Politics & Policy

It’s All about the Narrative

What does policy matter, when -- it's historic, historic, historic -- we've elected a black man president?

As is well known (as Pravda used to say), my family has been involved in the media for generations. For one thing, it got us out of the house. For another, it paid better than piecework. But the most important reason was: We wanted to control the narrative.

Journalism, fiction, movies, it doesn’t matter. Uncle Joe Kahane started at PM, moved on to the Daily Worker and finished up his career editing Frank Rich at the New York Times. My dad, the sainted “Che” Kahane, made his bones with his scripts for Mission to Moscow II: This Time, It’s Personal (winner of the coveted Dalton Trumbo Award) and The Boy from Stalingrad Does West Hollywood (winner of the prestigious Sidney Salkow Award). And I, of course, write this silly column in between lunching at Chaya, pitching at Paramount, and schnorring for spare change at the intersection of Wilshire and San Vicente in Brentwood. Pearls before swine, indeed.

To the untrained eye, what we lefty American media types and our ink-stained comrades everywhere do may look like storytelling, and in a manner of speaking it is. Our stories have characters, events, incidents, action; after all, every screenwriter’s spiritual antecedents are the hack newspapermen from New York and Chicago who headed west in search of nice weather, pretty girls, and a fast buck. “Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots,” wired Herman Mankiewicz to Ben Hecht, who promptly hopped a train.

#ad#Even more important, our stories, like fables and fairy tales, have narrative. A framework of good guys and bad guys, archetypes and stereotypes. A shorthand for our audiences, so that instead of wasting time on establishing characters we can get right to the morality play/propaganda point, all the while disguising it as “news” or “entertainment.” The narrative is like a continuing serial or soap opera, which our audiences can drop in and out of, secure in the knowledge that they know what’s going on. Thus urban minorities = good, white ethnics = bad. Corporate chieftains = bad, union leaders = good. Brave Hollywood screenwriters speaking truth to %$#BUSH@#$!!! = good, Limbaugh/Hannity/O’Reilly = bad. It really is that simple, and, as the election returns showed, the American people bought it hook, line, and BO2.

And now, just as you have absorbed and internalized these stereotypes, here comes our boldest one of them all: capitalism = bad, socialism = good. “We Are All Socialists Now” proclaimed Newsweek recently, in a cover story co-written by Evan Thomas, who totally coincidentally is the grandson of the six-time Socialist candidate for president, Norman Thomas. (From the article: “Remember Joe the Plumber? Sadly, so do we.” Now that’s snark you can believe in!)

Hence our blitzkrieg attack on Amerikkka this past month, which you wingnuts should have seen coming, and might have seen coming were it not for our control of the narrative. Heck, it wasn’t as if the Dear Leader and Teacher didn’t warn you. Sure, Hussein’s backstory didn’t stand much scrutiny. Sure, none of our finest Finemans ever explained who backed the Quisatz Haderach’s remarkable glide from Punahou to Occidental to Columbia to Harvard to Chicago to the state senate to the U.S. Senate to the White House. True, there was some oblique acknowledgment of his family’s radicalism, his strange mentoring by a Communist, Frank Marshall Davis, his admitted drug use, and the curious case of the editor of the Harvard Law Review who never quite managed to publish anything, although he probably shot plenty of hoops. And, of course, there was the mercifully brief flurry of interest in his relationships with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers — which thankfully John “Honorable Campaign” McCain took off the table.

But none of that could hold a candle to the narrative: How historic it was that a black man was running for/got elected president. Historic, we told you: historic, historic, historic. So entranced were the national media by “The Press Conference Rag,” conducted by the Chicago Tribune’s own David Axelrod —  oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, he’s black oh yes he’s black oh yes he’s black that everything else was lost in the Hollywood shuffle.


Luckily for us, you no longer have anybody on your side, except maybe the Great Fuzzball, who’s willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. Thank Gaia for the “useful idiots” like David Brooks, the very embodiment of the term “milquetoast conservative”; Newt Gingrich, so caught up in his own pomposity that he’s no longer capable of a rational thought that doesn’t begin with the word “I”; and even crazy old McCain-Feingold himself, who told Republicans they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. Well, that was then and this is post January 20, so be afraid. Be very afraid.

#ad#President Obama’s promise to have no lobbyists in his administration? No longer operative! No earmarks in the budget — hah! And so what if some of them even have his name on them? The third Emanuel brother, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, now advising Obama on health care, while Rahmbo gatekeeps at the White House and Ari keeps tabs on Hollywood? All in the family!

”You know, Billy, we blew it,” says Captain America (Peter Fonda) to Dennis Hopper at the end of Easy Rider. And so you did. You had both houses of Congress, the presidency, and a majority of the governorships, and — thanks to the Honorable Campaign, the Gang of 14, and “power-sharing” in the House — you blew it. You can bet we won’t be making that mistake. Nancy Pelosi has marginalized the House Republicans to the point of irrelevancy, and now comes word that the administration may consider using a procedural maneuver in the Senate to pass universal health care, put Marx and Engels on the currency, and mandate the singing of “The Internationale” in schools in lieu of the Pledge of Allegiance with just 50 votes. You should have nuked us when you had the chance.

So — Chance the Gardener in Being There or the Manchurian Candidate? At this point it doesn’t really matter, does it, because how could you tell the difference? In the meantime, I’m working on Mission to Moscow III: This Time, It’s for Keeps.

– David Kahane no longer believes that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Feel free to disagree with him at kahanenro@gmail.com, at least until the Fairness Doctrine comes back.

David Kahane — Since February 2007, Michael Walsh has written for National Review both under his own name and the name of David Kahane, a fictional persona described as “a Hollywood liberal who ...

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