Many on the Left are blaming President Barack Obama and middle-of-the-road Democrats for maneuvering health-care reform into a fast-approaching head-on collision. And some of that criticism is well deserved for foolishly letting Republicans get their hands on the wheel at all.
But American liberals and progressives "" especially the wealthy ones "" should take a hard look in the mirror when assessing blame. For three decades now, the Left has sat back and done next to nothing to build a media infrastructure while the Right has put together a truly powerful media machine.
So it's not entirely Obama's fault that support for the public health insurance option has dropped from three-quarters of the American people to not even a plurality, according to the latest NBC News poll. The Right's propagandists "" via radio, TV, print and the Internet "" have successfully demonized reform.
The Right also has used psy-war arguments about government "death panels" and other lies to frighten gullible Americans into opposition. In the NBC poll, 45 percent think Obama's reform would let the government stop medical care for sick old people, though the legislation wouldn't do that.
The poll found that majorities now believe the Democratic plans would give health insurance to illegal immigrants, use taxpayer dollars for women to have abortions, and lead to a government takeover of the health system "" claims that fact-checkers say simply aren't true.
While spreading this disinformation, the Right also has promoted pistol-toting swagger and disruptive tactics as popular ways to confront Democrats and rally opposition to health reform.
Meanwhile, most of what I've heard on the Left are complaints about Obama's tactics: that he should have pushed a single-payer alternative, not a public option; that he should have twisted the arms of conservative Democrats; that he shouldn't have made early compromises with the pharmaceutical industry and other parts of the medical-industrial complex.
Though there's merit to those criticisms, there's also a measure of delusion. If the American Left had been building a media infrastructure over the past three decades to rival what the Right has, then a single-payer system might be politically feasible and surely fewer Americans would be fooled by outright lies regarding health reform.
But the Left chose to go in a different direction. And indeed, the Left's catastrophic media miscalculation was even worse than not building a media infrastructure. In the 1970s, the Left actually decommissioned or sold off the media advantage that it held after the Vietnam War.
In those days, it was the Left that held the upper hand against the Right on media. There was a vibrant "underground press" and "underground radio" that spoke to the discontent of the anti-war youth. There were independent magazines that broke important stories, like Ramparts did about CIA infiltration of student groups.
In Boston, WBCN radio featured news analysis by Danny Schechter, "the news dissector," and broadcast locations of anti-war demonstrations. In the years that followed, WBCN went through ownership changes and shifting formats, eventually becoming home to the shock jocks who disrupted a 2008 speech by Hillary Clinton which chants of "iron my shirts!"
"Even The New Republic'
Other important left-leaning outlets fell into the hands of rich neoconservatives and right-wingers. For instance, the venerable leftist publication The New Republic was purchased by neocon Martin Peretz, who staffed it with writers such as Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.
In the 1980s, when I was covering the Reagan administration's bloody counterinsurgency strategies in Central America, The New Republic served as a key defender of the slaughter that took the lives of tens of thousands of Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans.
Because of its history as a leftist publication, The New Republic was valuable to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams because he could argue that "even the liberal New Republic" agreed with Ronald Reagan's policies.