Monday, March 12, 2007

The Re-Education of America

There's a joke I heard some comedian tell once that went more or less like this:


Every once in a while, I'll engage in a bit of introspection about my life and review what I've done or said during the past few years, and invariably I'll come to the conclusion that about 5 years ago, based on the evidence, clearly I was being a real asshole. I've done this enough times for it to finally dawn on me that, five years from now, I'll mostly likely realize that I'm being a real asshole right now. I think this is why older people tend not to babble on as much as younger people. They've figured this out.
I thought of this joke when thinking about the fact that five years ago I was much more liberal, politically, than I am today. Don't misunderstand, I'm not equating being liberal with being an asshole...quite the contrary. It's just that my views on certain issues are more conservative than they used to be. When I first started realizing this, I found it a bit alarming. Am I being brainwashed by the VRWC? Or, even more alarming, is it simply a natural path for people to grow more conservative as they age? And if so, does that suggest that being conservative comes with wisdom, and being liberal is a youthful folly?

After all, there's that famous quote, infamously attributed to a whole host of characters, so I won't say who I heard had said it, that goes:


If a man isn't a socialist when he's 20, he has no heart. If he's still a socialist when he's 30, he has no head.
Is that all it is? Liberalism is an idealism-fueled state of youthful, wishful thinking? There might be a grain of truth to that, but it wouldn't explain the tendency for some generations to be more conservative than others when they reach adulthood. Nor would it explain the roller coaster ride of popularity both political ideologies take throughout history.

No, I think in my case, there's a bit of getting more settled as I get older, but reading
Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly, I think there might be another influence on my thinking here as well:


Media Matters reports that the Democratic victory in the 2006 midterms has had almost no effect on the guest lists of the Sunday chat shows: with the exception of ABC's This Week, they've all continued to invite considerably more conservative guests than liberal guests. More Republicans than Democrats. More pro-war than anti-war. Etc.

I know. You're shocked.
Full report here.
I watch those shows, so I was shocked to learn that not only do they all (including ABC's This Week) have more guests identified as Republicans than Democrats (why didn't that register with me?), the percentage of Republican guests actually increased for all of them from 2005 to 2006. Meet the Press invited 36% Republicans vs. 29% Democrats in 2005, but 41% Republicans vs. 27% Democrats in 2006, for example. See the charts for all 4 major network programs here.

And before you assume that this is merely a reflection of who was in power, note that more Republican-identified journalists were invited to be guests than Democrats as well. From the conclusion of the report:
When we released our prior study on this topic a year ago, the response from some network representatives was that their guests merely reflected the realities of power: When Republicans were in charge, Republicans were asked to appear more often, and when Democrats were in charge, Democrats were asked to appear more often. If they offered this argument in good faith, the coming of the new Democratic Congress would see a swing toward Democrats and progressives on their shows.

So far, such a swing has only occurred on ABC's This Week, and to a lesser extent on Fox News Sunday. Furthermore, no network representative has ever given an answer to the question of why conservative journalists outnumber progressive journalists so dramatically on the Sunday shows. This question has nothing to do with which party is in power, and the disparity has been obvious for all of the past decade.
So what to do about it? I don't want to stop watching the unfair and unbalanced Sunday Morning programs. They're entertaining. But what if all that extra exposure to conservative ideas has slowly led me away from my liberal leanings? Me and the rest of country? Shouldn't the networks be made to answer for this disparity?

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24 Comments:

Blogger Patrick May said...

A colleague was raised on the concept of the "line of hypocrisy". The idea is that for every position there is a line where one becomes a hypocrite. You can choose were that line exists, but it is always there.

It changes how one evaluates political values. I'm curious -- you see yourself has having become more "conservative" over time. How has your line of hypocrisy become more "conservative" over the years?

3/12/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous cjagers said...

The "famous" quote is from Winston Churchill. However, he used the words "conservative" and "liberal."

On another note, I am not sure what these mean anymore, separate from there gross stereotypes.

3/13/2007 03:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"is it simply a natural path for people ..."

I guess I'm so old and feeble I get to unapologetically say: No. Ditch the CW canards. Moreover...I just wrote a couple hundred more words, but I've decided to self edit. Best to you Ed. I'm an old fart and beyond labeling, unless the labels are editable like the ones they put on produce. Mmmm...starchy labels.

3/13/2007 05:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah it's funny I couldn't get [my head] around the idea that my kid had to read all this non-fiction to really get ahead. I thought how can you get ahead being totally immersed in indoctrination, and be totally perverse and naive about fiction. And then I thought, loud. Actually I saw a signpost that read you are here a mile out of the town I was visiting, and I got it. I screamed here is just a lump of grass growing up a fucking useless signpost that tell me less in reality than the map I am holding. And if a map is just a sheet of folded paper then what the fuck is this signpost, a sheet of folded reality? A blade of grass, I think bent, and bowed. I don't know. My knees were too far up.
Jumping back in the cabin to saddle up I must admit I felt these niggling cuts around the ankles.

3/13/2007 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous michael cambre said...

conservatives know that you are what you read and watch and hear. that's why they spend so much time trying to control access to it. when i first moved to new york in 1999 fresh from sc i would pick up reading material for the train and of course the post was only a quarter and being poor i got it everyday. i didn't know the difference between it and the daily news or any other ny daily. after reading it for a month one day at lunch i found myself agreeing with some whacked out column by michelle malkin??? fortunately i caught myself and switched to the daily news then the times now none of them...
i agree with you about the sunday shows. they are "entertaining." but it's like slowing down to watch an accident on the interstate.

3/13/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Nice try, Edward, but I'm not convinced. There's no way I can think of you as a conservative. Unless you have a very different idea of what a conservative is than I do :)

3/13/2007 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

There's no way I can think of you as a conservative.

{{shudder, shudder}}...perish the thought.

No, I'm simply saying that my thinking on several issues is closer to the center than it was 5 years ago (I moved toward the conservative stance). Why that happened is what concerns me. I don't like the center. I'm morally much more comfortable on the left. I can't even conceive of myself anywhere right of center.

3/13/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, I don't think that's a bad thing. The fact that you're even thinking about any issues sets you apart from most of the right, and much of the extreme left for that matter.

The very terms liberal and conservative seem to me totally inadequate to describe the diverse sets of issues and views that often get lumped together. Labeling something liberal or conservative (or even center) is an easy (and lazy) way to dismiss another point of view without having to really consider it. I'm happy to see you're not doing that. Now if you can just let go of the labels (I have trouble doing that too).

3/13/2007 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

Well, I considered myself a liberal, thoughtful person ten years ago. Now I am one of those conspiracy theory people. The behavior of this administration can only be described in conspiracy theory terms.

Now when people ask me what I am politically, I say socialist.

3/13/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous bnon said...

Ed,

I don't think the networks should be made to answer so much as I think people should READ to get their news. Anything in-depth, magazines and books, will serve you better, and probably present rational liberal arguments better and more frequently. My impression is that intellectuals are overwhelmingly still liberal. Also, I remember someone in who worked in TV telling me that the slang in the business for "tv camera" was "asshole magnet." So guest selection in TV-land might be skewed by this factor, too.

3/13/2007 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...the slang in the business for "tv camera" was "asshole magnet."

Great name for a band.

Another piece of slang trivia - actors are sometimes referred to as "meat puppets".

3/13/2007 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Edward - Maybe you're just becoming less ideological. You'll always belong to the "mommy party" (that's not my terminology), but you realize the world isn't perfect and isn't going to realign itself according to your requirements. Just my thoughts. History shows bad results for people who try to realign the world according to their theories.

Churchill is reported to have uttered the original statement because he had to defend switching from the liberal party to the conservative. One moderate person I know says he's liberal enough to try new things and conservative enough to keep what works. Younger people try more new stuff, older people keep more old stuff. And experienced people act increasingly in line with their real-world experiences.

3/13/2007 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well--maybe it also has something to do with having a successful business and making some money, rubbing shoulders (and more) with wealthier people who have more conservative ideologies--so there is a bit more to lose than there used to be in straying too far afield? also it seems that as many people age they naturally tend to drift closer and closer to recreating some version of the way they were brought up.

3/13/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

Edward_

I too have found myself becoming more conservative the last few years, but only as the Republicans have abandoned conservatism. That is, I'm no closer to being one (whew!), but some positions they traditionally held don't seem so bad anymore: fiscal cautiousness, skepticism of the ability of government to change people's nature with big programs, letting state's decide certain issues...

Why have I shifted? Perhaps getting older, and perhaps because there's a part of me that's contrarian, and the longer I live in NYC surrounded by liberals who don't think about their political opinions at all (not that Republicans do either, it's just that we happen to be surrounded by liberals in the artworld), I end up arguing with them. After a while, I started to believe my own arguments...

Considering the crooks in charge, there is a type of "ideological vacuum" right now, because no actual governing idea is being tested by the party in power, just the demonstration that power corrupts. This gives one the chance to try on a few different political philosophies to see what fits.

3/13/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

it's just that we happen to be surrounded by liberals in the artworld

Which has its ups and downs, but is ultimately harmful, I think. I think hearing back only your own ideas (like happens in echo-chamber-like political blogs) is next to useless in forming new solutions to problems. The back-and-forth of debate is the best means I can think of to find the best cures to what ails us.

3/14/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beware of what you listen to as well. A lot of well-meaning folks listen to NPR and the likes of Diane Rehm without realizing how right the left has swung. For instance, Rehm has regularly included Bill Kristol of PNAC and the Weekly Standard as well as members of the neocon American Enterprise Inst. on her Friday morning panels to discuss isses like WMDS, Iraq war, terrorism and the manufacturing of evidence to go to war. How can Kristol in particular be considered an objective journalist when his group Project for the New America Century has been pushing for war with Iraq since they first wrote Clinton a letter in Jan. 1998 advocating regime chance in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power due to the POSSIBLE threat of WMDs.
http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm
Not to mention that many of the original signatories to PNAC's statement of principles have held significant postitions in the Bush Administration's security, defense and international relations depts. including Bill Armitage, I Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney, Elliot Abrams, Paula Dobriansky, Donald Rumsfeld , Paul Wolfowitz, and Zalmay Khalilzad (US ambassador to Iraq, and Afghanistan (2003-2005) Kristol and the like are presented as reporters and journalists on both tv and radio with no mention to their connection to the corrupt powers that be when in truth they are ideologues who are the very sources of infomation and ideology that influenced the policies that got us into the mess we are in in the Middle East. The important message is to be diligent and read bewtween the lines and know your sources. (EW please delete if this is a repeat, my first attempt to publish didnt go through)

3/14/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

I was once conservative I suported the war made brass generaliztions of things that were blatantly wrong but growing up my mind open. I began to educate myself I was not a republican but or democrate but I am certainly more a lot more liberal than I was 6 or 7 years ago. The conservative party I am sad to say is full of hipocites as is the liberal party but unfortunatly the republicans have a lot more why they. A good example is this blog. I have found very few conservative blogs for open minded conversation and the ones that do basically take a lot of things out of context and somewhat like an old bully from elementry mocks the left saying we got you now simply by saying your full of shit. I vote democratic I live in Alabam and am surronded by republicans that hate education. I hope to find well rounded individuals like you lets debate huh my email is luxaton@gmail.com please my brain is teaming for it.

3/14/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello echo chamber black hole!



if you are all so worried about your pristine liberal minds being corrupted by rationality then maybe you should climb into a deeeep hole and think liberal thoughts with your fingers deeply plugging your ears.

3/14/2007 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

That just proves what I said before

3/15/2007 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

if you are all so worried about your pristine liberal minds being corrupted by rationality

You say "rationality" ... I say "laziness-and-self-entitlement--inspired bigotry and self-righteousness" but hey, live and let live.

3/15/2007 08:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

As you age, you either realize that a successful life requires compromise, pragmatism, and careful selection of one's battles, or you turn into one of various kinds of idiots. Ignorance produces extremists. Wisdom produces moderates. Most of us are on a continuum somewhere and hopefully moving in a good direction.

3/15/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous jason said...

Ignorance produces extremists. Wisdom produces moderates.

Right...so I guess it makes sense that so many historical figures, from Plato to Rousseau to Marx to Malcolm X, were considered radicals or extremists during their lifetimes. A political moderate is someone who, more often than not, agrees with the status quo of the current political system -- that is, they are generally satisfied with the way things are being run. Such a view is not necessarily the result of wisdom, but an aversion to change. It is most often advocated by those already in a position of power -- those who would have much to lose in an alternate system. I would consider the vast majority of elected Republicans and Democrats to be political moderates.

it's just that we happen to be surrounded by liberals in the artworld

I really haven't found this idea to be anything other than a myth. While many support the moderate Democratic party, I think many more artists and small-time gallerists are closet libertarians (the conservative American political party, not the European connotation, which is closer to anarchism). The higher one goes on the artworld food chain, the more conservative the players become -- to the point that most of those with the greatest power to shape the art system (mega-collectors, museum board trustees, auctioneers, etc.) are extremely conservative.

Maybe Edward_'s movement towards a more conservative outlook has something to do with the increasing success of his art business, and his rising status in the art world.

3/15/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

Jason, perhaps I shouldn't speak for others, and not for the upper levels of moneyed folk who are greasing the wheels of the art world boom (where I'd expect to find a lot of "Rockefeller Republicans"). But at least in my own circles, I am surrounded by liberals. It's no myth.

I love going back to my family in Indiana, just to have some opinions to push against. And where, can you believe it?, I sometimes encounter thoughtful people of a conservative persuasion, whose ideas are worth wrestling with in good faith.

Concerning your obvious contempt for moderates, I suppose it's disheartening for an agitator to have to come to grips with the fact that most people just can't get it up for that kind of political extremism. Being aware and informed doesn't automatically lead to an insatiable desire to tear the machine down.

3/15/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

Concerning your obvious contempt for moderates

This is definitely not true; sorry if you took it that way. Most of my friends are self-described liberals (which, I would argue, means moderate), some are libertarians, and a few are conservatives. I may disagree with them from time to time, but I still love them all equally.

I was not arguing that 'wisdom breeds extremists' and 'ignorance breeds moderates,' but instead disagreeing with Franklin's assertion that "Ignorance produces extremists. Wisdom produces moderates." I think that wisdom can produce ideas anywhere along the political spectrum (as history proves: Plato was a radical, but Aristotle was more moderate; both were geniuses). This is because political theory is not merely determined by one's grasp of knowledge, but also one's ethical philosophy (e.g., Thoreau found slavery to be repugnant, while Aristotle thought it was completely acceptable).

I think one of the things that our conservative government has been successful at in their "War on Terror" is in convincing the American public that all radical ideas or actions are bad. The truth is, if it were not for radicals and extremists, slavery would never have been abolished, and women would still be waiting for the right to vote. Even more urgently, the planet will probably soon be unlivable if the radical warnings of environmentalists are unsuccessful at curtailing the current rate of environmental destruction.

3/15/2007 07:42:00 PM  

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