There are fundamental differences between MSNBC and Fox News, but most of them have to do with degrees. For example, to some extent, MSNBC has become a media arm of the Democratic Party; Fox News is nothing but a media arm of the Republican Party. The biggest and most consequential difference has nothing to do with degrees. MSNBC viewers know that they are getting partisan news and Fox News viewers don’t. They think they are just getting The Truth™, and this is no accident: it is what Fox News tells them before and after every commercial break.
I thought about this earlier when I came upon an ad on (of all places) Crooks & Liars. It asked the question, “Is Obama the Worst President in History?” As always, when I see an ad that really offends me, I clicked over. I want these people to pay for the privilege of offending me. And I came upon this page for TeaParty.org. It is basically just an opportunity to sign up for their newsletter. But I was really struck by their two question form.
It starts with a wholly prejudicial introduction:
But then they ask the question: do you believe Obama is the Worst President in History? The choices are: (1) yes, Obamacare put him there; (2) yes, his handling of the economy was devastating; (3) yes, his increases in the welfare state are tragic; and (4) no, he is not worse than Jimmy Carter. The assumption is that the worst president in history is either Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama. I’m not sure how I would answer that question but there is a decent chance I would say that Obama is worse than Carter but not nearly the worst president in history. (For the record, the second question is just whether liberals or conservatives are better solving our nation’s problems.)
What I find interesting about this is not its utter cluelessness. Rather, I’ll bet that the people who wrote this questionnaire think it is totally reasonable. They ran it by all of the people they know and no one suggested any changes. I doubt that they giggled to themselves, “See how we put Obama in a no win situation!” Rather, it is just self-evident that Obama or Carter is the worst president ever. And that is a big problem.
In a normal political environment, we need to understand that both sides of the political spectrum are honest brokers and have good ideas. The problem in modern American, however, is that clueless people like those at TeaParty.org have taken over most of the Republican Party. And now serious conservative thinkers like Ross Douthat, David Frum, and Josh Barro come off as moderates. A right wing that offers two of the last three Democratic presidents as the only answer to the question of who is the worst president in history is not an honest broker and does not have much in the way of good ideas. We need to confront this fact head on.
Note also that in 10-15 years, these same people will claim, “When I look back, Obama wasn’t a bad president!” Of course, they will be screaming about some new Democrat who they claim is worse than Stalin.