I'm not sure how he continues to be regarded as a very serious Washington pundit given his obvious history of race-baiting, but somehow he skulks his way onto MSNBC almost every day. Pat Buchanan on Hardball Monday night wondered out loud about Senator Obama: "Is he one of us?"
If by "one of us" he means a cranky, elitist, white, corporate media, man-shaped bunion who fashioned his career by demonizing brown people, the answer is a certain 'no'. But we know what Buchanan meant by this. Is Senator Obama with "us" or is he with the uppity blacks? Is he a real American like Senator McCain or is he a Muslim terrorist like those e-mails suggest? Is he too European (GAY!)? Is he like us: white, wealthy, conservative, elite?
During this dark ride of the Bush years, it's no longer surprising or shocking to hear such a bottomless cup of awfulness. This line of questioning has become the dominant theme in the corporate media's political narrative. "Us" has become a baseline which liberals -- regardless of race or gender -- will never achieve because the experiment is stacked against anyone who isn't centrist, moderate, right of center or conservative.
In scientific terms, the left has been tagged by the corporate media as the "experimental group" while the right is the "control group." The Republicans are the Awesome Republicans no matter what. They're constant. They set the tone of the debate. The corporate media accepts their terms, their rules and their frames as a given and the Democrats are expected to jump and dash and explain themselves based upon those givens, irrespective of how ludicrous they happen to be.
Prove to us that you're one of us. Prove to us that you support the troops. Prove to us that you're patriotic. Prove to us that you're not an effete snob. Prove to us that you can talk to a gathering of bumpkins in a diner like a plainspoken Republican can. Prove to us that you're not the enemy. Prove to us that you're not presumptuous.
And the experiment goes on and on with the Democrats (or liberals or progressives) poked and dissected and injected with false arguments, specious claims and disproved quotes (see Dana Milbank's recent column) often manufactured by the right and invariably parroted by the corporate media.
Instead of disregarding high pitched cranks like Buchanan and asking, "What Pat? Seriously -- why are you such a fringe psychonaut?" and discounting such a ridiculous question as beneath reason and credibility, the corporate media instead takes the "one of us" question seriously and more often than not wraps an entire debate around it.
This present week, in particular, has been yet another high water mark for this dynamic.
Senator Obama has been accused of being presumptuous, uppity (literally), against the troops, snobbish, elitist, hubristic, European (GAY!) and, considering the array of both subtle and obvious messages in Senator McCain's laughable Britney & Paris commercial, vacuous, frivolous, loopy, superficial, "Hollywood" and, I don't know, he produces amateur porn videos using night vision. Of course reasonable, professional analysts with ethical guidelines and some degree of integrity would disregard such accusations as the dripping-with-flopsweat acts of a desperate, pathetic McCain campaign. But instead, these accusations are somehow validated, debated and defended by people like Pat Buchanan. Prove to us, Senator Obama, that you're not a tabloid pop star. Prove to us that you're not a bleached blonde heiress or a slack-jawed ex-Mouseketeer.
Thankfully, for the cause of reason and rationality, there are people like Rachel Maddow who, while occupying the unglamorous role of debunking and debating Pat Buchanan, said to Buchanan on Wednesday's Race for the White House with Stretch:
"We have a responsibility to talk about whether [these accusations are] deserved, Pat. I think when John McCain doesn't speak to Pat Buchanan as being presumptuous -- calls himself 'President McCain.' But Barack Obama speaks to you as presumptuous for doing something much less damning... that says much more about you than it does the candidates."
In the menacing world of Pat Buchanan and of the larger barbecue media, Senator Obama is, in fact, presumptuous and all the rest of it, or, if he's not, the onus is on him to prove that he's not. Meanwhile, Senator McCain is simply...not. Senator McCain couldn't possibly be an elitist and out of touch with most Americans (even though he wears $520 shoes and his wife is the heiress to an Anheuser-Busch distributorship fortune) because it just doesn't fit their scientific experiment dynamic -- the script, the narrative. He's just not. Senator McCain couldn't possibly be a "celebrity" even though he's hosted SNL and had a movie-of-the-week made about his Vietnam experiences. He's just not. Senator McCain couldn't possibly be in favor of torture even though he voted against banning it. He's just not. Senator McCain couldn't possibly be out of his depth on foreign policy even though his lies and errors in this arena far outnumber any similar gaffes by Senator Obama. He's just not.
Is it any wonder why the latest polls show a much tighter race? And, thusly, is it any wonder that a tight race is better for ratings? Pat Buchanan, it turns out, is good for business.
Anyone who promotes -- or who doesn't necessarily oppose -- the scientific narrative is good for business regardless of whether they're racists or homophobes or drug-addled hooples. After all, Rush Limbaugh's contract was just reupped for $400 million while Sam Seder isn't even allowed on corporate radio.
So irrespective of what Senator Obama might do or say or what his life story might be, as long as he has a (D) after his name, he'll always be expected by the corporate media to explain himself. To prove himself. Why isn't Senator Obama more like Senator McCain: white, wealthy, conservative, elite? They'll go through this routine until the experiment is finished: either Senator Obama is experimented upon until he becomes more like Senator McCain (or another media-approved "one of us") or he'll lose the election and the actual Senator McCain is the next president. And the experiment continues. That is, unless we can seize the initiative redefine who "us" is. After a long history of white, wealthy, conservative elites running the lab, it's time to shut it down and clear the way for the rest of us.
CORRECTION: Mrs. McCain is the heiress to an Anheuser-Busch distributorship fortune.