First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Phil Donahue and the Left and the Right
Phil Donahue is saving the world again.
I remember so well how, after the fall of the Communist Party in Russia, Donahue claimed the credit. His theory was that because he did a couple of shows in Russia prior to 1989, the Russian people became so enamored of enlightened American liberalism (i.e., Donahue) that they threw off the yoke of Communism and embraced ... er, whatever it is they've embraced there these days.
Now good ol' Phil has a new talk show, and this is a Great World-changing Event because his is the only show representing traditional American liberalism.
To those of us who actually watch the news and therefore know that the entire media establishment, with the exception of the Fox News Channel, promotes the politically correct cause du jour with great fervor and steadily decreasing subtlety, it's hard to know how Phil could conceive of himself as being the sole spokesman for the Left.
But then he defined his terms. He declared Bill Clinton to represent the center of American politics.
And I have to hand it to him. By that definition, Phil Donahue is indeed the only talk show host who represents the "left."
Because if Bill Clinton is the center -- well, there's only about three inches of Left to the left of Bill, and there's not room on that ledge for more than one talkshow host to stand.
But Phil is quite typical of the media establishment, who uniformly deny there is any leftist bias in the national media -- and who accuse Fox of being Rightist.
You see, they never actually meet or talk to anyone who is actually in the center of American politics. They only talk to each other. So what they put on the news is not "left wing" to them -- it's "common knowledge."
When the media people want a rightwinger so they can give the illusion of fairness, they always call on people who represent the image of the right wing that they want the rest of America to see.
So they choose really ugly obnoxious guys like Bob Novak and former Congressman Bob Dornan, or complete wackos like Pat "only the Irish immigrants were ever good for America" Buchanan, or effete intellectuals like George Will or William Buckley.
What they would never dare to do is present somebody who actually speaks for the American Center. Because if they did that, it would become obvious that the media establishment is actually way over on the wacko Left.
What is the center?
The center is where most Americans stand on almost every issue.
For instance, take abortion. The ultra right wing believes that no abortion should be permitted for any reason. The ultra left wing believes that no abortion should be restricted in any way, even if the non-mother-to-be is a child herself, or even if the non-baby-to-be is a completely viable full-term infant.
The center, however, believes that abortions should certainly be permitted in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother, and that early-term abortions, while repugnant, should be available in safe circumstances. Meanwhile, however, abortions of infants who might have lived make most Americans very uneasy, since the difference between "abortion" and "murder" in such cases is very hard to nail down.
Take race relations. The ultra right wing really misses the old days of segregation and thinks America went to hell when black people got the right to hold the same jobs and get the same pay and vote in the same elections as white people. The ultra left wing believes that all white people are racists and black people are permanently crippled by this fact, so that the only way black people can ever be equal is to enshrine in law certain permanent preferences to black people in hiring and education.
The center, however, actually believes that black and white people are fundamentally equal by nature, and whatever cultural differences remain can be worked out over time, as long as the law itself never promotes one race at the expense of the other.
Take the current war with Islamic terrorists. The ultra right wing believes that nuking is too good for "the towel-heads," while the ultra left wing believes that the U.S. and Israel are, between them, the cause of all the ills of the Arab people and we should be paying reparations, not fighting a war.
The center, however, recognizes that we haven't always been the good guy, and we should have been -- but we still have a right -- nay, a duty -- to defend our innocent citizens, as does Israel or any other nation that is subjected to a campaign of terror against its civilian population.
We could go on with issue after issue -- the IMF, environmentalism, sexual politics, taxation, health care, social security, the death penalty -- and there is always a sensible middle ground where most Americans would like to dwell.
The middle ground is optimistic: They believe that people of good will can always work out solutions that almost everybody can live with.
The middle ground is also, however, nearly silent.
They are silent partly because nobody can get really passionate about the middle ground. The true American Center doesn't have any slogans that they can emblazon on signs or bumper stickers. There are no centrist sound bites.
Well, actually, there is one, and here it is:
"Would you all please shut up and start listening to each other and work this stupid problem out?"
In other words, the American Center is like the parents in the front seat of the car, who every now and then have to yell into the back seat, "If you don't settle down, I'm going to turn this car around!"
The other reason the American Center is nearly silent is because the Left is so desperate to believe that the only people who disagree with them are wacko right-wingers that they simply cannot afford to allow the middle ground into the discussion.
They are much happier presenting the news this way: "Here is what attractive smart people like us believe. And here's a weird spokesman for the crazy Right spouting his inflammatory nonsense. That's your choice! A or B."
And when Centrists, quite by accident, make their way in front of the cameras or into print, the Left is quick to brand them as ultra right-wingers -- even when their views don't correspond with the right-wing position at any point.
Phil Donahue lives in a universe in which left-wing views are never heard on television, while right-wing views prevail everywhere. He is the lone hero, championing truth and fairness against a multitude of foes.
In truth, however, the right wing talkshow hosts are shouting from a distant shore, far from any position of cultural power or influence. While the Center is heard from only now and then, and, on many issues, not at all.
And what about me? Am I not doing just what Phil Donahue does, seeing myself as the normal person and all those who disagree with me as clowns?
Well, obviously, if I thought my ideas were crazy, I'd keep them to myself.
But when I describe the center, I don't always see myself standing there. On abortion, for instance, I'm a bit to the right of center; on race, a bit to the left. On sexual politics, I lean to the right of center; on government regulation, a little to the left.
I don't want the Center to prevail because I think the Center is always correct.
I want it to prevail because I think that I -- and the rest of the country, and the rest of the world -- would be much better off if we were governed by centrists than we are right now, pounded by both the media and the politicians with the message that our only choice is between Left and Right, winner take all, compromise be damned.
In that version of reality, Phil Donahue is exactly equivalent to Pat Buchanan -- utterly convinced that he has a monopoly on moral rectitude, and unwilling to recognize that maybe democracy might actually work, if somebody would just let folks know about the middle road.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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