Righting the Wrongs of the Right
In Dante's Inferno, deceivers are sentenced to have their souls encased in flames, hypocrites are forced to wear cloaks weighted with lead, and those who use their powers of persuasion for insidious ends are doomed to suffer a continual fever so intense that their bodies sizzle and smoke like a steak splayed upon a George Foreman grill. But the worst affliction is reserved for those who know better and don't act on that knowledge. If we are going to avoid that fate, we need to purge ourselves of the media toxicity that has allowed the Right to flourish, and encourage those who know better to stand up and speak the truth.
Why have we been so vulnerable to such a brazen takeover of our foreign policy—allowing the launch of an immoral, unnecessary, and ultimately catastrophic war? Why have we tolerated staying on this disastrous course despite all evidence that it is leading us over a cliff? Why have we allowed the shredding of our Constitution— warrantless mass eavesdropping on American citizens, firing of U.S. Attorneys, quashing of dissent? Why have we enabled the corruption of American values—allowing torture to become policy, and permitting such obscenities as Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to replace the glory of Omaha Beach and the bold vision of the Marshall Plan? Why have we capitulated to the undermining of science—the suicidal denial of scientific reports on global warming and stem cell research? And nearly a century after the Scopes trial, why are we once again allowing the armies of ignorance to assail Darwin and evolution? With the consequences of the media's failure to do their job over the last seven years raining down on us every day, it's easy to point the finger of blame at our toothless journalistic watchdogs. It is indeed beyond time for reporters to become intrepid again and for the pundits to free themselves from the conventional wisdom. And it is just as easy to put the blame on our Democratic leaders who again and again became enablers, behaving more like loyal lackeys than the loyal opposition. It is also beyond time for them to stop being so easily cowed by attacks on their patriotism and by the cynical exploitation of fear and the now ritual waving of the banner of national security. But, ultimately, to put an end to the madness inflicted on us by the Right, we need to address the root causes of the rot afflicting our politics. And nothing is more central to this task than character. After all, not everyone is equally affected by the fear-mongering and the pressure to capitulate. Some—whether in the media or in elected office— manage to remain uncontaminated, or recognize their contamination earlier than others and join the fight against the forces polluting their judgment and their courage.
Otherwise, why did Jack Murtha change course on the war in 2005 while Joe Lieberman never managed to see through the fog of lies and manipulation? What made the late Paul Wellstone, even though he was facing a tough reelection battle, immune to the fears that led so many of his colleagues to vote for a war authorization resolution they knew was wrong? And what made Chuck Hagel stand up to his own party once the overwhelming evidence convinced him that the war was wrong?
In a word: leadership.
In this time of Lilliputian public figures it's clear that to end the hijacking of America by the Right each one of us needs to take up the gauntlet and stand up for the truth, no matter how many in the corridors of power or at the top of the media food chain would prefer to maintain the status quo. Leadership is a risky business requiring wisdom, courage, and fortitude—and as my compatriot Socrates put it, courage is the knowledge of what is not to be feared. Leadership has always been about seeing clearly while most around you have their vision clouded.
The American genius is about bringing out the extraordinary in ordinary people. Picture Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith going to Washington or Gary Cooper's Longfellow Deeds going to town. It wasn't elected officials who led the struggle for civil rights or the drive for women's rights or the fight to end the war in Vietnam or the war in Iraq. It was the people. And once again it will be the people trusting the truth they see—no matter how often it is denied by those in power—that will put America back on the road to goodness and to greatness.
The Right's orgy of greed, hubris, and arrogance will go down as an era marked by the celebration of selfishness and naked brute force. Over this past year it seemed, thankfully, that America was poised to turn a new page and close the book on this tragic chapter of our history. The nomination of John McCain, however, will change this. McCain is the Trojan Horse the Right desperately needed to put a faux maverick, faux independent, faux straight-talker imprint on the same ruinous policies that have taken us down this dark road.
Though the era of the Right has exhausted its historic course, collapsing in moral, political, and economic bankruptcy, the transformation and co-opting of McCain shows the durability of the Right and the lingering danger it poses. There is nothing automatic about its disappearance from the stage. Not unless we, together, give it—and John McCain—a mighty push into the wings and out the stage door.