Beltway Derangement Syndrome

One of the biggest - and yet largely undiscussed - problems facing progressive activism (blogging in particular) is burnout. Every so often, the blogosphere loses one of its brightest lights to the grind, either temporarily or, worse, permanently. Delivering fresh content, day after day, is, even for the best, a difficult proposition. Balancing a blog with one's personal life and, more often than not, day job is an even more difficult task. Toss in the daily frustration one typically feels with the administration or the spectacularly slow grind of progress and the joys of trying to make a difference can become hardships. This is less a complaint than a reality. Also, let's not forget that a healthy dose of perspective is always important. That said, I've finally put my finger on one of the most persistent causes of my periodic burnout - and maybe yours, too: Beltway Derangement Syndrome.
You're right if you think the diagnosis of Beltway Derangement Syndrome sounds familiar. While you've surely encountered its dangerous side-effects, you've also likely heard - from your friends on the right - about the concept of "Bush Derangement Syndrome", a diagnosis coined by a man who has made a living outside the reality-based community, Charles Krauthammer. It was Krauthammer who coined the phrase in 2003: "Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency - nay - the very existence of George W. Bush." Now this, of course, is a load of steaming bullshit. And one that has been flipped around to refer to those in favor of the president. But it's important to know the other side's personal problems become ours with which to deal. And deal with them we do, through Beltway Derangement Syndrome and its dangerous partner-in-crime, Secondhand BDS.

In as concise a definition as possible, Beltway Derangement Syndrome can be defined as the disregard for reality - either creeping or acute - that can grip those whose job it is to report on and/or discuss national politics, most often from Washington. Its causes are myriad, ranging from laziness to intellectual incuriosity to partisanship to the trading of integrity for access. As I mentioned earlier, BDS has a potentially lethal counterpart, Secondhand BDS. This malady can, if we let it, grip us, those who, in the course of their political activism, consume political media, ranging from Washington Post editorials to Joe Klein columns to "Hardball" to FOX News, for example. In other words, Secondhand BDS represents the blurred sense reality brought on by over-reliance on and overdose of Beltway "conventional wisdom".

BDS is a manifestation of a systemic problem, one starting as far back as our nation's journalism schools. There, I saw firsthand how a climate of incuriosity bred a culture of mediocrity. And there, I saw how second-rate aspiring journalists could turn "network" from a noun to a verb and become, as I wrote, "back-slapping, hand-shaking, card-exchanging ne'er-do-wells who would rather network than work, kiss ass than kick it." The problem only starts there, however, as the entire corporate media landscape forces those journalists not already toeing the company line to devote precious space to meaningless fluff, distracting process stories and the latest missing white woman.

The overemphasis on empty journalistic calories produces expected results. In the world of political journalism, this translates to a Fourth Estate power structure wed nearly completely to entrenched interests and, not coincidentally, the Republican Party line. High-profile journalists and pundits are now as well-to-do as those they cover. Threats to those in power, therefore, are threats to them. Witness the media's utter disdain for the bloggers whose sole offense is holding their feet to the fire. This climate fosters, more often than not, severe cases of BDS. Look no further than the many online destinations keeping track of these crimes against journalism - Media Matters and Think Progress come to mind - and you will see its symptoms.

But the symptoms - the lazy, sycophantic, ridiculously partisan journalism we face on a daily basis - aren't nearly as interesting to me as the feelings they inspire in those consuming such media. Even the most focused progressives, those busy using their power to take power, can succumb, albeit temporarily, to Secondhand BDS. These feelings of gloom, doom, doubt and pessimism can't help but creep in after prolonged exposure to the mainstream media. Maybe, we think, the new Democratic Congressional leadership hasn't been as successful as it has. Maybe, we think, that the prosecutor purge - like so many administration scandals before - won't amount to much. Maybe, we think, the president is poised to regain his stride. Maybe, we think, that his plan for Iraq will work out in the end.

But we know none of this is the case. We know it. Last November, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we handed the Republicans their ass. We're in the majority now and are starting to act like it. At any moment, Alberto Gonzales could resign. And, as Atrios noted Monday, "People hate Bush and hate this war. It's that simple, and it's been true for quite some time." What's more, on issue after issue, the American people are closely aligned with the Democratic position. Yet why, then, do we sometimes find ourselves fighting these feelings, most often while watching cable news? Why do we sometimes feel like the innocent man being interrogated, made to think he actually did steel that car? Why do we sometimes feel as though what we're doing won't make a difference? There's no mistaking this feeling, the one that hangs over you like the piece of bad news that can't help but overshadow what should be a great time. It's Secondhand BDS.

The best part about Secondhand BDS is that it is entirely preventable. One way, of course - and perhaps the best for your sanity - to combat Secondhand BDS is to change the channel. Ignore those who have been so wrong on so many issues, as their case of BDS is likely beyond repair. Another is to confront what ails you head on. Fight the source of your headaches. Pressure advertisers. Write journalists. Contact their bosses. Because today's DonImus could be tomorrow's GlennBeck. Believe it. And believe in yourself and your cause. You are on the right side, not them. And your side is in charge, too. Resist the burnout that can slow your progress. Fight the conventional wisdom. Be the change. Remember: Only you can prevent Secondhand BDS.

Tags: Democrats, journalism, Media, Republicans (all tags)

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