Opinion » Bill Cope

Left Turn Two

Teevee to watch as conservatism crumbles


I would hope that those who take the time to read my column every week do the same for the guy across the crease, Ted Rall. If you don't, that could mean you're the kind of person who prefers someone who just writes any damn thing that comes into his head over someone who knows what he's talking about. Surely, you don't want to be one of those kinds of people, do you? And if that's the way you are, I'd just as soon you didn't read my column, either. I'd rather have no readers at all than think my readers don't (at least occasionally) pay attention to someone who knows what he's talking about.

With that said, I ask you to recall what Mr. Rall wrote two weeks ago, the column he titled, "Left Turn." He made the case that "the political pendulum" in America has reached its rightward apogee and is now swinging back. I've heard others claim the same, that the red tide of conservatism that produced Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich's GOP Congressional majority in '94 and, ultimately, George Bush (the Lesser) has run its course. Michael Moore has gone so far as to say that much of the nation's conservatism is an illusion, anyway, as how in his experience, overwhelming numbers of common citizens who call themselves conservatives are loath to the idea of anyone screwing with such progressive landmarks as Social Security, Medicare and public schools.

It doesn't help the floundering conservative zeitgeist any that all their prominent voices seem to be either 1) tired, old guys who act like all they want out of life anymore is three straight hours of sleep without having to get up and pee (a la Robert Novak), 2) frenetic, skinny shriekers who could easily be featured speaker at a Republican fundraiser one day, and be under observation in a padded room somewhere the next (a la Ann Coulter); and 3) enterprising young fellows who have to split their time between furthering conservative causes and updating their gay porn Web sites (a la www.tightwithrove.com). If you don't believe conservatism is in decline, just take a good look at the Republican presidential candidates. When they're standing side-by-side, they look like all the usual suspects in a police line-up for a serial flasher.

I would add—thanks to our ongoing nightmare with what happens when you let conservatives get everything they want—it will be at least a generation before the concepts of "conservative" and "idiot" aren't linked together like two heads on one snake.

Ted Rall used evidence of the Right's disintegration to argue there is a leftward reaction in the works. What he did not do was offer disgruntled conservatives and wandering independents a place to go to rest their weary brains. It is a mistake I believe we lefties have been making for decades ... to assume that whenever conservative leaders are exposed as hypocrites, corrupt or inept, their disillusioned followers will automatically gather around the light of liberal thought. That could happen, yes, but only if they have an inkling where to go to find some liberal thought. Think about it ... if you have spent the last 20 years listening to the likes of Limbaugh and O'Reilly, chances are you have no idea where to turn for the truth. It's like setting a busload of toddlers loose on the streets of a big city and expecting them to find their way home.

So for those of you who are groping through the rubble of American conservatism, desperate to find something to satisfy the hunger in your belief system, I'm here today to guide you to a few hearty meals. Most Americans get their news from TV, so I focus on TV—specifically, three alternatives to the drone of Fox News. And my liberal readers can skip the rest because it's likely they already know about Keith Olbermann, Amy Goodman and Bill Moyers.

• The most entertaining, and least profound, of this liberal trio is Keith Olbermann's show, Countdown. (MSNBC/Channel 30, 6 and 10 p.m., weekday evenings). Olbermann begins his hour with the weightiest of the day's issues, then slips into increasingly fluffier material as the show progresses. Unless you just have to know what's going on with Paris Hilton, or look forward (as I do) to finding out who will be designated "The Worst Person in the World" on any given day, I recommend the first half hour only, in which the ebullient Olbermann allows serious guests to have a little fun, generally at the expense of rampant Republican irrationality. Olbermann's rare but blistering "Special Comments" have been the most comprehensive indictments of the creeps in the White House you are apt to find anywhere, inside or out of the mainstream media.

• For the least amount of fun, but the heaviest dose of undiluted information, turn on Democracy Now, hosted by Amy Goodman. Goodman, who may well be the most austere on-air personality in the history of television, brings on experts from the famous (like Pulitzer winner Seymour Hersh) to the unknown (like Afghani women's rights activists) to discuss, to the deepest depths TV provides, topics that are reshaping the world map. Sadly, Democracy Now comes only on Channel 11, the public access channel (at 10 p.m.), so don't expect the highest quality picture. Just the highest quality news and analysis.

• Happily, the best of all is the only show I include in this rundown that doesn't require cable or satellite to see. It's on good old PBS on good old Friday nights (at good old 8 p.m.) and it's brought to us by good old Bill Moyers. It's called, conveniently, Bill Moyers' Journal, and for my money, no other American embodies any better the mind, soul and tradition of liberal refinement than Bill Moyers. He combines passion with intellect and curiosity, and when he's interviewing the sort of guests only he seems to interview, the symbiotic result is a compelling vision of what America could be. He's also as good as anyone out there at uncovering why America is in the fer-crap shape we're in now.

In spite of what conservatives say, there is little else on the tube that speaks so directly and unabashedly to the liberal sensibility as these three examples. Yet none of them are PR outlets for the Democratic Party, as Fox is for the GOP. In fact, they often serve as an unsettling reminder of how far many Democratic leaders have strayed from the solid liberal values that once made America the envy of the world.