Does the left in America have the ability to sway public opinion?
In an article in today’s edition of Salon, writer Heather Digby Parton takes a close look at the Second Amendment to the Constitution and how it has been interpreted by the courts up to the present day. The notion of the “right to bear arms” as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution was only validated by the Supreme Court in 2008. Up to that point, throughout most of our history as a nation, American courts had rejected that interpretation and almost unanimously agreed the amendment was referring to a militia member and not the average citizen.
Parton recounts that in 1977, a fringe group within the NRA began taking control of the organization and eventually changed its focus from hunting and gun safety to a powerful lobbying group promoting the idea that the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. Not only did the character of the NRA change, but so did the national discussion about gun ownership to the point where today we have people walking into McDonald’s and Wal Mart openly carrying weapons as if we live in some sort of dystopian Zombieland.
The article looks at the power of public opinion, and how the NRA was able to gain support for its views by changing public opinion and winning lawmakers to its side. The point is made that if progressives want to fight this, they too need to sway public opinion. I question whether that’s even an option.
Today’s media is a corporate-driven enterprise bound to the bottom line. It is not an arena of free and open discussion. Positions that corporatists deem dangerous or that might offend large segments of their audience simply do not get airtime. Gun owners who are members of the NRA or identify with NRA goals are going to be politically conservative, which usually translates into pro-business. Progressives, on the other hand, will be critical of current gun laws and vote for liberals. Who do you think is going to get their message out on the mainstream media?
This doesn’t just apply to the Second Amendment debate. The rise and fall of the Occupy movement is a perfect example of a popular uprising being marginalized and trivialized by the mainstream press. There is a firewall set up by media corporations that blocks progressive ideas from reaching mass audiences, making it extremely difficult for progressives to even get their message out, let alone sway public opinion.