It is rather amusing (when
Im in a good mood) to hear conservatives
(especially religious ones) complain that
they are persecuted in American
society, that they dont get a saying,
that they have constantly to battle against
the liberal media bias. What persecution?
What liberal media? Dont get a saying?
What are these people talking about?
In the United States, conservatives now control
the Presidency, the House of Representatives,
the Senate, and a large number of State Governorships.
If we add to the list that the Supreme Court
is increasingly conservative, and may soon
become extremely so, in essence these people
control the country -- and set the agenda
for the rest of the world. What, then, is
there to complain? Why is this not enough?
Well, one thing to understand
about ideological zealots (again, both of the
religious and non-religious variety, though the
former are by far more common) is that they absolutely
know they are right, so there really is no point
in considering alternative opinions, is there?
Moreover, since they tend to see things in apocalyptic
terms, always painted in stark black and white,
then anything less than 100% victory can be construed
as a failure of cosmic proportions.
There is, of course, one little
area of American life where conservatives are
still by far in the minority: academia. By the
latest estimates, about 70% of faculty at US universities
consider themselves on the left within
the current political spectrum. Of course, this
has immediately raised the ires of conservatives,
who have recently had the audacity to claim that
there is a nationwide conspiracy to keep right-leaning
faculty out of our campuses. It isnt clear
whether the charge applies only to state universities
or includes the private ones (in the latter case,
one wonders how many liberal-leaning faculty are
on the payroll, say, at Bob Jones University).
But the fact remains indisputable: academia is
still a bastion of liberalism, and that aint
gonna change overnight, no matter how widespread
Outside of silly conspiracy theories,
why exactly is it that academia is full of liberals,
and why is it that the majority of the media used
to be equally favorable to moderately progressive
positions (at the moment, only The Onion and The
Daily Show are firmly into this category)? As
in the case of any search for causal explanations,
we must start with observations aimed at identifying
the characteristics that separate the two groups
in question (academia and the real world),
to see if such differences may be conducive to
the formulation of sensible hypotheses about the
underlying causal links.
There are three things, roughly
speaking, that come to mind: the high diversity
(ethnic, and of opinions) on college campuses;
the financial independence of faculty (after tenure);
and, oh yeah, the fact that the very idea of a
liberal arts education is to foster
critical thinking, dialogue, and the endorsement
of positions based on thoughtful consideration
of facts and values. Hmm, could it be that this
triplet makes for an environment in which ultraconservative
ideas just dont flourish? Could it be that
religious bigotry simply cant take the challenge
of an ongoing open discussion, where there are
no sacred cows and everything is fair game for
public criticism? Could this be why academic freedom
tends to be extremely limited in ultraconservative,
But, wait! Arent those very
characteristics of dialogue and critical thinking
precisely the ones everybody agrees should be
encouraged among the general public, since only
they can -- in the long run -- maintain a healthy
democracy? Ah, but there is the rub: the religious
and ultraconservative right does not really want
democracy, certainly not in the sense of a citizenry
that is intelligent, well-informed, and capable
of making decisions based on more than a knee-jerk
reaction to MTV-style simplistic slogans. That
must be why the Republican party, especially under
Bush, is so clearly against fostering education
(despite the risible no child left behind
program) and systematically attempts to discourage
voting among the American public.
The real question, unfortunately,
is whether there is anything that even remotely
looks like a liberal wing of the Democratic
party, or more broadly a left in the
American political spectrum. Frankly, Bill Clinton
has always looked to me like a moderate Republican,
and it is hard to believe that Howard Dean is
considered a radical within Democrats.
Have these people ever seen a radical in their
lives? Thanks to the right-wing propaganda (and
direct or indirect conservative control of most
of the media), the American public has come to
believe that the words liberal and
progressive are akin to, God forbid,
socialist or communist! There essentially is no
left in this country, just a moderate center,
followed by a right, an ultra-right, and a super-duper-ultra-right.
Pretty sad, but one has to admit that the extensive,
grass-root program of social reengineering began
by the Christian Coalition and similar groups
in the mid-70s has finally succeeded and, save
for the unlike possibility of miracles, the political
realignment is here to stay.
What, then, are we to do about
it? We need to learn from the competition, and
turn their own successful tactics against them.
I am not talking about attempting to rig the vote
during presidential elections, I am referring
to -- quite simply -- going back to the basics
and pick young, energetic people to run for office.
And do equip them with simple, bite-size, messages.
At the moment, thats all that a large chunk
of the American public seems to be able to deal
with. The time for more sophisticated, dare I
say European style? (see France, England, and
Germany, for example), political discourse may
come again, in a few decades. But we cant
keep seeking the high moral and political road,
while the other side is ruining not just this
country, but the rest of the world as well. Wake
up, smell the roses, and look for the next Bill
Clinton (as ultra-moderate as he was): a good
southern boy, politically centrist, with a charming
smile and a simple message. It still beats the
hell out of what we got now.
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