Denuded of ideological trimmings and vicious rhetoric, much of the agenda that motivates talk radio hosts is common to most of us.
Why 1370? They asked us to do the show. Some have suggested this station isn't appropriate because it mostly offers nationally syndicated, right-wing radio hosts. What better audience for us? The truth is that a significant percentage of the Chronicle readership agrees with hardly a word we publish. In the same vein, I've been listening to 1370AM since it went on the air. It is entertaining -- though often also painful, infuriating, and frustrating -- to hear what people I don't agree with think.
The 1370AM radio hosts are all almost stereotypical right-wingers, but they range from real ravers who see no shades of gray to more ideologically complex thinkers whose reactions can't always be predicted. My biggest objection is to their setting up all Democrats as straw men -- almost Communist fifth columnists out to destroy America. Democrats' motivations are evil and their ideas deliberately morally corrupt. Led by Hillary Clinton, they want to destroy the nation, leaving nothing behind. Certainly there are many leftists, progressives, and Democrats who suffer this same disease. We despise and discredit those with whom we don't agree rather than accepting that most people are actually driven by some kind of common decency, that despite ideological differences people we disagree with are not inherently evil but believe they are doing good. Everyone has their reasons. Surprisingly, if you listen carefully, rather than a deep divide, most Americans share a common agenda. They just approach it in different ways and with different rhetoric. It is to talk-show hosts' advantages to ignore common assumptions and emphasize, if not create, deep differences. Villains make for great rants; evildoers provide simplistic topics. There is a strong relief to dealing with the world as a ballet of good guys and bad guys, especially when you so clearly identify yourself as one of the white hats. It is a kind of simplistic, ideological soap opera with unfortunate political consequences.
Democracy is based on compromise, on a mingling of ideas and ideologies working themselves out to accepted legislation. This legislation often shifts over time, depending on dominance and public mood.
This may sound strange coming from me, especially in light of my last "Page Two." One person called and said it was a hateful column. (It is silly to call me. I'm not a talk-show host -- write, so we can print your letter and share your opinions with our readers.) They misread it as my saying that only rich, white people voted for Republicans. Actually, I said that it was a slate of rich, white Republicans running, but what I found astonishing was the range of people who voted for them, even against their best interests. The caller said he is in favor of cutting taxes, which Republicans will do. Ignoring that these cuts nationally have overwhelmingly benefited the richest Americans, tax cuts do not occur in a vacuum. They have real-world consequences. Services and infrastructures that we don't even realize we depend on or that affect us are crippled or disappear.
Everyone says it's easy to cut taxes -- just cut the fat out of government budgets. The fat comes from greed, ineptitude, and incompetence. It is compounded by legislators trying to channel as much funding to their district as possible, which we commonly call pork. Greed and pork tend to survive any tax cut. Ineptitude and incompetence are also not affected. The reality is that the normal way for any government to save money is to cut programs. Usually these are the ones with the most ineffectual, dispersed, and/or disenfranchised constituencies. Others are programs where the effect won't be felt for such a long time that there will be little political response. Fat and pork survive while real programs get cut, and, trust me, we all pay for this in the long run.
At the same time the Republicans are talking tax cuts, claiming that on a national level the budget has been bloated. While they talk the Republican talk of free trade, billions in farm subsidies, mostly for mega-agribusinesses, have been approved, as much to deliver certain states during elections as for any reason of coherent national policy. While they talk fiscal responsibility, almost any expenditure for national defense has been advanced. On a state level, there is talk of billions of dollars to be spent on new roads. Where will this money come from? (I know: Tolls are going to pay for this. Right, that'll work.)
So I disagree with the new Republican administration. I think Gov. Perry is not the brightest bulb in the package, and I wonder why Republicans dislike David Dewhurst so much. I despair over the long-term impact of a Republican administration, nationally and in this state, on social services, education, health services, and other issues. Outside of Tom DeLay and a handful of others, though, I don't think they are evildoers conspiring to destroy the country. Even some of the most vicious Iraq-war hawks have decent motivation. They believe they are doing good. It is not just about oil. I think they are tragically wrong. Many of the other Republican positions sound just fine; it is that they don't make sense to me. Having no state income tax (now that's a gutsy position to take in Texas) while cutting state property taxes, improving education, building roads, and controlling health costs are inherently contradictory positions. Yet this is the platform on which many Republicans (as well as many Democrats) ran. Where is the money to pay for these programs going to come from?
But I don't hate them. The dialogue is productive. Different opinions, even those radically opposite mine, contribute to the ongoing democratic dialogue that creates a government for all the people.
I disagree with many politicians of both parties, though I have the most trouble with Republicans, especially those on the far right. I will work to defeat them at the polls and to derail their legislation. But I don't think they're anti-American, fanged demons masquerading as citizens.
Regardless of your political beliefs, it's worth listening to the talk-show hosts. Some of their opinions are profoundly scary and deeply disturbing because of their basis in the hatred of one part of the population or another. What becomes apparent is the agenda that motivates them. Much of it, denuded of ideological trimmings and vicious rhetoric, is common to most of us. They are driven by a silly romanticizing of the past, which they see as pure and holy, dedicated to family, religion, clean living, and healthy politics. Ignoring racism, sexism, anti-immigrant sentiment, religious prejudice, widespread and devastating poverty, lack of health care, educational inequities, judicial and legal inconsistencies (in the treatment and rights of citizens), voting rights, child labor, and the mistreatment of labor in general is the first step toward achieving this view. Think of the consequences and effects of those terms in people's lives and not simply as PC jargon. Instead of studying history, they are fantasizing it. This is a bad step to take.
So I disagree with the hosts, though I listen to them. I disagree, I dissent, I protest, and I aggressively advance contrary ideas and positions. There are officeholders and politicians who I think are incompetent, wrong, ill-intentioned, and even dangerous. But I lack bone-deep, anti-humanizing hatred.
Now, almost happily, we've landed among some of the more egregious offenders. We're broadcasting from deep in the thorn bush of contrary opinions and exaggerated rhetoric. If nothing else, we'll be presenting a different view. Join us.