A chill wind blows, the gasbags now huff
DAVID REINHARD, The Oregonian, 04/27/03
The late historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote a learned tome titled "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." If only the old boy were around today.
Americans now live in a "climate of fear," don't you know. Worse, we're "an entire nation gripped by fear." The children of Adams and Jefferson are afraid to speak against the Iraq war or the Patriot Act. Powerful forces are "stifling dissent on a national scale," and "a chill wind is blowing in this nation."
We know all this, of course, because columnists and TV commentators say so in pieces denouncing the war, the Patriot Act, the Bush administration or corporate America. Celebrities say so in their denunciations of corporate-controlled media on nationally televised appearances and in media interviews. And speakers and participants say so at the antiwar demonstrations that have filled our cities.
"A chill wind is blowing in this land," actor-activist Tim Robbins has told us. "A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio . . . If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications."
Having returned from an all-American family reunion somewhere beyond Hollywood, Robbins said, "The most frightening thing about the weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community in their own life."
Of course, Robbins said this at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and a public-relations firm quickly flashed his words across the nation faster than a chill wind in January.
"I don't ever remember being in a climate where people were so afraid to even have a conversation about some of these issues," fretted Robbins' partner, Susan Sarandon -- in a news conference to hawk a TV movie.
Only in dissent-stifled America.
Were government agents rounding up antiwar activists or censoring their latest pronouncements? No. Nothing so chilling. What's got the wind-chill-factor folks so heated up is that other Americans -- radio talk-show hosts and other opinion-meisters, as well as consumers -- are taking exception to their antiwar arguments. Many aren't buying their antiwar arguments or the entertainment wares that made their political views noteworthy in the first place.
Michael Moore was booed at the Academy Awards -- amid a standing ovation as he picked up an Oscar! Former fans smash and boycott Dixie Chicks albums after one Chick told an English audience they were ashamed of being from the same state as George W. Bush! Robbins and Sarandon were (temporarily) disinvited to a baseball shindig! Madonna felt moved not to release an anti-Bush, antiwar video!
This is evidence of some dark night descending over the land? Humbug.
Bruce Springsteen calls the Dixie Chicks boycott "un-American." But why is it "un-American" for some folks to take their views as seriously as our star-activists take theirs? Is some Americans' "freedom of expression" less worthy than others'? The right to speak is not the right to speak without consequence. It's not the right to define your listener's proper reaction. If our celebs think otherwise, they're more spoiled than we've imagined.
Some people opposed to the war no doubt have been afraid to speak up. But this "a chill wind is blowing" stuff is so much self-serving hot air. It puffs up the self-regard of those who do speak up -- Look at me, I'm braving this "climate of oppression" -- and excuses those who decide to stay silent.
The fact is it's always easier to say nothing when you know the crowd will likely reject your arguments and may even argue back. This is hardly new, much less confined to the antiwar left. Try holding traditional views on homosexuality or abortion in certain quarters or not embracing the entire diversity canon. The liberal orthodoxy became so intimidating -- oppressive? -- that it even took a name: They call it political correctness.
If Robbins is really worried about efforts to punish people for speaking up, he might start defending Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.
Bundle up if you do, Tim. David Reinhard is an associate editor.