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Down the Rabbit Hole
July 23, 2003
By Wayne Francis

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

People intrigued by politics may find American society often resembles the nonsensical world described in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The world, revealed to Alice after she falls through a rabbit-hole, is a silly, upside-down downside-up sort of place. It is a place that obfuscates proper order, and a place that assigns ambiguous definitions to concepts such as truth, justice, time, and logic. It is a place so full of contradictions and abnormalities that Alice, ordinarily a bright, well-mannered young girl, is unable to keep her disposition at times, and has to rebuke some of the strange characters she meets on her journey.

One may argue that American society is now on a similar journey, but to say we have just entered the rabbit-hole is a misnomer. Indeed, for some time our political and cultural dialogue has been deteriorating to degrees of inanity that would make Alice's Wonderland appear a paragon of reason and virtue. There are many parties responsible for this predicament, but none more so than the gang of right-wing pundits found contributing daily political criticism on American television and radio stations.

To name a few, commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Michael Savage are part of an emerging group of conservative shock jocks who have infiltrated mainstream America with promises to offset a purported liberal bias in the media. While this notion-that American media are biased to the left-has been soundly refuted through objective studies done by media research organizations, none can disagree that politically correct language, which many take as evidence of "liberal bias," has inundated American's political discourse since the cultural revolutions of the 60's and 70's. This language, for all the good things it did for American society, created a vacuum that introduced characters like Limbaugh and Savage into mainstream airwaves. As a result, our civil discourse has been lowered and politically correct language and debate is counterbalanced by the vociferous, illogical rhetoric that characterizes right-wing personalities.

Before denouncing all conservative political critics as brazen, unlearned sophists, though, one should note the dichotomy between the American conservative movements of the past and present. Their politics aside, those that followed in the tradition of William F. Buckley Jr., and others of his sort, represent an ever-shrinking class of intellectual conservatism that sought to elevate political discourse to acceptable standards of dignity. Sadly, they failed, and down the rabbit-hole we go.

Imagine hearing Sean Hannity tell a guest on his radio show, "If you don't let your child read the textbooks at school, then they'll be smart." Also imagine hearing Rush Limbaugh assert that Bill and Hillary Clinton, two of most highly esteemed political figures around the world, would murder a Democratic presidential candidate if he or she threatened Hillary's chances of election in 2008. Furthermore, imagine Michael Savage, nationally syndicated radio host and best-selling author, tell a guest on his television show, "Oh, you're one of the sodomites. You should get AIDS and die, you pig! Why don't you see if you can sue me, you piece of garbage? Go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis."

Now imagine these transactions happening in a single day - which they did, July 7, 2003 - and you will have just a small snapshot of the dreadful nonsense that dominates much of America's radio and television airwaves. This particular day was nothing out of the ordinary, and much worse goes unchecked and unchallenged by Americans who know better.

Also on this day, Pat Robertson, evangelical preacher and leader of the religious right political movement, said on his website, "No culture has ever endured which has turned openly to homosexuality." This is the same man that claimed, "What Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is doing to evangelical Christians," and, "There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution." This preacher, who many Americans rely upon for spiritual guidance, typifies the modern conservative-lurking in the shadows until recent years, and now assaulting mainstream America with homophobic, sexist bravado based on a limited knowledge of history and erroneous religious and cultural assumptions. Alice's Wonderland is no abstraction. We are down the rabbit-hole, and beyond.

Expanding the aforementioned snapshot, on this same day also, prominent conservative magazine The Weekly Standard ran a cover story about Hillary Clinton's latest book Living History. The article, written by P.J. O'Rourke, had many complaints about the book, but first and chief among them was: "The book does not contain even a dog-worthy return to the vomit of the Lewinsky scandal." Those rare Americans that missed the avalanche of media stories on the 1998 Lewinsky scandal could, instead of looking for cheap thrills inside Mrs. Clinton's memoirs, consult one of the dozens of books written on the beleaguered subject. It seems ridiculous to expect Hillary Clinton - who had little to do with the actual scandal - to entertain anyone with juicy details about the debacle and to judge her for omitting such absurdity. However, this sort of criticism is the norm in many circles, and is representative of a new breed of conservative that is choking the life from America's intellectual discourse and causing a corruption and degeneration of our national political lexicon.

Also on this day in history, Ann Coulter's book, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, advanced to #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Although the jury is no longer out for Coulter, (having delivered its guilty verdict it went home and is now watching the evening news) it pays to return to her once more to illustrate the true nature of the conservative movement. The book concentrates most of its energy on refuting what Coulter calls, "The myth of McCarthyism." However, the scholar whose research Coulter borrowed from to make her case, Ron Radosh, has already denounced the book. Radosh recently said, "I am furious and upset about her book. She uses my stuff, Harvey Klehr, John Haynes, and Allen Weinstein to distort what we actually said and makes ludicrous and historically incorrect arguments. I think it is important that those who are considered critics of liberalism stop using our critical faculties when self-proclaimed conservatives start producing crap."

Coulter also contends, "Liberals are fanatical liars.Whether they are defending the Soviet Union or bleating for Saddam Hussein, liberals are always against America." Indeed, entire libraries could be filled with books refuting the inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and lies in a book like Coulter's, and therein lies the problem. This type of fanatical diatribe has saturated America's bookstores, newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations so much so that to challenge each false statement or erroneous line of reasoning would take a devoted army of veracious scholars with unlimited time and energy. No such organization exists, and further down the rabbit-hole we go.

A popular strategy for delivering conservative political opinion was recently summarized by senior writer Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard. Labash noted that conservative media "likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket." Illustrating this further, Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media? The Truth about Bias and the News, recently wrote in The Nation, "Liberals are in danger of political oblivion. Right-wing opinion media treats (liberal) principles as if they derived from The Communist Manifesto. Report on dissention about Iraq between Republicans and military men, and you're treated as the vanguard of the antiwar movement. Do the math on a tax cut geared to multimillionaires, and you've declared class warfare. Mention that Bush is neglecting homeland security while bin Laden remains at large, and you're giving aid and comfort to the enemy."

The degradation of our national dialogue has tangible repercussions. Noting recent polling data, one could easily conclude Americans are grossly misinformed about issues such as the War on Iraq, the economy, terrorism, and 9/11. Some recent polls reveal 59% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, and 50% believe Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers. 41% believe that WMD's have been found in Iraq, and 22% of Americans believe Iraq used weapons of mass destruction during the U.S. invasion. A simple review of press reports from any major news organization will reveal these assumptions to be false. As more Americans receive their news from conservative pundits, instead of from unbiased news sources, it seems plausible that such poll results will only increase.

While right-wing commentators fashion Alice's Wonderland into an American reality, significant problems are also developing in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. And while these critics rail against the "liberal" media establishment and the moral decay of our culture, citizens are experiencing a myriad of social troubles here at home. The unemployment rate is the highest in nine years, our budget deficit is the highest in our country's history, states are cutting vital social programs, and our stock market is stagnant. Furthermore, attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq are getting worse, international anger at the U.S. is out of control, and U.S. credibility has sustained permanent damage over the Iraqi weapons deception extravaganza.

There is solace in studying the history of countries that have demonstrated similar periods of prolonged public ignorance. Germany, France, Japan, and Italy, to name a few, experienced surges of irrational, highly disseminated political opinion at various stages in their cultural history. All enjoyed an eventual intellectual renaissance of sorts, though it came at great cost, and permanently changed the political and social character of their country. Many Americans, myself included, would welcome such a change.


Wayne Francis lives in Jacksonville, Florida. He welcomes questions and comments at waynefrancis25@hotmail.com

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