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Peace Journalist Bob Koehler on Presidential Politics and the American Soul

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Joan Brunwasser
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Bob Koehler
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My guest today is Bob Koehler, syndicated journalist and award-winning author. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Bob.

JB: I'd like to talk with you about your recent OpEd piece, PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS AND THE AMERICAN SOUL. In it, you wove together some unusual bedfellows: Martin Luther King, LBJ, war and the 2016 elections. What does MLK have to do with contemporary politics, Bob? Isn't that a bit of a stretch?

RK: Hi, Joan. I guess I always like to do a bit of a stretch in my columns, especially when I take on the political process. At a friend's suggestion, I sat down with Dr. King's 1967 Riverside Church speech the other day and read it all the way through. And I just couldn't stop thinking how relevant it seemed. This wasn't like reading a historical document. I felt like I was reading it in real time, that he was addressing the present moment. The war in question was the Vietnam war, of course, but he talked about how our engagement in it was poisoning the national soul. This is as true of the wars we've waged in the 21st century as the ones we waged in the mid-20th. As I read his words I longed to hear his wisdom and courage address the 2016 presidential election and stand as a counterpoint to the media's political trivialization process. This process dismisses a candidate like Bernie Sanders as a "radical" and dismisses his supporters as superficial idealists who don't understand political reality. King's grasp of reality and his deep moral awareness completely overwhelm such superficial analysis. So I decided to bring his words into the 2016 presidential race.

JB: And what is the alternative to "superficial analysis", Bob? People are too eager to buy into the argument that idealism has no place, no future. We've become a nation of cynics.

RK: I call myself a peace journalist. Peace is profoundly complex, which means the journalism that supports it must also be complex. Such journalism needs to be fair, open to multiple points of view, and inward-searching as well as outward-searching. Superficial journalism pretends to be "objective," but in fact it simply conceals its biases behind subjectively selected facts. It's very easy to belittle "idealism" and hide behind one's cynicism, but in my view cynicism is the most cowardly position of all. The cynic risks nothing and refuses to see what's going on. I don't think we're a nation of cynics but we're surrounded by a cynical, superficial mass media that ignores every honest call for positive change that it can't belittle. To the extent that we're a nation of couch potatoes, we acquiesce to this sort of journalism, perhaps. But it's not what we want.

JB: What I'm reading right now tends to support your contention: Harry Jaffe's new book, Why Bernie Sanders Matters[Regan Arts, 2015]. If you judge by the crowds and the huge number of small donors, Bernie's message is working. Is that more "what we want", as you put it? And yet, at the same time, the press has pretty much either turned a blind eye or dismissed him out of hand. It's an odd pairing: outsized public grassroots support on the one hand, no media attention on the other. Very different from the way the press treats Trump's candidacy. Your thoughts?

RK: Trump vs. Bernie -- it is indeed fascinating. Both of them are iconoclasts, upsetting the normal order of things, alarming the "powers behind the powers," the military-industrialists and multi-billionaires. But Trump, in his dazzling racism and political incorrectness, is the sort of idiot-celebrity the media absolutely cannot ignore. He's so compelling in his iconoclasm he commands media attention wherever he goes and ignites the reptile-brain function of the right-wing base. He scares the hell out of the media but they nonetheless worship him. Bernie is a phenomenon at utterly the other end of the spectrum. He's a thoughtful lefty who shuns the moneyed class and is precisely the sort of candidate the media bouncers, as I call them (the journalism elite who decide what will and what won't be talked about during the election season), are determined to marginalize. Incredibly, Bernie is managing to keep his campaign alive without the mainstream blessing of money and publicity. His candidacy, thriving on the support of millions of small contributors, makes me believe serious change may well be afoot in the land.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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