Thursday, February 17, 2005

A wrestler gets back off the mat


When National Public Radio's ombudsman visited my class at Emerson College this week to talk about his work, I asked him why the news media have so often been so timid in questioning this White House and its policies.

Jeffrey Dvorkin is a thoughtful journalist and former news executive. And after receiving 80,000 emails from listeners in the last year, he clearly has a good sense of the mood of America. Still, I found his answer disconcerting: that since Sept. 11 the "loyal opposition" in this country -- that would be the Democratic Party -- had largely been missing in action.

It's not good form to pick fights with a class guest, so I bit my tongue instead of blurting out, "Why the heck does a free press need someone else to make noise before it has the courage to do so itself?" I don't much care for a journalistic climate in which objectivity is defined as "balanced" coverage rather than fact-based, truthful coverage -- wherever those facts may lead.

But that's not Jeffrey's fault; his analysis is on the mark. At a time when tough reportorial stances are met with cries of bias or worse, neither reporters nor the news organizations that pay them are sticking their necks out very far. More often than not, they're waiting for someone in politics to do so first.

I believe, at last, that the time has come. There already have been stirrings, Jeffrey said.
He pointed to the outspoken opposition of Sen. Barbara Boxer to Condoleezza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State.

Now those stirrings may become a full-throated scream -- as in the Dean Scream. I rather hope so. Howard Dean, newly elected as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, bears no resemblance to the radical politician he's been painted by Republicans. He's not really particularly liberal. A fiscal conservative and budget balancer as governor of Vermont, he supports, among other things, capital punishment.

But he also knows how to speak in straight sentences, how to provoke, how to inspire and how to take a stand. I like those qualities, and I think plenty of other Americans like them, too, in Red States as well as Blue. In some ways, I see Dean as the John McCain of the Democratic Party, a guy who excites people regardless of whether they always agree with him because he seems to have real convictions, and he speaks plain English.

So in the midst of a campaign of lies and scare tactics about the bankrupt Social Security system and George Bush's plan to fix it, in the midst of the fictional dawning of Democracy in Iraq, in the midst of yet more news about torture -- this time torture outsourced, along with suspected terrorists, to dungeons of horror overseas, I grasp at Dean's election as one headline that gives me hope.

It's needed. If Democrats don't stop mumbling into their soup pretty soon, the party won't win an election for dog catcher. But Howard Dean just may bring the party back to life and, for a change, make Republicans watch their backs.

You see, Howard Dean grew up a wrestler. It's a gritty, sweaty sport in which one minute your face is scrunched into a mat and one move later you're on top. It takes guts and endurance -- the same guts and endurance Dean has shown in the last year, outliving his own obituary, penned by the press on the morning after the Iowa cacuses.

That's why I'm betting that loyal opposition my friend Jeffrey talked about is about to get a lot louder.


Blogger Scott said...

Good piece, Jerry. I found my way here via your column today in the Christian Science Monitor. The last few years have dislodged me from a half lifetime of what I believed to be thoughtful conservatism into a position of essentially starting from scratch. If anything, I'm learning to trust my deeper feelings about things of principle and refuse to think outwardly from a standpoint of party or thought system identity. If good comes out of the turmoil we're all swimming through, which it surely must, then maybe it will be the beginning of the end of so much group think and the discovery of a higher community based on honest, humble, ever-alert thoughtfulness. Here's hoping that is where we're headed.

February 17, 2005 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Safety Neal said...

Nice blog. For good or ill, we certainly live in interesting times. I don't think words can really express how distressed I am by the fact that torture (and extraordinary rendition) are regularly practiced by my government with the aid of my tax dollars. Maybe Dean can make a difference, he's certainly a fighter. He'll have my support.

February 17, 2005 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Dorothy Parker-lite said...

I fully agree with your assessment of Howard Dean. He's not nearly as liberal as he's been made out to be, and I do think he has a very McCain-esque quality for the Democrats. I sincerely hope that the party leaves him alone and lets him do his thing.

February 18, 2005 at 7:25 AM  

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