Saturday, May 20, 2006

Variations of the Rumor Bomb: Bush, Immigration, and the management of focused critique.

Immigration is a pseudo-crisis, driven by pseudo-events, in a theater of pseudo-politics.

Bush's call for $1.9 billion to send 6,000 troops to guard the border with Mexico and stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. is "interesting." People are arguing about it on the level of American ethnic identity or purity; citizenship, jobs and benefits for American citizens; history and justice, since much of the current U.S. was annexed from Mexico and Native Americans(such as this: click); the cost of such a project when billions of dollars and lives have already been siphoned to a disastrous war in Iraq, in a country with serious socio-economic rights issues like healthcare--among others. But I think getting caught up in any number of these particular debates is precisely the goal of the Bush PR-government strategy. It is a strategy of preoccupation and deception, and the evidence is the long string of such tactics that have been uncovered over the last several years--e.g., WMD, Swift Boat Veterans, Valerie Plame leak, threat of Syria and Iran, not to mention France, and a host of little but impactful deceptions and misdemeanor lies, such as fake news and reporters. There's also a curious reversal of his "position"from the beginning of his presidency, on the issue of (for Bush's quotes on record click the following link) Mexican immigrants.

Of course, the immigration issue is not new; it's cyclical. The question in this brutally calculating political theater is why now? And Why this issue for the media and public agenda? Immigration is not a rumor per se, but it functions like a RUMOR BOMB. It is a strategy of preoccupation/deception, a red herring that exploits ravenous news market appetites for/values of conflicts and scandal. It offers a scapegoat in a time of great upheaval and increasingly focused criticism on the dishonesty of the Bush regime. The many debacles of the Bush regime have resulted, finally, in Bush and co.'s lowest approval ratings to date. Interestingly, some stories accompany these reports of low approval by emphasizing that Bush's conservative base is driving the disapproval. Polls like this were reported May 5, 2006. On May 15, Bush made a televised address to the nation calling for the thousands of troops and billions of dollars to be sent to the border with Mexico. In the context of his approval ratings and history of rumor bombs, this is an attempt first to distract a wing of the Republican party from a more focused critique of his failure in Iraq, and with more convervative pet issues such as gay marriage. The response is to shift their attention to another issue to which this political sect remains fervently devoted--immigrants, race, nationalism. It's imperative that Bush serve the Republican elite who delivered him this presidency in the first place, so he lends his beaten office to the effort to keep the rank and file in check. Right now they're in trouble. These are tactics in response to a disastrous political climate and bleak future for Republicans. And as Oldfield noted in The Right and the Righteous (1996), "The social issue concerns are not those of the Republican party a whole; defense of subcultural family values underlies the movement s differences with other elements of the party" (p. 68). Polls "show that opposition to immigration tends to be greatest among social conservative and less-well educated Republicans, but that upscale, well-educated, pro-business Republicans tend to be more ambivalent." That's the wing that is causing trouble for the PNAC wing. Better give them something again that they can be proud of and simultaneously get the rest of the country to think this is a major crisis worthy of public deliberation.

Second, Bush and his puppetmasters construct a crisis for the news media and their desire for cycles, for the latest dramatic conflict. This is also a pseudo-event designed to create a drama that will be self-propellingly spectacular. The news report it, people organize rallies to protest it, and the news media keep covering it, which drives more (not necessarily well-reasoned)expressions of outrage and free speech for and against, which is exactly what this regime wants. It's not mainly about the issue of immigration itself. It's about managing audiences to maintain partisan power and derail focused critque and discussion. So, the U.S. is ablaze with its most recent pressing re-politicizing issue, immigration. As coach used to say, "Keep your eye on the ball, Harsin."


Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss said...

But ... one thing puzzles me. Are hundreds of thousands of marchers in Chicago and many other cities just patsies, then? I'm not sure the issue is a distraction to them, although the right wing is definitely trying to spin these events to their advantage -- as they would any event.

The administration's (I have a hard time attributing any specific action to the dullard in chief alone) most recent salvo -- the speech proposing National Guard deployment to border areas -- is surely a lame PR move, and commentators on the right as well as left seem to recognize that. The immediate response to Bush's speech indicated to me that nobody's buying what he's selling on this issue ... he can't please everyone, or anyone, on it.

The rough chronology of what's happening seems, to me, to be that the administration and Congressional GOPpers decided to pander to their xenophobic base by introducing a punitive, unworkable bill. Ordinarily, these things either fade away, in some committee of Congress or in the deep vaults of non-enforcement after passage. But this bill triggered a number of huge demonstrations, which, I think, took almost everyone by surprise. Now the right is trying to re-take control of the (non or non-non)-issue by, among other things, focusing on total red herrings like Spanish lyrics to our national drinking song and the perennial favorite, "What are the busboys saying about my wife and daughters in that lingo they insist on using?"

I don't put it past Rove et al. to attempt to wag the dog in this proportion, but it kind of feels to me like they've got a tiger by the tail here.

Maybe they purposely precipitated a pseduo-crisis, and the demonstrators played into their hands. Or maybe they precipitated a pseudo-crisis, and it's getting out of control. Either one. Or both. Beats me.

Maybe all they do care about pure distraction. But it doesn't seem to be working very well. Bush's bounce from the speech got him to about, from the last poll I saw, maybe 36% approval. And people are still mad about "high" gas prices, which, as far as I can tell, is the main thing they care about. Distract them all you want, they still have to fill those goddamn SUVs up.

OK ... that's enough coffee-fueled self-contradictory gobbedlygook from me. There's more important things to focus on here now today, like the White Sox vs. Cubs game in half an hour.

Jayson said...

I don't think it's perceived as a distraction to many people, certainly not to those protesting or marching. It's true that such strategies can backfire and have, again and again. But that, I think, is the climate of political communication. It's hard to say what this will get them down the line. These are usually short-term strategies. They try to shift attention, get some mileage out of it to get something done, and then move on to another game. I'm sure there's some real debate and discussion of the immigration situation going on somewhere. Certainly isn't going to happen on anything televisual though.

Bughouse Square said...

I think this particular case is one that tests the metaphor of Rumor Bomb. There is no doubt that Bush & Co. are looking for distractions on a number of levels. The main thing to my mind is that their upper crust supporters really want a guest worker program so they can finally crack what is left of old the labor relations regime. As you say, the National Guard to the border is all show--and it is largely seen as such even by the media.

Meanwhile the debate about immigration is real, persistent, and getting nastier all the time. The immigrant groups are really operating on a different political level. We haven't seen this kind of mass movement based in a sector of the working class since the 1960s. The larger political struggle going on right now (perhaps not all on a conscious level) is over which way American-born and already naturalized workers will come down on the issue.

Jayson said...

This is a pseudo-event/-crisis that of course has real repercussions, as successful pseudo-events always do (more on pseudo-events as concept here and here).

Where is the debate in the immigration debate. Seems to me, in the news video snippets I download and print I read, that it's largely spectacular. It's about visualizing opponents without knowing their arguments.

That's an interesting irony about the upper-Repub-crust wanting legalized guest workers to drive a stake through the union heart once and for all. But it's also just testament to the crazy contradictions behind the images and events that Americans (and increasingly others around the world)consume. This is an instance where the Bush co. wants to divert attention from Iraq, Scooter Libby, Abrams,etc. and re-assemble those who have wandered away from the flock in disgust over the last two years. Sadly, this, as part of the security discourse, will be an election issue in 2006, along with positions on Iran. But the Mexican immigrant issue will appeal to the xenophobia of the rank and file, probably not amounting to much in legislative terms for the reasons you cite regarding the upper crust. Of course, I may be wrong about where this is heading. But I don't think there's any doubt that like the many rumor bombs of the last six years, this is another strategy to derail focused critique and cater to news market appetites for new spectacular conflicts.