Tag Archives: Obama

Ed Schultz: Progressive Populism vs. Conservative Populism

The Ed Schultz phenomenon: blue-collar and other working class Americans have found their voice in Ed Schultz.

As we celebrate Labor Day, populism is in the air as we honor the dignity of hard-working Americans.  I’ve been following progressive radio talk show personality and now MSNBC TV host, Ed Schultz for quite some time.  I’ve previously written here and here about him because he embodies what progressive populism looks like: pro-union, pro-worker, pro-rural, pro-football, pro-fishing progressive America … heck he’s even an advocate for catch-and-release fishing!  He’s the antidote to the conservative populism that has sadly come to be embodied by the likes of Sarah Palin‘s crafty political maneuvering and Lou Dobbs’ hate speech against Latinos and President Obama.  I say “sadly” because conservatives by using the tactics of fear mongering and racism have corrupted populism in its traditional sense to successfully create an inverse version of it.  George Lakoff (who I just blogged about a few days ago as it related to the current healthcare debate) explained it beautifully in his May 2009 piece Empathy, Sotomayor, and Democracy: The Conservative Stealth Strategy:

In the last election, conservative populists moved toward Obama. Conservative populists are working people, mostly white men, who have conservative views of the family, of masculinity, and of the military, and who have bought into the idea of the “liberal elite” as looking down on them. Right now, they are hurting economically, losing their jobs and their homes. Empathy is something they need. The racist card is an attempt to revive their fears of affirmative action, fears of their jobs — and their pride — being taken by minorities and women. The racist attack has a political purpose, holding onto conservative populists. The overt form of the old conservative argument is made regularly these days: liberalism is identity politics.

Ed Schultz understands how populism works, and he hits it out of the park plenty of times with his strong no-B.S. stance against conservatives’ lies.  However, I’ve seen Ed Schultz slip a number of times by falling into the same negating-reinforcement trap that progressives tend to fall into: strictly sticking to being on the defensive rather than turning the conservative attack inside out and into an offensive play.  Big Eddie, as his fans call him, would be far more effective if he were to read George Lakoff’s illuminating work on conservative populism.  Lakoff  explained it briefly during the 2008 presidential campaign cycle on his Don’t Think of a Maverick! Could the Obama Campaign Be Improved?:

Conservative populism on a national scale was invented in the late 1960’s. At the time, most working people identified themselves with liberals. But conservatives realized that many working people were what I have called “biconceptuals” – they are genuinely conservative in their mode of thought about patriotism and certain family issues, though they are progressive in their understanding of nature (they love the land) and their commitment to communities where people care about each other, etc. So conservatives have talked to them nonstop about conservative “patriotism” and “family values”, thus activating their conservative mindset.

At the same time, conservative theorists invented the ideal of “liberal elitism”: that liberals look down upon working people and are not like them. Conservatives have been working at constructing this mythology for nearly forty years and liberals have stood by and let it happen. Palin is a natural for the conservative populists. She understands their culture.

Conservative populism is a cultural, not an economic, phenomenon. These are folks who often vote against their economic self-interest and instead vote on their identity as conservatives and on their antipathy to liberals, who they see as elitists who look down on them. Simply giving conservative populists facts and figures won’t work.

They tend to vote for people they identify with and against people who they see as looking down on them. The job for the Obama campaign is to reverse the present mindset that the Republicans have constructed, to reveal the conservatives as elitist Washington insiders who cynically manipulate them, to get conservative populists to identify with Obama and Biden on the basis of values and character, and to have them see realities through Obama’s leadership capacities. Not an easy job. But it’s the real job.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ed Schultz actually starts using George Lakoff’s lines down the road, though.  Big Eddie is a football sportsman and a political animal, and he knows that in the end, winning is what matters.  I just hope Ed uses them soon because he IS progressive populism incarnate and knows how to relate that in a language that his audience can easily understand, which is more than what I can say about other progressive media personalities (yes, Thom Hartmann, I’m looking at you! … OK I’ll give this to you Thom: you have actually improved ever since you left Air America and I respect you because you are the Godfather of Air America because of your business plan that served as its blueprint, and you have the balls to talk about progressive issues that sometimes not even Ed Schultz dares to talk about … but for Godssakes Thom could you please NOT start with the intellectualist dull debates at the beginning of your segments?! Leave that for the middle or the end please … I appreciate the historical contexts, I truly do, and I think you’re a smart progressive radio host; but some of us want to know first and foremost about what is happening right-now in-the-present-world!).

Now, if only MSNBC switched conservative-leaning Chris Matthews’ time slot with Ed Schultz, things will be perfect … so we’ll see if MSNBC gets its act together on that front.  But as far as Project Economic Refugee is concerned, the best way to boycott conservative “populist” hosts is to turn them off and instead tune into progressive populist hosts.  Case in point is Ed Schultz: instead of watching hate-monger Lou Dobbs, watch Ed Schultz from now on.  I promise you, you’ll be a better American for it.


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Filed under Framing, Political, Progressive Media Personalities, Progressive Movement

The American Plan


The recent hoopla on healthcare has shed light on an issue that has been painfully obvious to many progressives: even with a President that is a great communicator of progressive values, in terms of ongoing long-term communications, conservatives continue to dominate the public narrative.  So much so, that progressive framing guru George Lakoff has come out in full force to suggest an alternate to the boring “public option” branding: the “American Plan“.  Yes, of course any healthcare reform MUST at least include a strong public option (otherwise it will be a giant giveaway to the insurance companies’ already bloated greed).  However, in terms of branding, the name “public option” simply does not do justice to what the public option is trying to accomplish: reform the system so that the American people’s health is placed above CEO’s bonuses, rather than the other way around.  In larger terms of the picture in communications matters, 2009 is undeniably a different world when it comes to progressive media infrastructre compared to how it was back in 2000, when in that year we saw the conservative machine in full attack mode to make sure that Gore did not become the next President of the United States

I refer back to 2000 to illustrate and recognize just how far we’ve come in terms of building a progressive infrastructure but at the same time to highlight just how far we still have yet to go.  Like many others, that was the year when my political awakening began, amid a national media landscape that was incredibly hostile to progressive ideas.  Prior to George W., I was just a small town Latino teen that was absolutely apolitical, overwhelmed with my own families’ struggles, and could care less about what went on with politicians in DC.  However, the downward spiral into the depths of right-wing authoritarianism that the country took under George W.’s presidency became too alarming to ignore.  I started to take notice, from the blatant betrayals of the American public’s trust with the invasion and occupation of Iraq to the excesses of the scary right-wing/conservative religious rights’ alliance with the Republican Party. On that front, much has changed too: with some progressive religious figures like Reverend Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, and progressive activist faith groups and projects like Faithful America, The Network of Spiritual Progressives, Interfaith Alliance, Catholics United, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good gaining some much-needed traction on the national stage to fight the authoritarianism of the religious right.  Nevertheless, the presence of progressive religious figures in the national media continues to be a struggle, as I have argued before (click here to read my previous post on the matter). 

In retrospect, it is no surprise I can track the moment when I became aware for the first time of the massive conservative propaganda machine: when I caught word through a progressive medium-a new movie, “Outfoxed“, which detailed just how much the Fox News channel serves as the bullhorn for the Republican Party’s propaganda.  I was so starved to connect to other progressives, that when the credits rolled at the end of the film, I frantically started to write down the names of the organizations that had contributed to make the film just so I could search for them online.  One of the major progressive hubs of information sharing and activism that I found was AlterNet.org, which would occasionally post information on progressive groups doing grassroots activities on the local scene. 

It was through one of such local grassroots events that I had another brush with another progressive medium that brought about for me a pivotal moment in the formation of who I am now as an activist.  It was when I saw Marcos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, speak at a bar in Santa Monica, CA during an event that was being sponsored by the Public Campaign.  He was promoting a book that he had co-authored, Crashing the Gate, and so I bought his book right there and then and asked him to autograph my copy.  I started reading it and quickly became amazed at how incredibly well-organized and powerful the conservative infrastructure really was to the point where they completely dominated the national discourse with their far-right messaging.  Crashing the Gate laid it all bare, pin-pointing how the conservative machine had come to be and how the inept angry left of the U.S., broken up into its silo single-issue self-righteous factions, had allowed it to happen.  After finishing the book, I immediately made the resolution to answer the call to action to help build an organized progressive infrastructure that could fight the conservative machine.  I did not exactly know how or where to start, so I kept on reading more progressive works like The Left Hand of God and Don’t Think of an Elephant, while at the same time continuing to attend progressive-minded events such as Drinking Liberally, and started listening to progressive radio personalities after they started to be syndicated nationally.  In short, whatever progressive communication outlets that had been launched back then were extremely useful to inform and motivate new progressive activists like myself and countless others. 

Today, there is now a “progressive infrastructure” that continues to grow that simply did not even exist back in 2000.  Nevertheless, currently a progressive nation-wide communications system is virtually nonexistent.  Famous professor of linguistics, George Lakoff, in his newly published piece The Policy Speak Disaster for Health Care, discusses this very same issue in terms of how it relates to the current healthcare debate.  He has, in fact, warned about this before, specifically on his “The Obama Code” piece:

The president is the best political communicator of our age. He has the bully pulpit. He gets media attention from the press. His website is running a permanent campaign, Organizing for Obama, run by his campaign manager David Plouffe. It seeks issue-by-issue support from his huge mailing list. There are plenty of progressive blogs. MoveOn.org now has over five million members.  And yet that is nowhere near enough.

The conservative message machine is huge and still going. There are dozens of conservative think tanks, many with very large communications budgets. The conservative leadership institutes are continuing to turn out thousands of trained conservative spokespeople every year. The conservative apparatus for language creation is still functioning. Conservative talking points are still going out to their network of spokespeople, who still being booked on tv and radio around the country. About 80% of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are as strong as ever.  There are now progressive voices on MSNBC, Comedy Central, and Air America, but they are still overwhelmed by Right’s enormous megaphone.  Republicans in Congress can count on overwhelming message support in their home districts and homes states. That is one reason why they were able to stonewall on the President’s stimulus package. They had no serious media competition at home pounding out the Obama vision day after day.

Such national, day-by-day media competition is necessary. Democrats need to build it. Democratic think tanks are strong on policy and programs, but weak on values and vision.  Without the moral arguments based on the Obama values and vision, the policymakers most likely be unable to regularly address both independent voters and the Limbaugh-FoxNews audiences in conservative Republican strongholds.

The president and his administration cannot build such a communication system, nor can the Democrats in Congress. The DNC does not have the resources. It will be up to supporters of the Obama values, not just supporters on the issues, to put such a system in place.  Despite all the organizing strength of Obama supporters, no such organizing effort is now going on. If none is put together, the movement conservatives will face few challenges of fundamental values in their home constituencies and will be able to go on stonewalling with impunity.  That will make the president’s vision that much harder to carry out.

In light of what the right-wing has been able to accomplish in their battle against healthcare reform, is it any wonder that many progressives are left wondering “where is the progressive messaging machine?”  Well, it is MIA because it simply does NOT exist.  Yes, progressive have the blogosphere and some rising stars on MSNBC, but let us not confuse that with an actual progressive MESSAGING machine.  The blogosphere and other media outlets are just that, outlets with a lot of useful information.  They ARE important and essential outlets, but they nevertheless are missing a piece: the messaging and framing element that works on a nation-wide marketing level.

So who would it be up to to build such a progressive communications system?  Al Gore considered creating a liberal cable channel, and instead settled for creating the youthful socially conscious “Current TV“.  Nevertheless, even a progressive channel would still need the right messaging.  In absence of a nation-wide progressive channel, Professor Lakoff suggests the following communications strategy concerning the healthcare debate: 

A progressive communication system should be started. It should go into every Congressional district. It should concentrate on general progressive ideas. President Obama has articulated what these are.

• The basic values are empathy (we care about people), responsibility for ourselves and others, and the ethic of excellence (making ourselves better and the world better).

• These values form the basis of democracy: It’s because we care about our fellow citizens that we have values like freedom and fairness, for everyone, not just the powerful.

• From that, it follows that government has two moral missions: protection (of consumers, workers, the environment, the old, the sick, the powerless; and empowerment through public works; communication, energy, and water systems; education; banks that work; a court system: and so on. Without them, no one makes it in America. Taxes are what you pay for protection and empowerment by the government, and the more you make the greater your responsibility to maintain the system.

Appropriate language can be found to express these values. They lie at the heart of all progressive policies. If they are out there every day, it becomes easier to discuss any issue. This is what it means to prepare the ground for specific framings.

Once progressives hammer out the right messaging approach, the need for a nation-wide progressive TV channel that can broadcast it everywhere will become even more evident.  MSNBC has taken some good steps, but it has not capitalized on its recent ratings success with its progressive hosts (Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and Ed Schultz).  In fact, a recent poll reveals something that has now become almost painfully clear: MSNBC has established a marketable niche that it is simply not servicing at it should be.  MSNBC would do itself a favor by embracing its progressive niche and switch to an all-progressive format, before someone else beats them to it.  After all, our country is quickly changing with the new so-called millenial generation that tends to be overwhelmingly progressive taking over.  MSNBC from its inception positioned itself to be a bit more youthful and edgier than CNN.  In the spirit of its original business model, should MSNBC position itself to serve the up-and-coming progressive-minded millenial generation, it would reap financial rewards that would most likely eclipse its competitors’.

When will MSNBC start realizing that they have created a niche with the progressive community that it should capitalize on?  The above video is a sample of the kind of progressive talent MSNBC could benefit from.  Progressive media personalities like Stephanie Miller or even Randi Rhodes (on the radio) have proven to be hugely successful, even beating their conservative competitors day after day in the ratings.  So what are the powers-that-be waiting on?

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Filed under Framing, Marketing, Progressive Media Personalities, Progressive Movement, Religion, Spirituality

Obama’s birth conspiracy theory was concocted by an anti-Semite & circulated by racist extremists

Southern Poverty Law Center has an action alert on this; see below:

July 24, 2009
Dear Friend,
Lou Dobbs is at it again.
We’ve told you about how the CNN host has used his platform to spread
hateful propaganda that demonizes Latinos.
Now, Dobbs is supporting the bizarre claims of so-called “birthers” who insist that President Obama isn’t really a citizen of the United States and that his presidency, therefore, is not legitimate.
The truth about Obama’s birth in Hawaii is not in dispute. It has been verified by many reputable journalists, including CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who called the claims “a joke,” and even a reporter on Dobbs’ own show. Yet Dobbs continues to fan the flames.
It’s important to note that this conspiracy theory was concocted by an anti-Semite and circulated by racist extremists who cannot accept the fact that a black man has been elected president. Among those who helped disseminate the lie was the neo-Nazi who killed a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in June.
Respectable news organizations should not be peddling propaganda that supports the agenda of radical extremists who are only interested in stirring up hate and fomenting violence. But Dobbs continues to do just that. And it’s irresponsible for CNN to let him continue trading in falsehoods.
Enough is enough. Today, I’ve written to the president of CNN urging that Dobbs be removed from the air
[to read the statement, visit]:

I encourage you to contact CNN yourself. If enough of us speak up, the network will listen.
[To contact CNN, visit]:
Thank you for standing strong against hate.
J. Richard Cohen
President, Southern Poverty Law Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Ave.
Montgomery, AL 36104

Update 08/08/09: Looks like this same racist crowd is mobilizing people on the far far right to oppose and even shut down a simple townhall conversation on Healthcare and on caring for the sick.  It’s gone so far that the subtext of the extremist far-right is becoming clear: the promotion of violence and murder. Truly scary … watch:

Update 08/09/09: The American Jewish Congress issued a statement, “The Limbaugh comments comparing Obama (and Pelosi) to Hitler and the Nazis are grossly offensive and intolerable. They reflect a nasty and hyperbolic tendency on our political culture, one which makes reasoned discourse impossible, confuses disagreement with evil, and which makes it impossible to distinguish evil from ordinary politics. … It behooves all participants in the political process to unequivocally disavow the comparison and to make it plain that peddlers of such noxious comparison have no place in our politics, no matter how large their audiences. And all Americans should make plain their disgust at the comparisons by talk show hosts by a prompt use of the off button.” Read the story by clicking here.  

Media Matters for America also has a revealing piece on all this, focusing on another right-wing propagandist of hate, Glenn Beck:

…a perfect example of the game conservatives in the media are playing: pouring gasoline on the fire, and then, once they are criticized, saying that they were only kidding. But what does Beck expect his viewers to take away from his broadcasts? After a week of increasingly violent protests at town halls around the country, including one such event at which protesters reportedly mentioned Beck by name when explaining what inspired them, he cannot seriously contend that his rhetoric isn’t having an impact, isn’t stirring up the rage and confusion that is defining opposition to Democratic reforms.  Read the rest here.


Filed under Health, Political, Progressive Media Personalities

Swine Flu

So apparently we’re under swine flu watch.  Yes, it’s all over the news, like the bird flu and the mad cow desease were.  They way the media is talking about it, you’d think our civilization is coming to an end a-la Twelve Monkeys movie. 

The Center for Desease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the following up on their website:

“Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented. […]

From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in the U.S. and internationally have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing. […]”

People are taking advantage of this opportunity of the flu being on the news 24/7 and so we get videos trying to sell you vitamins and others to promote crazy right-wing tinfoil hat libertarian conspiracy theories:

I’m still unclear as to how exactly this “new” flu is more serious than other kinds of flu (other than being related to pigs).  According to the CDC, these are the symptoms:

“What are the symptoms of swine flu in humans?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are expected to be similar to the symptoms of regular human
seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”

…uhm, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t those more or less the symptoms of regular flu? (if there is such a thing-because the flu can come in many strains).

I realize this “swine” flu is a serious matter because people have died from it … but again, correct me if I’m wrong: don’t people die of “regular” flu too when it’s accompanied by complications and not treated with the right medical approaches?  Also, how come no one is asking “who is cashing in on the flu paranoia?”  The manufacturers of desinfectant products and people like Donald Rumsfeld are sure making money on the deal, among others.  Meanwhile, the racist right-wing pig media talking heads are having a field day with this story even though there are now reports emerging that the “swine” flu might have actually originated in the United States.  To top things off, some political extremists have used this opportunity to display their own idiocy, just watch what Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann said here

Perhaps what is most annoying about this whole thing is the hypocrisy inherent in all this media circus.  IF there were such a sincere concern for pandemics, you’d think conservatives (like Michelle Bachmann) and its media talking heads would agree that it is now more urgent than ever to approve a public healthcare option that would care for all as quickly as possible … well, guess again-they’re trying to kill off any attempts to fix our healthcare system that would cover us all.  By the way, you can fight back the politicians that are trying to choke healthcare reform in its crib; to fight them, visit: http://www.standwithdrdean.com/FAQ

Update: Luckily, there are some personalities emerging in the cable news that are being more realist about this whole thing. Watch Keith Olbermann talking about this strain of influenza in a more serious in-depth manner; click here.

Also, Media Matters for America did a great week-in-review wrap up of how the right-wing media personalities hyped it up to blame immigrants and even Obama for the “outbreak”.  Click here to read it.

I leave you with this “Swine Flu Overload” infoMania Editorial. Enough said.


Filed under Economic Refugees, Health, Immigration, Media Literacy

CNBC Hoaxes America

Now, I don’t know if you have seen this on the news, but the other day a so-called “business reporter” started railing against President Obama’s Housing Plan.  Here’s a little background on the plan: http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/02/18/obama-housing/

Regarding the video below: what the business reporter was basically trying to do (although he doesn’t tell you this), is paint Obama’s Housing Plan as “rewarding bad irresponsible” behavior without actually acknowleding that the Housing Plan is (well, in my opinion) just trying to help people stay in their homes so that by staying in their homes the massive amount of foreclosures stop, which would have an aggregate positive impact on improving the overall economy. 

The plan, however, threatens to cut into the banks’ profits; these lending institutions made irresponsible investments and arguably they are the ones to blame for the crisis, not the people that got steered or suckered into their bad mortgages.  If the lending institution acted like a loan shark, shouldn’t they take responsibility for the crisis rather than blaming it on the people that got suckered into taking loans that they couldn’t afford in the first place?  Also, shouldn’t we stop the foreclosures anyway because these massive amounts of foreclosures are bound to drive down property values further, making things worst?  According to this reporter, we shouldn’t do anything to help homeowners.  Watch:

Now, regardless or not whether you agree with my point of view on this, here’s the shocking part.  Now there’s reports that this business reporter was part of a massive pro-banking institution PR campaign to stop the Housing Plan:

I’m reposting the revelations from DailyKos (original link at: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/2/28/22947/5824/608/703150):

CNBC Hoaxes America

Sat Feb 28, 2009 at 08:50:05 PM PST

It’s starting to look like we may all be victims of the biggest product placement ad ever staged, and the product being placed is pure right wing astroturf. In short, America may have been scammed by a collaboration between CNBC and conservative media consultants.

According to an article appearing in Playboy, CNBC’s “Chicago Tea Party” was a hoax planned well in advance of Rick Santelli’s trading floor meltdown.

But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders.

If this article is correct, then CNBC has staged the news, not just a single incident, but a whole string of discussions and programs that have been at the center of CNBC’s programming since Santelli’s staged rant. And from the evidence — including the fact that the website used to organize the so-called tea party was created well in advance by the same right wing sources who orchestrated the Obama-Ayers story — it appears that at least some of those involved were in on the scam.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.

Maybe this is part of their new cost-cutting measures on CNBC. After all, it’s a lot easier to just create the news yourself rather than report it. Or maybe Santelli, whose contract is up soon, was collecting a paycheck from other sources than just NBC.

But if there’s any truth to this, more than an apology is going to be necessary.


Suffice to say, sometimes what you watch on a newscast and are billed as “news reports” are not news reports at all but rather TV commercials posing as “news” to make you believe a point of view and influence your opinion in favor of a product-in this case, in favor of protecting the banking institutions’ all mighty profits.

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Filed under Housing, Political