Banana Republicans: Pumping Irony
Pumping Irony is the title of chapter four of the 2004 book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America Into a One-Party State (ISBN 1585423424).
For Jay Leno, it was a big night, scoring the highest Nielsen rating that The Tonight Show had seen for a Wednesday in more than four years. The big guest was movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was coming on the show to announce whether he would run as Republican candidate in California's recall election against Democratic Governor Gray Davis.
Aside from the ambition of winning California in the presidential race, the Republican Party stood to benefit in other ways by electing Schwarzenegger, such as an increase in Republican voter registration with the potential to influence future elections. It also forces Democratic presidential candidates to spend more time and money in the state in 2004.
While vocal in their views, Democratic-leaning actors have rarely sought political office and have almost never held it, preferring to advance their views through activism, lobbying and the arts. By contrast, acting has been a stepping-stone to political careers for numerous Republicans.
There are several reasons for this disparity. One is that the Republican Party has actively recruited and supported candidates from the entertainment world. Another is that Republicans often run as "antigovernment" or "nonpolitician" candidates, so that an actor's lack of political experience can actually be an advantage for his campaign. And Republicans have shown greater mastery of the rules of postmodern politics, in which style is as important as substance and issues are less important than personality. Republican candidates understand these unwritten rules because they and their campaign consultants, some of whom actually started in the entertainment industry, played a big part in inventing them.
By its nature, television is expensive to produce and broadcast (although that may be changing, thanks to the Internet and other technological advances). It therefore lends itself to control by the people who can afford to pay for the considerable costs of production. It is also a highly emotional medium. Unlike print, which requires that the audience make a conscious effort, television is often absorbed unconsciously, as pure images and background in our information environment.
Of course, Republicans are not the only political players who have adapted to the political environment created by television. In the 1960s, Abbie Hoffman declared that the yippies were created "to manipulate the media." In fact, they tried to be the media. Citizen groups ranging from Greenpeace to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to Pro-Life America have all learned the impact of sound bites and celebrity endorsements. Among Democratic Party politicians, the most skilled practitioner of this art has undoubtedly been Bill Clinton. But yippies and other activists have never really succeeded at "being the media." At most, they have managed to occasionally use the media opportunistically. To "be" the media requires ownership or some other way of exerting actual power, and even Democrats, who are certainly more powerful than the yippies ever were, have found that they are often helpless to control the way their image is represented.
Observers agree that the 2004 elections are likely to be a defining moment for the future of the United States. After four years of nearly uncontested power, the Republican Party under the leadership of President George W. Bush hopes to consolidate its newly-won control over every branch of the U.S. government - the presidency, both houses of congress, and the judiciary. If it succeeds, its supporters pledge to continue an aggressive foreign policy that has already generated unprecedented hostility toward the United States throughout much of the rest of the world. At home, the Republicans can be expected to continue their planned rollbacks of environmental protection and labor rights, even as their tax breaks to the wealthy have created unprecedented budget deficits that economists fear will further undermine the country's unsteady economy.
On most of these matters, significant policy differences separate the Bush administration from its Democratic challengers. Moreover, opinion polls showed that the public's policy preferences align more closely on most issues with the Democrats than with Republicans. Paradoxically, however, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has had a hard time bringing his issues to the forefront of discussion, let alone achieving presidential stature in the eyes of the public.
- What role for the media did the campaign team for Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for California's Governorship consider best suited their strategy? Why?
- What effect does the dominance of television as a news medium have on the way political campaigns are conducted?
- Is everyone equally able to get their views across in the media? Or are some views and groups marginalised?
- "Schwarzenegger Not Saying No," CBS News, June 27, 2003.
- "Arnold Schwarzenegger Auditions for New Role - 'Governator,'" NBC4 TV, August 7, 2003.
- Bernard Weinraub, "Hollywood Is All Eyes As One of Its Own Takes a New Stage," New York Times, August 8, 2003.
- Max Blumenthal, "California Confidential," American Prospect, August 13, 2003.
- Deno Seder, "Attack Ads: Protecting Against Viewer Backlash," in Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy and Tactics, edited by Ronald A. Faucheux (New York, NY: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 2003), p. 380.
- John Connolly, "Arnold the Barbarian," Premiere, March 2001.
- Mark Z. Barabak, "California and the West," Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2001, p. 3.
- Dana Milbank and Mike Allen, "Schwarzenegger Outcome Could Affect Bush in 2004," Washington Post, August 14, 2003, p. A05.
- Joe Mathews, Jessica Garrison and Mark Z. Barabak, "Schwarzenegger Uses Talk Radio to Start Spelling Out His Views," Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2003.
- Joe Mathews, "After a Shaky Opening, a Candidate Is Born," Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2003.
- Anthony York, "Donors Ponied Up Big Bucks Last Month for Possible Schwarzenegger Campaign," Political Pulse, July 25, 2003.
- "Schwarzenegger Staff Pledges Confidentiality," Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2003.
- James Sterngold, "Schwarzenegger Met the Press His Way: Celebrity Status Changed Media Landscape," San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 2003.
- Matt Labash, "Arnold Uber Alles," The Weekly Standard, vol. 9, no. 6, October 20, 2003.
- Neal Koch, "The Terminator at Work?" Columbia Journalism Review, vol. 29, no. 5, January/February 1991, p. 28.
- Gary Cohn, Carla Hall and Robert W. Welcos, "Women Say Schwarzenegger Groped, Humiliated Them," Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2003.
- Gary Cohn, Carla Hall, Jack Leonard and Tracy Weber, "4 More Women Go Public Against Schwarzenegger," Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2003.
- Steve Lopez, "Mud Splashes Back at Governor," Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2003.
- John S. Carroll, "The Story Behind the Story," Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2003.
- Sharon Waxman, "The Recall Show with Jay Leno," Washington Post, October 9, 2003, p. C1.
- "Long-term Contribution Trends," OpenSecrets.org, and Long-term Contribution Trends,".
- "Most Heavily Partisan Industries," OpenSecrets.org.
- Anne Kelly-Saxenmeyer, "Playing the Candidate," Backstage.com, October 6, 2003.
- Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics (New York, NY: Random House, 1992).
- Ian Hargreaves, "Spinning Out of Control," History Today, vol. 53, no. 3, March 2003.
- David Greenberg, "Nixon's Legacy: In Politics, Image is Everything," Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2003, p. B11.
- Susan King, "Television; The Bippy Revolution," Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2003, Part 5, p. 28.
- Joe McGinniss, The Selling of the President (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1988 reprint), p. 63.
- Rich Thomaselli, "The Natural: Dusenberry Leaves Imprint on Ad World," Advertising Age, May 20, 2003, p. 4.
- Frank Lovece, "A New Museum Exhibit Chronicles 40 Years of Political Commercials and Other Memorable Campaign Moments on Television," Newsday, July 5, 1992, p. 18.
- Kathleen Hall Jamieson, "Our Appalling Politics," Washington Post, October 30, 1998, p. C1.
- Kathleen Hall Jamieson, "Insinuation and Other Pitfalls in Political Ads and News." Originally published as "The Subversive Effects of a Focus on Strategy in News Coverage of Presidential Campaigns," in 1-800 President, Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Television and the Campaign of 1992 (New York, NY: Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993).
- Mark Crispin Miller, "Political Ads: Decoding Hidden Messages," Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1992.
- Leslie Stahl, Reporting Live (New York, NY: Touchstone Books, 2000), p. 210.
- James Moore and Wayne Slater, Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003), p. 273.
- "President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended," White House Office of the Press Secretary, May 1, 2003.
- Ken Fireman, "Dems: Landing Cost $1M," Newsday, May 8, 2003, p. A43.
- Mike Allen, "Ship Carrying Bush Delayed Return," Washington Post, May 8, 2003, p. A29.
- Scott Lindlaw, "Accommodating TV-friendly Presidential Visit Caused a Few Changes in Navy Carrier's Routine," Associated Press, May 2, 2003.
- Mike Allen, "The Bird Was Perfect but Not for Dinner," Washington Post, December 4, 2003, p. A33.
- Dana Milbank, "A Baghdad Thanksgiving's Lingering Aftertaste," Washington Post, December 12, 2003, p. A35, <>.
- Sgt. Loren Russell, "Bush Visit Disrupted Dining," Stars and Stripes (European and Mideast editions), December 5, 2003.
- Remarks by the President at Leadership Forum, Egleston Children's Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia, March 1, 2001.
- Jeffrey McMurray, "Bush Budget Would Cut Funding for Hospital He Visited," Associated Press, April 10, 2001.
- "President Rallies First Responders in Georgia," Remarks by the President to Georgia First Responders, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA (White House news release), March 27, 2002.
- Bill Miller, "White House Resists Pressure from Fire Chiefs," Washington Post, October 16, 2002, p. A23.
- Steve Friess, "Firefighters Vote to Boycott Bush's Sept. 11 Tribute," Reuters, August 14, 2002.
- "President Calls for Expanding Opportunities to Home Ownership," Remarks by the President on Homeownership, St. Paul AME Church, Atlanta, Georgia, White House news release, June 17, 2002.
- Dana Milbank and Dan Morgan, "Some Pet Programs Are Targeted for Cuts," Washington Post, February 5, 2004, p. A11.
- "'Made in (Deleted)' - Bush's Sales Pitch Has a Gargantuan Cover-up," Associated Press, January 23, 2003.
- Abbie Hoffman, The Best of Abbie Hoffman, edited by Daniel Simon (New York, NY: Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1989), pp. 44, 51, 75.
- Patrick Healy, "Biting Remarks on Candidacy by 'Canine' on 'Tonight Show,'" Boston Globe, November 12, 2003, p. A3.
- Joanna Weiss, "Late-Night's Not Always a Laugher for Candidates," Boston Globe, November 22, 2003, p. C1.
- Michael Crowley, "Stayin' Alive," The New Republic, November 12, 2003.