The United States of America is a beautifully abstract idea. It’s composed of fifty different democratic experiments, none of which know exactly what they’re doing. Beyond language they share very little in common. It is for this reason I have no inherit distaste for partisan journalism. It can easily spark debate between a multitude of voices competing in the “market place of ideas”. At it’s best it encourages civil engagement. At its worse, civil paralysis; closed worlds composed of different locals, different heroes against different villains, and different newspapers to legitimize all of it. While our beliefs may seriously differ we often fail to recognize the nuances between the officials we tend to elect are about as clear as those between Coke and Pepsi.
I’d be hesitant to suggest we’re in political paralysis, but certainly the moral and political imagination of my generation is starved. Both sides seem more content battling out cultural ideologies inherited from fifty years ago than participating in a contemporary dialectic . One side of the isle has constructed a sweepingly moronic chimera that effectively blocks any chance of conversation; the agenda of “liberal media .” I must ask, Who composes this cadre? When did it start? How can someone like William F. Buckley emerge from such structure? Are we talking the local news affiliates? Books? Movies? The whole lot working together? The idea that there is a central superstructure shaping the values of America as a whole not only seems paranoid, but reads like an Marxist evaluation of the media, and this is coming from the Right? Whose the Marxist now? Of course, “the media” do, as a whole, rely on audiences, they need to appeal to a mass. ABC,NBC, and CBS squirm under this commercial duress, while the likes of Fox and CNN profit exactly because they pander to one side.
This system makes someone like Christpher Hitchins so interesting to me . Hitchins is a tours de force. He has written for Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic. His articles provide basic information and a range of insights into Bellow, Borges, Byron, Churchill, Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Proust and a couple hundred others. His articles and essays have argued that the Cold War was an imperial pissing contest; Vietnam a horrific mistake; The New Deal saved democracy; progressive taxation entirely necessary; but he’s also supported the war in Iraq (he likened it to having the foresight to stop the Khmer Rouge, an argument that I think works if he was talking Desert Storm ); considers abortion murder and went into the habit of baiting, ridiculing and often slandering some of the most popular Leftist thinkers (including everyone’s favorite anti-capitalist Naomi Klein) . Many of his victims had at one time considered Hitchins a friend. Christopher Hitchins, the man that told Bill Maher’s audience they were no smarter than George W. Bush. Christopher Hitchins, the man that pleaded with The Nation‘s readers to abandon the “isolation” of America’s left-wing in exchange for Republican’s “willingness to risk dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”. I can think of few other individuals who can enrage the Left as much as Hitchins’ can.
So why is it when Hitch shows up on the Rights central nervous system is there such animus to his arguments ? There are a wealth of issues going on here (let us not forget that Hitchins is something of show-man. he’s in the business of selling his polemics); but a very simple answer could be that Hitchins does not easily fit into the immediate news cycle of the inherited “Us vs. Them”. To understand how Hitchins can support the idea of preemptive strikes on Iran but does not believe in Christmas takes time and attention. It also requires people to reassess what exactly they believe in. It seems like neither side really wants him, but neither side can really ignore him. Isn’t that exactly what we should be reaching for in a public figure?
Democracies are fragile devices that require constant participation and negotiation. After being the second president of the United States, John Adams warned “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”. So much of what of what I read, and hear today is constraining our political ambitions. Public engagement collapsing will bring with it the private and political sectors of this nation. We cannot continue to exist in our isolated worlds, ignoring information because it is part of some “agenda”. Nor can we only show up at the one anthers door to let them know we don’t agree with what they’re doing.
Our Politics should be based on pursuing realities… not chasing ancient phantoms
– I wrote this article yesterday while the Massachusetts elections were still unraveling. Brown ran a better campaign. I understand why he was elected, but I’m also pretty sure I tasted a little hemlock in my coffee this morning.