault). And, of course, the media has to feign “balance” by suggesting that both sides are to blame when, in reality, only one party is making demands to selectively fund the government in an attempt to re-legislate the Affordable Care Act.
This is all standard issue propaganda that MSNBC engages in as well, but the reason I bring all this up is to point out the way Fox News is trying to soften the image of the shutdown. Although both parties have people attempting to frame every political issue linguistically, nobody has achieved Orwellian Newspeak like Frank Luntz, the infamous Republican political consultant. It was Luntz who recommended that Republicans start calling the Estate Tax (which affects only the richest 0.3% of the population) the Death Tax to evoke the sense of being “taxed to death.” Nothing has changed about the issue, but now the issue is framed in such a way that the first impression may sway the opinion of the other 99.7%.
Democrats use semantic shenanigans too, but Republicans have been incredibly successful at affecting the first impressions (frequently, the only impressions) of complicated issues, and now they’re at it again. While Fox wants to convince you that the shutdown is Obama’s fault, it’s also pushing the idea that the shutdown isn’t that bad. This kind of mixed messaging serves a dual purpose: first, blame every bad thing on President Obama, and second, mitigate the fallout from its viewers who aren’t that gullible.
The former goal is easy: simply hammer the claim that it’s unfair that Obama won’t negotiate with those who have taken the government hostage. The latter is harder, but they’re using Luntz-like language to reassure viewers: it’s not a government shutdown, it’s a government slimdown. Fox News has even gone so far as to change Associated Press articles to reflect the “Slimdown” vs. “Shutdown” language.
By appropriating diet culture language, Republicans can simultaneously demonize so-called Big Government and suggest that governing via manufactured crisis is healthy. After all, who would be against slimming down a great, big, fat oaf like Big Government?
This isn’t the first time Republicans have compared Big Government to a gluttonous cretin in need of a crash diet. In fact, since the Reagen era, the GOP has been advancing a political strategy known as “Starve the Beast,” which was best summarized by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist who said in 2004, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Apparently the Tea Party couldn’t wait any long and they are now attempting to drown our government now through sequester spending levels, shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt ceiling, which would be economically disastrous.
All of this because the House doesn’t have the power to force the Senate to accept, let alone convince the President to sign, their 40+ resolutions to repeal Obamacare.
My point is not just to air my grievances against a self-destructive, nihilistic political party waging an extra-Constitutional policy fight on behalf of the Koch Brothers who have been planning this shutdown since Obama was reelected by investing over $200 million in forcing a shutdown. I call out both political parties when they use fat people as pawns in their messaging wars. You’ve no doubt seen some variation of this fucked up meme:
But this particular fight is much larger, and I found Fox’s attempt to soften the perception of the shutdown fascinating. I mean, if there’s one thing all Americans can agree on, it’s that fatties — even symbolic fatties like the US government — need to slim down.
My hope, as a staunch liberal, is that this slimdown will go the way of 95% of real life slimdowns that end with the dieter realizing such a Spartan lifestyle is unsustainable in the long-term. Then, in 2014 we work to fire those who forced this “lifestyle change” on us in the first place.