Loving This War

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW and still trying to make sense of the election. You remember the election -- that gave Republicans a thumpin'. But was there more to it than that?

Or less?

The day after, I was chatting with a colleague who sized up the Democrats' comeback as nothing less than a civic rebirth.

Maybe, he proposed, the election signaled recognition by voters that the past six years of polarization and hostility in the public realm neither resulted in effective government, nor did justice to who we are: a nation that agrees on most fundamental issues, and, when properly governed, can find consensus on the rest.

The past six years have been a sad misadventure, my friend said, from which citizens were now emerging, to resume dialogue and constructive bipartisan debate.

My friend looked so hopeful saying these things I felt bad that I had gone back to answering my e-mail even before he was done talking.

Oh, sure, maybe the voters have learned from single-party tyranny that checks and balances really are a good idea.

But I'm not convinced. Any more than I believe that people want more civilized behavior from political players, be they government officials or the media brigade that covers them. And speaking of the media, I don't believe that Fox News Channel, in its coverage or commentary, has been supplanted in its key role as a government voice.

Granted, this has been a tough slog of late for Fox News pundits. In the absence of worthy opposition, they've had to resort to demonizing Michael J. Fox, and all those subversives who insist on saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

As President Bush's popularity eroded, so did the Fox News audience. But I see it bouncing back, rejuvenated now that enemies are holding real power again.

Besides, I think people, whatever their political leanings, like a dogfight. That hasn't changed.

It's an appetite TV has increasingly found ways to cater to. Shows such as CNN's now-defunct Crossfire and the long-running syndicated McLaughlin Group helped pave the way.

But Fox News Channel perfected partisan TV, building on the tradition of Rush Limbaugh's pioneering radio ministry. And this, I think, is now the nation's chosen model for discussion, with each designated faction talking only to itself while dismissing or trashing its foes. And dedicated to maintaining an us-and-them divide.

Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, among others, says the prevalent conflict surpasses party or ideological considerations. It's a culture war, with what he damns as the Secular-Progressive Movement foremost on his enemies list.

O'Reilly, self-styled cultural warrior, isn't wrong. The culture war, with its freewheeling contempt for anyone who says and does whatever you don't like, is all the rage. It's a crowd pleaser. And it's a money machine. No wonder the media feed on it, while spurring it on.

And no wonder the popularity of the culture war helps set the tone for politics. If politicians know anything, it's shaping their message for their constituency.

The public rewards those in government or the media who put on the best show. Who keep us most amused. Who keep us angriest at people we've decided not to like.

Market forces rule -- simple as that -- no matter which party's in power. And though the culture war is guaranteed to keep us divided, that's a price we seem happy to pay. After all, how many of us are demanding a ceasefire?

Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer (and maybe a cultural warrior, too) Frazier Moore.