James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Big Neocon

Let’s start with a given: If your primary source of news is commercial television or radio, you are being conned. You don’t know enough to be trusted with a vote.

CNN still does some straight reporting, notably on the late afternoon show anchored by Lou Dobbs. Bill Moyers’ Friday evening show on public television consistently provides solidly documented information you won’t find elsewhere. Other than those two sources and perhaps another exception here and there, the rule is that television news and public affairs programming is designed to promote and support the people who already have most of the money and power in this country. That’s obvious to anyone with the ability of critical thought.

What is not so obvious even to generally astute readers and observers of public affairs is the degree to which supposedly “fair and balanced” general-circulation newspapers also are distorting perceptions and conning folks into accepting their views on politics and government.

There are countless examples to support that claim, but the lesson for today from this former newspaper insider involves the long con being played out to shift the definitions of left, right and center in politics.

Americans generally abhor the idea of being thought of as extreme in anything. We believe in the almighty “middle,” the “center,” the “mainstream.” Somebody calls you a left winger or a right winger and you’re gonna get in his face, right? You’re a solid, middle of the road American.

So where is the center and who represents it?

If you believe the newspapers, Joe Lieberman, former vice presidential candidate now trying to get the Democratic nomination for president, is a “centrist.” My own long-time employer ran a headline in mid-December stating flatly that “Lieberman sticks to centrist course,” with text that made similar claims. Problem is, if you look at the range of his positions, it becomes apparent that honest old Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and, on some issues, even Barry Goldwater would be to his left. He has no business calling himself a Democrat. He makes occasional token "liberal" moves, such as co-sponsoring a not-too-tough bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In general, however, whatever big business wants, big business should get, in Joe’s view. He'd never cop to that, of course.

The truth is that almost any political figure who is solidly in favor of keeping political and economic power in the hands of those who already have it is called a centrist in the American press.

And who is a right winger? Gee, folks, if you read the newspapers, let alone watch television “news” shows, you’ll discover that we don’t have rightists in the United States. Nope. We have “conservatives” and “neocons.” The latter is a lovely word, quite newly minted; it has a benign sound and look, and the great advantage of being meaningless to the great majority of citizens.

In fact, the evidence clearly shows that many of the people who today call themselves conservatives are anything but that. They are radical rightists, not trying to preserve the status quo but to further strengthen the power of the wealthy few and weaken constitutional rights of the average Joe. (Read the slender little book “The War on the Bill of Rights” by Nat Hentoff, a highly regarded author and defender of the U.S. Constitution. Not a radical. It’s been endorsed by a bunch of brilliant folks, including law professors and Judge Anthony Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst for Fox News, of all things.)

A neocon is someone much to the right than that, and especially someone who actively seeks to put total control of this country into the hands of that little economic elite, and to put the rest of the world under the domination of this country. No kidding. The White House is full of them. And the press identifies them always as conservatives or neocons, never as right wingers or rightists. You can’t get the terms “rightist” and “right winger” published even in a letter to the editor if you’re trying to identify someone that way; I’ll bet you on that.

Oh, but we do have leftists. That is a term you can get printed at will, or by Will. In fact George Will uses it to describe Democratic candidate Howard Dean and many another liberal he wants to disparage. It also is approved for use in letters to the editor and other commentaries.

Liberal? Oh, yeah. It still has meaning to those of us who consider ourselves liberals – which is to say rational folks who really believe that a rising tide should lift all boats, and that all of society is better off if we eliminate homelessness and hunger and provide real education and health care to all.

The word rarely appears in newspapers these days, however, and when it does it is used almost interchangeably with “leftist.”

And, yes, it does matter. It matters greatly.

By shifting the public perception of what is left, center and right, the right’s tame press has shifted the perception of what is acceptable, what is the “correct” stance for Americans. We hate to be thought of as “different,” we need always to be in the mainstream.