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Les Echos, France

America and Political Hysteria

By Julien Vaulpré

Translated By Meredith O'Connell

2 November 2012

Edited by Natalie Clager

France - Les Echos - Original Article (French)

American politics has entered a phase of paranoia. Beyond the spectacle that has presented each presidential election, American political theater is now accompanied by a polarization of the political debate, which has considerably intensified over the last dozen years, up to today's partisan media driven hysteria.

The signs of a hardening political behavior are multiplying. First, the number independent voters, who represented 19 percent of the votes in 1992 with candidate Ross Perot, continues to shrink. Furthermore, the number of indecisive voters has never been so low (now less than 10 percent of the electoral body) and these 'swing voters' nowadays no longer flip between two candidates but between abstaining and voting. For each party, the key to winning has become the mobilization of true party followers. What Americans call 'the party allegiance' – loyalty to one of the two biggest parties – is now the determining factor.

How does one explain the growing antagonism between Republicans and Democrats? The last two presidents were true foils for the opposing party. George W. Bush, lost in the transgressions of war against the “Axis of Evil,” stirred up a strong mobilization of Democratic Party members at the end of his second term. His approval rating was already less than 30 percent. As for Barack Obama, despite a popularity level around 50 percent he is nevertheless rejected by Republican supporters, many of whom have never accepted that he made it to the White House.

This political antagonism that has built up between the Democrats and Republicans is a true reflection of the sociological gap which now exists between the two parties. On one side, there is white America, fifty years old and middle class. They are much poorer than 30 years ago and believe that their loss of social status benefits minorities. This working middle class, which mostly lives in Middle America, idealizes a long-gone past and has difficulty dealing with symbolic changes, like the possibility of choosing between English and Spanish on a telephone menus. On the other side is a younger, more urban America residing on both coasts, which is better adapted to globalization. California, which managed to sidestep the economic crisis [Editor’s note: California was actually hit hard by the economic crisis] and embrace the Green Revolution, is a good example.

At the heart of the issue, the American media contributes to the hysteria. If the pro-Republican Fox News is mocked in France as an example of partisan media, MSNBC is also caricature-like in its role as the Democratic Party's mouthpiece. These two stations have denied reporting news with a subjective slant but participate in creating lies, demonizing important figures and creating suspicion of the opposing party's intentions. These stations’ objective is to publicize events that, in principle, confirm their convictions. To supplement this machine, the stations are built on news fed from organizations of a new breed. Media Research Center (Republican-backed) and Media Matters for America (Democratic-backed) are financed by wealthy party donors, each employing a hundred of full-time workers. Their sole goal is to report the blunders, slips and potentially embarrassing gaffes of the opposing party. Thus, the relayed words trigger a controversy, regarding a topic which often does not exist, and pervade the media. They have gone from fact checking to gaffe seeking, from reestablishing the truth to creating lies which aim to destroy. These satellite stations are transformed into a machine that creates and spreads suspicion and hate.

This practice of mutual denigration between the two parties has always existed but is now systematically organized and consumes the political debate. As such, the campaign had difficulty finding a moral center. Mitt Romney didn't detail his plan to lower taxes, Barack Obama made commitments he will not fulfill and nobody tackled the main question: can America continue to consume more than it produces and live beyond its means?



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