the Rabbit Hole
By Wayne Francis
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org