My Way or the Highway
March 16, 2002
By Taylor Sias
It is said that every good story needs a villain. Heroes are born out of opposition to an evil. The heroic reach their status by defeating the evil, proclaiming victory, and riding off into the sunset a la John Wayne. When evil is discussed, names like Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein come to mind. Their blatant disregard for all cultures but theirs, allow them to be subjected to the title "evil".
The aforementioned characters commit actions so heinous, so vile, that they are truly demonic. These figures are reviled not just because of their beliefs, but instead their actions.
The attack on beliefs distinctly has begun in America. The GOP, exuberant about their recent successes and high approval ratings of their president, and more specifically conservative pundits, are dropping the hammer on all dissension. They have finally found their man, an individual to blame everything from 9/11 to the feces they stepped in on their way to the Capitol on. He is the face of evil. The man is Tom Daschle.
Tom Daschle by all accounts is a reasonable man. The Senate Majority Leader, a South Dakota democrat, is being groomed to replace Bill Clinton as the face of liberal evil. Rumors run abound that the Senate Democratic Leader is prime to make a presidential run in 2004. Publicly, Daschle exudes a calm exterior and moderate nature that should be hard to exploit. He displays none of the characteristics of many Republican leaders, who fuel controversy with outlandish comments. Unlike Newt Gingrich who was easy to hate, Sen. Daschle is a likable guy.
In late February, Sen. Daschle spoke up for a significant population of the country who are uncertain about the war effort."We really don't know what the direction is, frankly. We talk about going into Yemen. We're talking now about going into the Philippines and other places." Daschle expanded, "Before we go into a lot of these other locations, I think it is important for us to better understand what our purpose is, how long will we be there, how many troops will be there, how does it affect our efforts in Afghanistan." The comments made on FOX News Sunday, and other outlets, have allowed the conservatives to label Daschle as unpatriotic and practically a traitor.
See, Daschle is becoming the face of patriotic opposition. The kind of opposition right-wingers are trying to quell. It is becoming evident that the liberties the military are fighting for conflict with the actions politicians and pundits present inside national borders.
Perhaps the best example of censorship of expression is seen at the top. After Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect, made some controversial comments (which I will expand on) White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer provided a harbinger of future events. When asked a question by a reporter regarding Maher, Fleischer suggested that people had better, "...watch what they say." There was a time that an individual could say what they want in America, under the condition that the speech was not slanderous. Americans can say whatever they want, regardless of how stupid, and individuals can dismiss it if the remark has no merit. While Mr. Maher was not offended, it offers some foreshadowing as to the future of free speech. Most Americans don't have a television program to articulate ideas, but citizens have the right to opine in other forums.
Opposition is being restricted by Republicans because they can. The idea of loyalty to our President is an easy one to sell to the American public. Hanging a flag from one's residency or a "United We Stand" bumper-sticker are patriotic gestures. These symbols mean that their owners love America and would never disagree with our Emperor. While stickers and flags represent commitment that must be applauded, it is not patriotic per se. Patriotic is what Sen. Daschle does, and countless others do on various media outlets. Patriotic is staying informed, and disagreeing when necessary in a respectful manner. When discussing matters of national importance in an open forum, the fair-minded can make concessions and understand the positive components of debate.
The reaction to Daschle's comments have contradicted patriotism. Republicans have set out to defame Daschle by calling him names. Anything to divert attention from the issues he introduced. It is easier to take a quote and manipulate it into controversy. The complexities of a war-effort cannot just be handled by a group of individuals with similar ideologies. As evidenced by the split in 2000's presidential election and the near 50-50 nature of the Senate, the whole country does not concur completely with the Bush Administration. It is the sign of egomania to believe that no other opinion is valid. The act of raising queries and expecting legitimate replies is the personification of loyalty. Loyalty is not defined by picking a side, refusing to allow opposing viewpoints, and controlling everything.
Tom Daschle in this sense is not merely a man, but a voice for those afraid or not allowed to vocalize theirs. Tom Daschle represents what our nation's majority is afraid to hear. Once one person begins questioning authority, more can follow. The domino effect can eventually rob those in leadership of their power. The act of putting oneself on the line, with knowledge of impending repercussions, is courageous and patriotic. For all the comments of traitor and troublemaker, it is necessary to understand those are only insults, not views. Intelligent discourse is perhaps the best quality of democracy. Free speech, symbolic speech, and speech plus are all protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. That does not allow any Tom, Dick, or Harry to go around verbalizing seditious speech or fighting words. On the liberal side, it is wrong to call George W. Bush simply a "thief". Instead of calling Mr. Bush a thief, liberals should investigate the intricate nature of election law and precedents. Only then can it be seen a discussion worth taking seriously, and not simply name-calling.
Once the initial hysteria of 9/11 calmed, and accepted views began to dissipate, we saw how America would react. Certain issues, like the horrendous loss of life and Osama Bin Laden's evil, are nearly impossible to dispute. The agreement was not the collaboration of Democrats and Republicans, rather the consensus of the majority of the world. Republicans were able to garner support for Bush, resulting in very high approval ratings. Gradually, they hoped to form a consensus of Americans that would overpower their opponents. In today's politically correct climate, the content of statements are examined after the controversial nature of them. Bill Maher's comments about the terrorists not being cowards and implying America was cowardly, made on September 17, has almost cost him his job.
To their credit, top conservatives like Rush Limbaugh supported Maher's right to freedom of speech. Still, the majority of Americans never took the time to examine the validity of the statement. Although the comment might be wrong, it was no reason for the ABC affiliate in Washington D.C. to pull the plug on his show. The idea expressed on that day now goes into an eternal file of questions that could be debated intelligently.
The question that must be asked is why discussion is not flowing like a sieve. The answer is multi-faceted, but our country's biased media is the main culprit. Reality in America is that people believe what they see on TV and radio. In the 1990's the Internet has garnered a massive following, but still has not made television and radio obsolete. The Internet provides a set for multiple philosophies. The colossal size and worldwide connection allows for immense dialogue. The Internet is a friend of freedom, and that is more than I can say for other mediums. The mainstream media, which I classify as TV, print, and radio, as a result of their demographic studies, have observed that more conservatives pay attention to their work. Since major media-tycoons are established entrepreneurs, they know how to make money. The advent of FOX News Channel in the last five years has forced the media to move further right. FOX, founded by Rupert Murdoch, pragmatically decided adopt a conservative attitude to garner a targeted audience. FOX has been highly successful, forcing markets to adopt their programming by the masses. FOX stunned CNN and MSNBC by competing remarkably with them. CNN, established for over 20 years, is being beaten regularly by FOX. Consequently, CNN and MSNBC have raced to catch the eye of the "Rush Limbaugh" audience.
The bias of media take away the defenses of the everyday American. Shows like Hannity & Colmes on FOX exemplify the media's corruption of perception. Sean Hannity, the conservative half of the program, is a bona fide star in the conservative community. He also hosts the nationally syndicated The Sean Hannity Show on radio. When the premise for the show was discussed, it was originally titled Hannity & Liberal TBA. From the beginning, it showed balance was going to be in name only. The network eventually brought on Alan Colmes, a former stand-up comedian and hardly a known quantity. Admittedly, he's not as far left as Hannity is in the polar opposite direction.
More familiarly was CNN's long-running Crossfire. For years, the network pitted liberal Bill Press versus die-hard conservatives Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak. It would be impossible for Press, a jolly fellow and former DNC Chairman in California, to compete with such stalwart conservatives. The networks have treated their programming like carnies at the fair midway. It's going to be damn hard for the liberals to win, because the tilt is on unbeknownst to most.
The cable-news networks, also owned by corporations, are afraid to offend. AOL Time Warner, which owns CNN, isn't prime to have protests and boycotts because of a controversial figure. General Electric, which controls MSNBC along with Microsoft, would not be willing to risk their credibility on a non-mainstream viewpoint. Disney, Murdoch, and other corporate leaders are no different. Therefore, every show is nearly indistinguishable from each other. The poll numbers are shoved down the viewer's throat, making them insecure if they do not constitute the majority. Since America is the home of conformity, people change their views to fit the norm.
Radio, although not as powerful as television, holds similar biases. The overwhelming amount of radio hosts are conservative. Rush Limbaugh, talk radio's star, serves as a template for competitors. Mr. Limbaugh attracted such a following, causing others to milk the cash-cow. Radio personalities like G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame, and Michael Medved lead the group of conservatives on radio. On WJNO 1290, West Palm Beach's primary talk-radio station, conservatives are showcased more than liberals. WJNO aired Laura Schlesinger and Rush Limbaugh back-to-back. The only dissenter is Randi Rhodes, a combative liberal aired locally. Ms. Rhodes agonizes that she cannot advance in radio because conservatives are too dominant.
Ironically, Ms. Rhodes has the top-rated show on WJNO. Her program is popular, indicating some people agree with her views. The ratio of conservatives to liberals is not overwhelming, so why are the talk shows aired?
Skepticism in America is being replaced by unwavering belief in government. Cynicism, as some might call it, leads the truth to be told. The Pentagon Papers never would have been released if not for committed opposition to the Vietnam War. Skepticism keeps the powerful honest. The power in a democracy only can obtain influence if the majority of its subjects consent to it.
Every story reported in media should require stark evaluation. Personal motives, bias, and many other factors need to be considered. Most humans are not stupid, but consciously choose not to think. It is much easier to say "I believe in President Bush." A central-command figure provides the proverbial "security-blanket". Thinking can cause pain. It can cause apprehension. Criticism can be downright scary. Those emotions are unpleasant, but compare favorably to the alternative. Knowledge is power! It is better to know why the world is on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, rather than have it come out of the blue. With the advantage of information, civilization has a fighting chance to survive.
The post 9/11 world has been compared at times to a novel of great prominence by George Orwell, 1984. Another analogy is fitting too. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury mirrors a prolonged effect if 9/11 behavior continues permanently. At a measured pace, those who can will censor the unpopular. When people finally realize the dire straits civilization has amounted to, it will be past the time for a simple solution.
After September 11, many Americans took the time to evaluate what was important to them as individuals. A lot of Americans went to Church, and others just spent some extra minutes with their loved ones. In that evaluation, what it means to be American should be included. The duty of every American is to be controversial sometimes. When people become afraid of being different, they become too alike. If that happens, we might as well start saluting Fuhrer Bush and killing the Jews again.
Taylor Sias is the news editor for the William T. Dwyer High School newspaper, "The Panther Prowler."