March 26, 2005

Air America


I can’t tell you how lost I felt after listening to liberal columnist Robert Sheer on the radio yesterday. 

Sheer was worked up over how the right wing has appropriated the Terri Shaivo case, and how nobody in authority seems to be countering it.  He brought up the hypocrisy of the Republicans cutting benefits in the current budget for the disabled; routinely putting people to death in the name of criminal justice; and forsaking the legitimate opportunity to help protect people (especially those without means) from having life extending treatments withdrawn or withheld.  Also, he had a good lather built up over the lapdog media, especially for continuing to allude to Terri Schiavo as if she were sentient.

Earlier this week, I did an entry (Seeking Cover – link) analyzing the front illustration of the latest New Republic.  The issue featured an article by Robert Reich describing how the Democrats could spin more effective story lines.  With the frustration I’m feeling now, it seems it was written in a voice that was just a little too complacent.

Reflecting on the madness of the past ten days, one thing that has stood out is the fact that the most intelligent, clear, eloquent and defiant voice articulating the attempted hijacking of the Congress, courts and the media in the name of religious fanaticism belonged not to John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean or Harry Reid, but to George Felos, Michael Shiavo’s lawyer.  (Okay, I give Barney Frank an honorable mention.)

In the midst of the Radical Right’s current assault of Congressional due process, judicial due process, and medical due process, I came across still one more current magazine cover fretting over the Democrats (in this case, regarding the “values question”).  The source, this time, was Mother Jones.

Of course, Mother could never have anticipated the Schaivo explosion.  Nevertheless, its really a punch in the gut to be staring at such graphics at a time when the moral manipulation couldn’t be more obvious.  But instead of somebody in power putting these reactionaries in their place, here I am — trapped in my car — listening to radio commentators (several of them liberal, or at least moderate), describing the Democratic leadership indelicately as “brain dead.”  (Actual, from an anatomical perspective, a better metaphor might involve the spine.)

So, lets look at Mother’s cover for a moment.

First, regarding the headline:  Who do they mean by “we?”  I’m not sure if this refers to the Democratic party, or just liberals (the Democrat’s so-called “Democratic wing”).  (By the way, somebody please tell me, who are the  “progressives” again?)  Because I’m confused, please bear with me if I refer to the Democrats and the left interchangeably.

Of course, there are all kinds of basic problems and questions this visual raises.  Does the left have a tendency to become too lofty?  Does the party, especially the more well off end of it,  tend to feel taller than those beyond the liberal cities with whom it doesn’t see eye to eye?  Is the left associated too strongly with urban America?  Has the party lost touch with its base? 

Another thing this image reflects is how uncomfortable the Democrats are with morality as a concept.  To mention Sheer again, he is constantly saying that the consciousness of the left — emphasizing social and economic justice — is inherently moral.  Instead, however, the Dems seem to have bought into the notion that moral values only apply to moral issues. As the image implies, the Democratic party seems to be lost in the clouds on the issue, overlooking the fact the party expresses a higher calling “on the ground”  every day in its approach to policy.

There are interesting compositional elements here, as well. 

For example, where did this photo of New York come from?  I might be wrong, but it looks historical.  (Since we’re looking north from downtown, I would think we would see the Met Life building, for example.)  If it is dated, does it suggest that the party or the left wing is somehow antiquated?  (You could see this same theme in the New Republic cover I mentioned, with the party represented by a yellowed book and an icon of an old fashioned White House.)

Also, given the geography, is there a possibility that this guy, towering in the sky, is situated at Ground Zero?  If so, is the inference that the Democrats have lost their sense of ground since (or, as a result of) 9/11? 

Or maybe my siting is slightly off.  Maybe the ladder is rising out of Wall Street.  Maybe the implication is actually that the party has been captured by a bunch of white guys in suits (fronted by centrists like Clinton, and maybe now Dean also) who have titled the party rightward in the interest of upward mobility, and continue to lean even further that way. 

My God, I look at this picture and I wonder, what has become of the Democrats (and, also, the liberal movement)?  Whether the background is Washington, the mid-West, the South, or Florida right now, you can hardly paste us into the picture.  It’s like we have nothing to lean against.  And the radical right, virtually out of our sight, has us completely off the ground.

(image: Mother Jones)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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