So You Can See What’s Going On

Let’s time travel a little bit. The easiest way is with wacky verb tenses. Watch!

On the Daily Show Monday night, Campbell Brown, bless her heart, said she wants to break free of the usual political bullshit, which is heartwarming. My icy heart almost warmed and everything! Then Ms. Brown repeats the modern political version of an old wives’ tale: for your news sources, you can choose Fox on the Right and MSNBC on the rabid left; Bill O’Reilly or Trotskiite Keith Olbermann. The thing is: that actually is bullshit. She might believe it, too, which makes it worse. Let’s talk about the political compass.

That’s me, there, waving to you from the southwest of freaking GANDHI. I am unapologetic in my belief in acting for the common good and leaving people alone to make the best or worst decisions about their own lives and medical care. I am unconcerned about where people were born, what language they speak, what religion they practice or with whom they knock boots; skin color and economics need not prevent us from attending the same tea party. I have a responsibility to care for people less fortunate than myself and to do good works in this lifetime without the kibbitzing of some bearded sky god. Adequate food, housing and medical care for all people are not too much to ask. Political prisoners of the war on drugs should go free. I try to think peaceful thoughts when I want to bash someone with a tire iron. My government does not own but retains stewardship of its public lands, and I want it to take that responsibility seriously while I figure out how to afford shiny-shiny solar panels. Damn it, I want all children to have shoes and safe places to sleep. And books. And uniformly good educations. That’s the lower lefthand spot from which I speak. You can find where your beliefs sit on the Political Compass Test.

You’ll notice the test doesn’t simply divide opinions into Left and Right. It also tests for libertarian or authoritarian impulses. I am shamelessly anti-authoritarian about individuals, which is the same reason I wish for rigorous corporate regulation the world over. It’s pretty simple: one person with a bad idea can do society some minor damage, but an multinational conglomerate with a bad idea can destroy the planet.

So, in practice, I am a happy lowercase-L leftist. Socialism sounds fine to me, but I’m not afraid of a few words, either. I’ve got a dictionary! Have at it! But here’s the thing: the closest things we’ve seen to capital-L Leftists in American public life in the last three decades have been Dennis Kucinich and Reverend Al Sharpton, but neither one of them is a Leftist. They aren’t. They are slightly to the left of center, which you might have noticed if American political rhetoric hadn’t shifted so far to the Right that housing advocates are reviled as rabid Communists. Olbermann is not of the Left or the left. Olbermann is a centrist.

I could explain to you how silly that is but it would require hand puppets and Spam.

But enough about me, what do you think of reporters who don’t know the difference between talking points and facts? What do you think of people who claim to offer balance when they specifically mean they do not? What do you think of public discourse when one candidate in an American presidential election is described by his opponent through racial code words and the press takes up the vocabulary without skipping a beat?

Is winning so important we must reduce half of America to ashes?

As for Campbell Brown, I keep wondering if she simply doesn’t understand what she’s saying or worse: maybe she does?

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