“Mom, Wife, Media Critic/Political Analyst, Blogger, Austen Fanatic, Unapologetic Liberal.” That’s Nicole Belle‘s bio at the Crooks and Liars progressive political blog, where she is Senior Editor and a regular contributor. Nicole has also written for Firedoglake, the ACLU blog, and elsewhere, and has been a frequent guest on political talk shows (including Turn Up the Night with Kenny Pick, where the author is a co-host).
With the 2012 presidential election just weeks away, and the campaign season in full frenzy, Messaging Matters spoke with Nicole to get her take on the political landscape:
What led you to become actively involved in progressive politics? Did you have a political journey, or a moment where you decided to get active?
I’ve always been fairly progressive. I am the child of very liberal, very political parents, who respected my intelligence enough to answer my many questions and to expose me to many cultures, faiths, countries, philosophies and people. I grew up both in and outside of the U.S. I don’t think you can travel/live abroad and not be liberal, because when you are the Other, you focus on what makes us similar and embrace the best of all the cultures you experience.
In terms of becoming active, I was invited to a “Young Leaders of Tomorrow” conference in high school (which was really a recruitment seminar for the Young Republicans) and ended up angering Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who spoke to us about American exceptionalism, for challenging his conservative talking points—this was during the Reagan administration—and although the convention organizers shushed me, I took great victory in knowing he knew that I had got the best of him.
Most recently, it was the Bush administration, from his extra-constitutional installation in the White House to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan that demanded I not stay silent. I saw the conflation the Bush administration made to justify the invasion and the horribly ignorant smearing of Muslims and it enraged me. Not only the politics of hate, but more importantly, that the media enabled the politicians and have never been held accountable. Moreover, I have two kids that I feel obligated to fight for. Everything I do is informed by my desire to leave my daughters a better world than we have now.
How did you hook up with the Crooks and Liars blog?
I found C&L searching for a clip of Jon Stewart smacking down Tucker Carlson. [Crooks and Liars founder] John Amato had the clip, and I felt like I found kindred spirits in the comments. I started to participate in the comments and got a lot of positive feedback. Amato noticed my comments and realized that I was passionately political and able to argue my point of view. We had a few email exchanges sharing jokes and takes on the clips he featured on the site.
I love Amato, but his quirky punctuation choices and typos bugged the editor in me and I took to copying and pasting his posts, correcting them and sending them back to him. John figured out that he needed someone full time and he offered me the position of Managing Editor. While I’m no longer managing the site full-time, it’s hard to give up the privilege of having my own small place in the national dialogue. I’ve gotten feedback from people I hugely respect (like Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow) and ones I’ve vociferously criticized (like Karl Rove) on posts I’ve written.
The Republicans and the Democrats recently held their national conventions. What were your impressions of each convention?
My initial reaction to the RNC was absolute disbelief in their incompetence. The convention was shoddily planned. The featured speakers almost never referenced their candidate, using their airtime for all intents and purposes to promote their own future candidacy. The speeches were lackluster, the jokes lame and don’t even get me started on Clint Eastwood. I can’t imagine a single person persuaded by that convention and that’s been confirmed by the lack of “convention bump” for the Romney campaign.
In contrast, the Democratic convention was Emmy nomination-worthy in its production. The prime time speakers were amazing, some of them giving the best speeches I’ve ever seen them give. They were thrilling, on message, and not only promoting Barack Obama, but did a great job knocking down the Republican talking point criticisms of him.
What really stuck with me is that we’re looking at two different mindsets and the question must be asked: what kind of country do you want to have? The Republican convention embodied the conservative mythology of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, of exceptionalism and keeping any lazy Other from taking what’s rightfully yours. The Democratic convention reinforced community; that we all do better when we try to raise everyone up. The question remains which resonates more with dispirited Americans nowadays.
In your January 2007 Crooks and Liars piece entitled “The Shame of the Press,” you wrote, “I think we all know that he who frames the debate and chooses the vocabulary wins from the beginning.” Would you explain this idea of framing?
It’s not that revolutionary a concept. When you set the terms of the debate, from what would be considered “in bounds” to what are the accepted definitions of words and phrases involved, you have already won the debate. So if I were to debate a Republican on the economy and used the Republican terminology around “job creators” and “entitlements”, I have essentially already ceded the argument to him. That argument is entirely constricted to the cost side of the equation. An intellectually honest debate would include the revenue side of the equation, but by accepting Republican framing, I’ve done a disservice to my strongest argument.
The problem I saw—and continue to see—that precipitated that particular post is that the media almost always adopts the terminology of the right. For example, I’ve never once seen [“Meet the Press” host] David Gregory not bring up “entitlement reform” as part of solving the deficit. Likewise, I’ve never seen him raise the issue that the top marginal tax rate is at its lowest level since the Gilded Age (and we know what happened to the economy then). Much of my work at Crooks and Liars has been looking at the dishonest framing of the issues by the media and how it invariably tips its hand towards the Republicans, despite the unearned reputation of the media being “liberal”.
Do any examples of either good or bad framing from either side stand out for you in the current political season?
There are so many that it is difficult for me to nail down just a few examples. Obviously, the “job creators” and “entitlements” framing is one that sticks in my craw. I also note “class warfare” (in describing any policy that suggests that the very wealthy should contribute more to society) as particularly egregious. In terms of effective framing, I think that “War on Women” has really put a pinpoint focus on exactly what the Republicans have been doing.
The Republican War on Women seems to be in full force, from “legitimate rape” to transvaginal ultrasound bills. What do you think the political consequences of this war will be?
Ultimately, I think it will bring out women to vote for Democrats. Republicans fail to realize that you can’t actually stop a woman from having an abortion. All you can do is make it less safe for her. And I promise you, there have been many a conservative politician who will scream about the sanctity of life in front of the camera who feel no such compunction when their teenage daughter comes home pregnant.
But this to me is not a War on Women, but a war on all of us. The decision to have a baby is not one to make lightly. And I say that as someone who wanted kids and find my greatest fulfillment in being a mom. Having children affects women on every level, including economically. When almost 1 in 3 kids lives in a single parent home (and 84% of those are with a single mother), the choice to have a child means that mother will have less economic mobility, less earning power and often will be paid less for the same job as her childless colleague. That’s a direct impact on the economy, and women recognize that.
And to paraphrase Mel Brooks’ movie, “Blazing Saddles”, this is the last act of desperate men. Take a look at those crowds at the RNC. Other than the minorities they carefully placed in the foreground, it was basically a bunch of old white men, who live on resentment and fear of the Other. Their lives are a zero-sum game: anything anyone else has is something they don’t. For a very long time, those guys were at the top of the food chain and now they have to share it with women and minorities, and that enrages them. So they lash out, and try to exert control wherever they can. But the arc of the universe bends towards justice, or progress. And we will win.
Speaking of the War on Women, what would Jane Austen have to say about today’s political climate?
Alas, Jane was fairly conservative, from what we can glean from her fairly paltry papers. She was not a suffragette, though I think she despaired at the economic restrictions placed upon her by society. She couldn’t be educated as well as her brothers because the expense would have been wasted on a female whose ‘job’ was to find a husband. Her family, while landed gentry, was not wealthy, yet she could not find employment without accepting a serious drop in social status, which would have obliterated her chance at a good marriage. Her most famous works were published anonymously because it would have been scandalous to take credit for them.
Her characters chafed under those same rules as well, so clearly Austen was conflicted about this. While they end up following the traditional happily ever after finish, Jane wrote beautifully imperfect and human creatures who valued their independence and who ultimately demanded a mate who treated them with respect, intelligence and equality (or as best as Regency England could approximate).
I do think that Austen would be amused no end by the Tea Party. Some of the most ridiculous characters in her books judged others with false piety and foolish pride. The rejection of facts, science and the ability to revise one’s point of view upon learning new information were mockable traits in her books. I like to think she would have loved to see a woman in the Oval Office some day rather than waiting for a rich man to offer his hand in marriage.
From Jane Austen to the War on Women, Nicole Belle seems to remind us that, as far as we have come as a nation and a world, we still have quite a way to go.