FOR REALISM AND DIVERSITY IN LIBERAL JOURNALISM AND AT THE NEW YORK TIMES
The “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” as a Political Tool
Noted Liberal organizer Saul Alinsky observed that fundamental change can occur in a political system only when people are breathing a certain kind of political air. Specifically, the climate must be polarized, or must allow for people and ideas to be pitted against each other. “Before men can act,” he wrote in Rules For Radicals, “an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 percent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 percent on the side of the devil.” In other words, for revolution to occur the revolutionary elite must set itself up as the Good, and it must image the other side as the Evil. In August of 2005 a Wikipedia entry under Alinsky notes that “A young Hillary Clinton was a major admirer, writing her undergraduate thesis on his work and ideas.” David Brock in The Seduction of Hillary Rodham calls Mrs. Clinton “Alinsky’s Daughter.”
In an interview in 1998 on NBC’s Today Show Hillary Clinton asserted that the scandals that plagued her husband’s administration were the result of a “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.” The phrase quickly took off, with Liberal pressure groups, the Establishment media, and Democratic politicians contending that a shadowy “Right”, “Far Right”, “Extreme Right”, or “Religious Right” operated beyond the mainstream to bring racism, sexism, and authoritarianism to the American national government.
Although to this day Mrs. Clinton has never provided proof for the existence of the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy,” the device plays nicely into Alinsky’s playbook. The New York Times has never required her to provide the names of the Vast Right Wing Conspirators and regularly refers, sometimes directly and sometimes through insinuation, to the device in reportage and editorials. A page-one Times story on January 24, 1999 headlined “Quietly, a Team of Lawyers Kept Paula Jones’s Case Alive,” openly plays the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” as though it is real. The article leads with:
“This time last year, Hillary Rodham Clinton described, in a now-famous appearance on the NBC News program ‘Today,’ how a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ was trying to destroy her husband’s Presidency.
As it turns out, some of the most serious damage to Bill Clinton’s Presidency came not from his high-profile political enemies but from a small secret clique of lawyers in their 30’s who share a deep antipathy toward the President, according to nearly two dozen interviews and recently filed court documents.
While cloaking their roles, the lawyers were deeply involved — to an extent not previously known — for nearly five years in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit. They then helped push the case into the criminal arena and into the office of the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.”
With “Quietly, a Team of Lawyers Kept Paula Jones’s Case Alive” and similar stories the Times dutifully marches to Mrs. Clinton’s request, also noted during the Today interview, that the Establishment media take up the witch-hunting cause on their own. “The great story here for anybody willing to find it, write about it and explain it,” Mrs. Clinton said about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in the interview.
Polarization, which outside of the activist framework is called commonly “demonization” or “fearmongering,” is a tactic political actors have utilized from time immemorial. Actors who employ the tactic do so for political purposes, and politics is about power. The intention of a political actor when it demonizes is to acquire or preserve power.
Some may shy away from an investigation of fear-baiting. It represents, after all, an ugly humor in the human bosom, and an outright immoral phenomena of politics. Others, on the other hand, may see nothing remarkable about the tactic. They may be desensitized to it and see it only as another “part of the game” of politics. They may especially feel this way during elections when they take place at a time of divided government and partisan politics.
But polarization and demonizing are not to be taken lightly. Alinsky gives advice on the activist on how to acquire power through polarization rhetoric, but what he does not do is warn of the deleterious effects of the device.
Alinsky doesn’t point out that a political culture that is imbued with demon imaging doesn’t solve its problems. Using the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” as an explanation for problems only deceives decision makers and the people into thinking that their interests and needs are being addressed.
Also, Alinsky doesn’t discuss the damage that demonizing can do to the individual, including the liberal himself. Rules For Radicals talks about the “well-integrated political schizoid”, or the activist who remains healthy psychologically because he is careful to know that his demon images are not reality. But what he doesn’t do is discuss the psychological dysfunction to ordinary people who have their moods poisoned because they believe that the demon imaging is real. Nor does he discuss the possibility that the device can also be turned against members of the liberal elite themselves.