Every morning I listen to NPR, alternating with the Imus in the Morning radio program. I also scan and occasionally read the New York Times on-line edition. In this way, I take the pulse of the Northeast liberal prevailing wisdom. I rarely comment on what I hear because it tends to be thoroughly predictable and uninteresting. I am used to hearing that all the ills of the world are caused by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove; I am used to hearing Imus sigh heavily and pronounce, "what a mess" in relation to Iraq, alternating with snide comments that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are war criminals. However, a couple of things caught my attention this morning and are worrisome.
This morning, Imus had on his program Tom Oliphant, a highly respected pundit who wrote a column for the Boston Globe, but retired after suffering a brain aneurysm last year (from which he has recovered without apparent sequellae.) Oliphant is a reliable liberal, leaning to the left side of the Democratic party, not unexpected for a Boston liberal. During the show this morning, he made the pronouncement that everything has gotten worse under the Conservatives. He specifically mentioned the war in Iraq, but added the environment, health care, and gas prices.
His comments left me wondering: how do we determine whether things are in fact, getting better or getting worse?
Most of us start with our own circumstances. If we personally are doing well, and feeling optimistic about our own lives, then the World will tend to reflect that, on balance. Alternately, if our personal circumstances are parlous, the World will appear to be a grimmer place. The tendency to see a greater or lesser reflection of one's inner state in the outside world is an aspect of "externalization", which is the defensive maneuver by which a person removes the locus of distress from the inner world to the outer world.
I know almost no one, conservative or liberal, who complains that their personal circumstances have gotten markedly worse in the last 6 years, short of the usual vicissitudes of life (illness, loss, relationship problems, etc.) The fact is that I work with some of the most disadvantaged and troubled people in our society, including patients with AIDS, and impoverished patients with major Psychiatric illnesses; all of them would agree that their personal states are improved from 6 years ago. They have all much more than enough to eat and be sheltered, the medicines they need for their illnesses are better than in the past, and they face minimal privation.
At the same time, I have been unable to find specific ways in which the environment has deteriorated during the Bush years; perhaps one of my readers can point me to evidence of the environmental disaster wrought by the Bush administration, but I don't see it. Health care is indeed a dysfunctional mess; it is also an incredibly complex system that seems to offer two primary models for allotting health care. The National Health Care model is to ration care by equalizing scarcity by decreasing access for everyone; the confused mix of insurance, government support and individual payers that comprise America's health care rations health care via financial means. Is it worse than when the Clintons tried to fix health care? Probably, but to blame that on the Bush administration is inane at best.
Likewise, gas prices have risen because more and more people, especially in India and China, have joined the modern world and want energy. Plus, we have decided that a pristine wilderness is preferable to an increased supply of energy and Democrats and Republicans alike have agreed to keep their hands off of Detroit's MPG ratings. Add in Katrina, the efficacy of NIMBY in keeping us from building new refineries, and the instability of oil producing regions in the world, and it is doubtful anyone has the power to order gas prices to come down; in any event, gas prices are coming down, so does this mean Oliphant will now proclaim the world is getting better because of the Bush administration?
I cannot comment on the degree of externalization of Oliphant or Imus, or any of the millions of liberals who agree with them that the world is a disaster, getting worse by the minute because of the incompetence, evil, and ideological blindness of the Bush administration. However, since Iraq is by most objective measures much less of a mess than war zones from the past, including everyone's favorite model Vietnam, it is worth wondering how much externalizing is going on.
While Imus and Oliphant are free to make their snide remarks, there is a darker undercurrent at play; externalization has a more insidious relative.
Projection is a much more dangerous and primitive defense than externalization. In projection, one's own unacceptable thoughts and feelings are imputed to another person. Thus, a person who cannot tolerate their own intolerance will intolerantly accuse another of being intolerant. For several years now we have heard repeated, almost non-stop, accusations, that the Bush administration and the Republicans are trying to stifle free speech. When Michael Moore's amalgam of half-truths, overt lies, and occasional brushes with reality was screened, any criticism by those who opposed his world view were treated as attempts at censorship, though no one on the right, to my knowledge, called for the banning of the film. Yet now that a TV series threatens to show the Clinton administration in a poor light in the lead up to 9/11, the howls of protest have escalated to true attempts at intimidation and censorship. The Democratic leadership of the Senate sent an overtly threatening note to Disney: [HT: Hugh Hewitt]
Dear Mr. Iger,
We write with serious concerns about the planned upcoming broadcast of The Path to 9/11 mini-series on September 10 and 11. Countless reports from experts on 9/11 who have viewed the program indicate numerous and serious inaccuracies that will undoubtedly serve to misinform the American people about the tragic events surrounding the terrible attacks of that day. Furthermore, the manner in which this program has been developed, funded, and advertised suggests a partisan bent unbecoming of a major company like Disney and a major and well respected news organization like ABC. We therefore urge you to cancel this broadcast to cease Disney’s plans to use it as a teaching tool in schools across America through Scholastic. Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation.
The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events.
Should Disney allow this programming to proceed as planned, the factual record, millions of viewers, countless schoolchildren, and the reputation of Disney as a corporation worthy of the trust of the American people and the United States Congress will be deeply damaged. We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program. We look forward to hearing back from you soon.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid
Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Charles Schumer
Senator Byron Dorgan
The Senate Democratic leadership just threatened Disney's broadcast license. Not the use of the word "trustee" at the beginning of the letter and "trust" at the end. This is nothing less than an implicit threat that if Disney tries to meddle in the US elections on behalf of the Republicans, they will pay a very serious price when the Democrats get back in power, or even before.
(The comment and the emphases were from John in DC at Americablog.)
[As an aside I do not blame the Clinton or Bush administration for 9/11. Our society was singularly unable to take the threat from al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism seriously. The nature of a democracy is that we are slow to respond to threats; in fact, we rarely respond to attacks until after they occur. We would not have entered WWII without Pearl Harbor and would not have engaged the Islamists in the current war without 9/11. In the first case, Japan was wholly responsible; in the second case, al Qaeda was wholly responsible.]
When powerful government officials begin to use intimidation openly, it is chilling, to say the least. Perhaps all the claims of incipient fascism that the left sees all around it embodied in the Republicans is a projection of their own authoritarian tendencies. This is, of course, not a novel idea; the left has been accused of authoritarianism for quite some time. What is most troubling is the apparent lack of awareness of the impact and importance of this letter from the most powerful and important members of the Democratic party.
I would not expect the DU crowd to show any awareness of their own projections; they are quite openly authoritarian and are willing to use almost any means to silence those they oppose. This kind of authoritarian silencing of those who do not espouse the proper political line is also common in academia, which is troubling but not surprising. When the disease of authoritarianism, the readiness to silence one's opponents rather than engage them, has spread to the core of one of the two major parties, the danger to our political system is real, though one hopes it is transient.
Addendum: It gets worse. I am a registered Democrat and recieved this e-mail today from Tom McMahon, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee.
Dear Fellow Democrat,
This is it: crunch time for getting the slanderous ABC television docudrama "The Path to 9/11" yanked off the air. The network schedule has this slanderous attack on Democrats slated to start on Sunday night, September 10, at 8 o'clock -- and as long as it stays on the schedule, we have work to do. Take a minute right now and tell Disney president Robert Iger to keep this right-wing propaganda off our airwaves:
Here's the good news: the suits at ABC and the Walt Disney Company have started panicking under pressure, thanks to your ferocious response to the outrageous decision to put this irresponsible miniseries on the air. But until Disney quits defending its plan to broadcast conservative propaganda -- fraudulently presented to Americans as "based on the 9/11 Commission Report" -- the company should plan to keep taking every bit of heat we dish out.
Here's a quick catch-up on developments over the last 48 hours:
- President Clinton, through his attorney, rebuked ABC for producing a "factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate" miniseries -- and walked the network through three make-believe scenes in the "the Path to 9/11" that defame people and misrepresent events during his administration.
- Clinton's spokesman later stepped up the pressure, condemning Disney as "despicable" for "airing a fictional version of what is a serious and emotional event for our country. No reputable organization," he said, "should dramatize 9-11 for a profit at the expense of the truth."
- The families of September 11 victims have weighed in on the controversy, telling "entertainers" not to "promote misleading or incorrect information as fact to the public."
- House and Senate Democratic leaders hammered Disney president and CEO Robert Iger, in letters that questioned the company's commitment to its "reputation ... as a corporation worthy of the trust of the American people and the United States Congress."
- Scholastic has pulled teaching materials off its website and has scrambled to adopt a plan to help teachers show students "the differences between factual reporting and a dramatization," but is still encouraging teachers to show their students this propaganda.
We should all be deeply concerned and disappointed that ABC would air a film that has been proven to have factual inaccuracies about one of the most important events in our nation's history. It's particularly disturbing given that the producer of the piece is a well known conservative. It's incomprehensible how something like this could even get on the air.
In a few hours, we deliver letters from over 150,000 outraged Democrats to ABC's front doorstep. You still have time to make your feelings known. Join the thousands standing up for President Clinton and our party -- tell Disney president Robert Iger to keep ABC's right-wing propaganda off our airwaves:
Democratic National Committee
There is much more in the note, but the salient point to me is not the truth or falseness of the TV series but the effort to silence ABC. Not only is there is no awareness that the campaign they are running against the Disney Corporation is dangerous but they revel in their ability to use all the forces at their command to intimidate a media outlet. If Republicans did this, the howls of outrage would know no bounds, yet the Democrats, champions of civil liberties as they fancy themselves to be, propose censorship without a trace of irony.