Follow this very circuitous route: start with a story heard on NPR, then move on to one heard in the MSM about Rush Limbaugh, proceed to reports of Barack Obama’s perceived shifting platform positions, then read other reports of McCain’s struggles to emerge with a consistent position on almost anything. What do you get? Well, I got an interesting perspective on this drama and the middle of America. And it appears as if it all has to do with percentages and alienation. And suddenly I wondered, “What is so wrong about the middle?” Why is moving ot the middle a bad thing? Don’t most people live there?
To begin with, consider that improperly embroiled and unjustifiably embedded in our current political milieu is the role of the conservative and largely religious right. They are generally referred to as fundamentalist, evangelical, fervent or all three. Not all of those on the right are fervently religious, and not all of those who religious are on the right, but I never met a pair of them who did not agree with and like one another. And they would both like to have a great deal to say about who the next POTUS will be, the future legislative habits of the Congress and the decisions that will be handed down later by the SCOTUS. Veering hard off in the other direction is the “left”. They claim to be different, but they ultimately want the same things. You could call them “ardent”.
This essay travel route starts with the NPR story. One researcher reported that she has concluded that only 7 (seven) percent of the US population is truly evangelical. That is reference point one. Point two comes from MSNBC, who reported that Rush Limbaugh, a well known spokesperson for the conservative right, has just signed a new eight year contract with talk radio for $400,000,000.00. He won this prize because, presumably, he speaks to an audience of five (5) percent of the US population.
Disclaimer: I am not a mathematician or a statistician, and the only facts available to me are those I get from the media. But after looking at several different opinions and estimates, I have settled on the number of English speaking, legally residing, non-hearing impaired or reading/listening disabled persons in the United States to be about 280.000,000 people. If that is the case, then NPR’s 7% figure represents just slightly less than 20 million people, and Mr. Limbaugh speaks to only about 14 million. We can safely assume, based upon the demographics, that they are hardly mutually exclusive and many are one in the same. So maybe we have 25-30 million people in this group, out of (maybe) 280 million? It would be hard to argue that this is a majority of Americans.
Reference point three is a comment I heard on the radio. Quoted approximately, “Why is it that everyone is afraid of the right and the right isn’t afraid of anyone?” This is clearly someone’s opinion, but it does somehow ring true. If you only use Mr. Limbaugh as an example (and he has plenty of company), he seems unafraid to say anything about anyone. The NYT, however, puts him on the front page of their magazine, and offers deference. Today, Think Progress has published that the NYT is Limbaugh’s “lap dog”. But it is reasonable to suppose that everyone is afraid of a junkyard dog. In the same vein, the slightest critical or cynical remark made by the Obama camp is immediately seized upon, impugned and pounded by any conservative with access to the airwaves. And they do this with no shame. On the other hand, if Senator McCain or one of his “surrogates” says it’s time to “bomb, bomb Iran”, exile a colleague to Belarus or kill Iranian civilians with cigarettes, the media is quick to applaud his wit, sense of humor and “candor”. It would seem that sensitivity is one-sided in these matters.
Reference point four: Barack Obama is alienating the left by moving to what appears to be a more centrist position, then alienating the centrists by moving even farther to the right than they would like, and then risking the complete alienation of the right if he doesn’t move that way at all. So he reassures the lefties by telling them that they are not seeing the big picture, attempts to sedate the centrists by showing them that he has moved in the “right” direction (theirs) and then meets privately with the evangelicals in an attempt to convince Billy Grahams’ son that he is not Satan (or Muslim). That was not as easy as it looked: it took forcing compromise from the left, some mesmerizing in the middle and some pandering to the right. But the alienation persists. From some vantage points, it seems to grow worse by the day. While there are defenders of each platform, they do not like to sit at table together. The McCain contingent is, all the meanwhile, huddled together in the far right, trying to help the Senator remember who he alienated yesterday, who he should not like to alienate tomorrow and wondering which issue will be newly introduced or discarded whenever he speaks again. We are practicing alienation to become an alien nation.
(Bear with me: this will all come together, soon)
Point five to consider is more complicated. The right always believes, without any shadow of a doubt whatsoever, that it is always right (Arianna Huffington says they are wrong: read the book). But since the right has been holding the reins for so long, the left has been left to pick up the pieces. It has unfairly laid the whole responsibility for that effort on Obama, who has left the left afraid he is moving too far right, thereby leaving some of them alienated. The centrists, while encouraged, are still suspicious of the left leanings and maintain some alienation. And the right, despite any and all efforts, will always feel alienated if they don’t get their way, completely. (I have never understood why the very people who most loudly proclaim the need for brotherly love, display the least of it when it comes to the needs of their fellow man). Alienation seems to be one common activity that everyone claims to want to avoid, but routinely employs it. The term “Change” has been long introduced by the left, promoting it as a snake oil elixir that promises societal salvation. Lately it has also been adopted by the right as a codeword for “pacification by duping” or the modus operandi for McCain’s responses to audience questions, i.e., “change” the subject. In either case, the use of “change” has produced even more alienation. America, as a people, have become very good at not liking one another very much. Wasn’t there mention of an alien nation?
The last reference point in use here is the fact that our society breeds on sensationalism rather than facts. We digest a steady diet of what Bill Moyers calls “bumper sticker” bits of information. Sadly, these gossipy fragments of fact seem to make up most of what people think they know. Even worse, these “fragments of fact” are the only informational input that most people ever hear and therefore on which they are able to draw conclusions or base their beliefs. And when people go about their daily business, and make critical decisions, based upon perhaps only half of the information available, you are asking for trouble. Six years ago, half of our “information” said Saddam and Iraq were dangerous. The other half of the “intel” said otherwise. We acted on the wrong half, under the wrong leadership with only half a plan, and look where it got us. I won’t go there: it is too grizzly.
My composite thesis for explaining. collating and understanding the significance of these points of reference goes like this:
If the numbers used here are even close to accurate, then a minority of the population is perceived to be exerting a disproportionately strong influence on the majority. One might think this improbable, but it is not impossible and it may even be inevitable. And the inevitability stems largely from the nature of the times we live in. Evidence would support the premise is that it is not this small group of people who wield such influence over popular sentiment, but it comes cumulatively from all the people they talk to .One person hears from another person who thought they heard Limbaugh or someone else say that all citrus fruit imported from Central America was laced with spores that cause lymph-node cancer: within a short time the story is an urban myth and American media gospel. It is picked up by the MSM and Fox News, and the boycotts begin. Fruit growers and sellers are immediately assaulted and attacked; just as the tomato industry was just pummeled for salmonella. Or consider that a religious leader of the far right implies that Obama will enslave white males after his election, and says this in front of a congregation of largely uneducated, uninformed white men. Before long, the story has made its’ way to the MSM and the political, anti-abortion (a-political?)pamphlets of the Catholic Church (this really happened). Firstly, people report and relay sensational information fervently and inaccurately. Secondly, the electronic media (MSM, blogs, web sites,etc.) spread information so quickly that reasonable containment is impossible before verification is even considered. If you doubt this, read Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat. Before you can finish the first two chapters, the world will have changed several times, fortunes will have been made and lost and most of what you heard on the radio this morning will have been found to be untrue by afternoon. And it will all have been done electronically, in the blink of an eye.
Before someone rushes to mount a defense of the right, it should be also noted that one can only guess that about as many people (25-30 million?) on the left-hand side of this information equation behave in much the same way. Perhaps 14 million people (maybe more) listen to NPR, and another 14-15 million attend liberal places of worship, read left wing journals and blogs and spread around other bits of information just as generously. For instance, for many days prior to this Fourth of July, there were blogs and articles predicting the government “false flag” bombing of the Houston ship channel on the holiday. That hasn’t happened, many were convinced it would happen, it hasn’t yet happened and the articles have vanished. But there were certainly people who left Houston and south Texas for the week, just in case. There is enough blame for reckless behavior to go around on both sides. Dan Rather lost his job this way. But sensational, “bad” news, condemnatory knee-jerk slurs and mud-slinging travels faster and with more gusto than anything without an element of slime attached. Readers and conversationalists will always gravitate sooner to a story about Britney Spear’s lack of underwear than they will one about saving an oil-soaked duck in Alaska.
This brings us, finally, to alienation, or the attempted avoidance of it. It has become the American societal castigation trap. In attempting to alienate no one (that means to please everyone), sooner or later you alienate someone else. In making the left happy, you spurn the right or the centrist. To appease and mollify the right, you incur the wrath of the left. So you promise change and then deliver some disguised repetition and/or watered-down compromise. When this happens, the barn starts to burn from both ends, and no fire department can prevent total immolation of the ideas at stake. If all goes badly, the end result is a charred, blackened and numb middle. Nothing gets done in the end, but the alienation remains.
But let’s go back to the numbers. If you add both the devoted right and the entire energetic left together, you still have less than half the population involved in the daily political-cultural ethos. But that is of course before the rumor mill goes to work or the MSM contributes. And we have left out an accounting for the children, the infirm, the mentally challenged and the senile. But even so, there is still every likelihood that more than 50% of the population doesn’t know or doesn’t care. This huge group either doesn’t act on good information (which is irresponsible) or proceeds on bad information (which is both irresponsible and reckless). At the risk of sounding elitist, as long as this majority has a paycheck, gas money and enough left over to buy movie tickets or beer on Saturday night, they are just THERE. And the chances are that they feel alienated, in one way or another. Barack Obama may not have been so far wrong when he described them as “bitter”. And just how long did it take the electronic media to flash that message up across every television screen in the world? The irony may be that the comment was made in earnest as an observation from the left, but the sentiment is one harbored mostly by the disenfranchised (alienated) right.
All of which is to say that getting around to the middle may or may not be a good idea. It depends upon your perspective and your long term vision of future. Those on the left tend to be those with the visions and the broader perspectives. Those on the right are more likely to be interested in short term gains, more control and some immediate gratification. Those in the middle will either be tugged in one direction or the other or be left untouched. They may also be alienated, because they have been denied any long term vision of the future: sort term gains equal simple survival. Those coming from either end of the spectrum, if they are to come together at all, will need to endorse some compromise. The word compromise means with promise, and implies that in order to secure any future betterment, one must give up, or leave behind, a few ideas, notions and possibly material possessions to accomplish that. Some people do not care for the word compromise or the concept. Those who reject it completely will continue to burn the barn from their end. They will perpetuate and propagate alienation.
Obama is reaching toward the center. If the left can endorse this as a compromise, which leaves their long term goals intact for future reference, the sparks of the fire may be kept alive for future use. But at the same time. I doubt pandering to the right is helpful: I find it very difficult to co-mingle pandering with compromise. If the right can also embrace compromise, then their fire can be similarly be subdued and a middle ground of humanitarian progress can be reached. But at least for now, the left wants to yell betrayal, and the McCain camp, the neo-cons and the addicts of half-truths seem to prefer the raging fire on their end of the barn. Until this tension is resolved, and these alienations eliminated, America will remain three territories at odds: the ardent 25 million on the left, the fervent 25 million on the right and all those millions in the middle, left to wonder and struggle on.