4 July 2007: Lady Liberty & Informed Citizenship

Lady Liberty’s legs are wobbly, her face wind-burned

If you’re reading this, you’re in the minority: those who read to get news and others’ opinions. The print industry is in decline. Large dailies are cutting staff and reducing size. The new-look Rocky Mountain News has been shrunk to Archie comic book size, and the Denver Post recently let go Jim Spencer, an insightful, progressive columnist as a cost-cutting measure. Rupert Murdoch, czar of News Corp (Fox), might be dreaming of sugar plums if the New York Times, the old gray lady, or any of her sister dailies croaked, but following their demise surely would follow the Lament for the Republic.

Since 1963, TV has been the medium of choice for Americans, and the Republic has been weakening as a result. Lady Liberty’s legs have become wobbly and her face wind-burned from the assault she has endured, particularly over the past six and a half years. She has been challenged not only from those charged with protecting our rights and liberties but also from corporate dominance in all spheres including energy, health care, and, most disconcerting, media.

The reason the Republic has withstood assaults in the past is a participating, informed citizenry. In his book Assault on Reason, Al Gore refers to the “marketplace of ideas,” not a new concept but one that captures the essence. In the Introduction, Gore explores brain functions when it receives information passively, such as TV, as opposed to completing more complex tasks such as deciphering text. Correlated to them are the emotional and cognitive processes. As we know from our experiences, emotions, especially fear leading to hysteria, usually overwhelm the rational.

Today is our 231st birthday. If the dailies go the way of the dodo bird, I wonder what our Republic’s life expectancy will be. What gave the Declaration of Independence so much force was that it was a printed document, with copies dispersed to a literate citizenry. Printed pamphlets, such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, were vital to sustaining the fight for independence. As Gore points out, the printed word can be used as well for demagoguery, which appeals to the emotions. Think of Ann Coulter, for example. Regardless, it cannot stand against the visual media when it comes to pure power.

A few weeks back, Congress voted to give George Bush all the funds he wanted to continue his Occupation of Iraq, despite polls and last November’s vote to change course. Our representative Mark Udall has taken considerable heat for voting in accordance. The word from his staff is that his vote was one of conscience and not of politics. I take him at his word as Mark Udall is an honorable man who has gone the full measure in defending our essential civic, social, economic, and environmental values. One wonders, though, how many voted out of fear they would be castigated for “not supporting the troops.” Such is the power of the 30-second ad.

Gore is right about the marketplace of ideas, but what is disconcerting is the trash found in that market like the incessant reporting about Paris Hilton’s time in the slammer. Ms. Hilton’s affairs wouldn’t make the headlines without a substantial receptive audience. Likewise, blowhards, former schoolyard bullies attempting to pass themselves off as journalists, couldn’t make it without a receptive audience that seeks information not in order to make up their minds but, instead, for what and how to think.

For the right, it is about power and suppressing voices of dissent. Speech has become equated with wealth, hence, the reason why conservatives oppose public financing of elections and will do whatever they need to retain their iron-fisted control of talk radio. As an English teacher, at times I wryly wonder why we struggle to teach our students how to read if, as adults, all they’re going to do is to watch Bill O’Reilly and listen to Rush Limbaugh for their daily ration of thought.

Being a citizen in a democracy requires heavy lifting, being involved and not just bitching. Ultimately, whatever happens in a democracy is the consequence of its citizens’ actions or inaction—the reason Bush keeps getting away with it. So, if the Republic is to survive, Americans need to get off their overweight butts and develop their under-read brains, evidence here of the body-mind connection.

As for the Occupation, this is no time for sunshine patriots. In her last column, Molly Ivins wrote, “Every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them, and that’s why we’re trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets. Bang pots and pans. Demand, ‘Stop it, now!’”

Since the Memorial Day weekend, my 48- and 50-star flags have been hanging twenty-four, seven—my way to yell, “Stop it, now!” The flag code calls for the lowering the flag at night and in stormy weather. However, our forlorn troops don’t simply get to curl up nice and snug at night or to hole up when a dust storm blows.

In the Spirit of ’76 Old Glory says she’ll do her duty as always and tough it out until and after the Occupation of Iraq ends and the Current Occupant of the White House is retired or removed. Happy Birthday, America, and many more to come!

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