Five Best Sunday Columns

The media's anti-Left bias, actual praise for our debt debate, and Gloria Steinem

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Ted Rall on the Media's Marginalization of Dissent. "The American media deploys a deep and varied arsenal of rhetorical devices in order to marginalise opinions, people and organisations as 'outside the mainstream' and therefore not worth listening to," argues political columnist Ted Rall. Perhaps unusually, he finds that "for the most part the people and groups being declaimed belong to the political Left" because, "In the United States, 'both sides' means the back-and-forth between centre-right Democrats and rightist Republicans." He defines marginalization as "the intentional decision to exclude a voice in order to prevent a 'dangerous' opinion from gaining currency, to block a politician or movement from becoming more powerful, or both." As an example, he cites the Green Party and Third-Party politicians such as Ralph Nadar. "When a personality - almost always on the Left - becomes too big to ignore, the mainstream media often resorts to ridicule. Like Communist Party USA chief Gus Hall, Nader is often derided as 'perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader.' Personalities on the far right wing, like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, are characterised as 'refreshing' and 'exciting' (if intellectually slight)." With regard to Left opinions, he argues that the media underscores them with the phrase "the dreaded phrase 'no one seriously thinks that …'" But "the track record of the Serious Ones is atrocious. And yet, on one story after another, even relatively minor ones, the US media continues to turn yesterday's 'no one thinks' into today's 'everyone knows'."

Drew Westen on Obama's Loss of Passion. Psychology professor Drew Westen considers the important of narrative in politics, and the stories our leaders must tell us. In his estimation, Obama should have "offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it." But he did not. Instead, "Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze...Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century...But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far." So what is the source of this? According to Westen, "the most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that 'centrist' voters like 'centrist' politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated." Then this is this alternate explanation: "A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election." Finally, Westen offers this: that "he ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation."

Janet Daley on Capitalist Economy vs. Welfare State. Janet Daley offers a more expansive view on inherent problems in the downward-spiraling economy from the U.K.-- and actually includes something of a compliment for America in her analysis! It's been a while since we've gotten one of those! She writes: "The truly fundamental question that is at the heart of the disaster toward which we are racing is being debated only in America: is it possible for a free market economy to support a democratic socialist society?" She describes that: "On this side of the Atlantic, the model of a national welfare system with comprehensive entitlements, which is paid for by the wealth created through capitalist endeavour, has been accepted (even by parties of the centre-Right) as the essence of post-war political enlightenment." This vision is "the heaven on earth for which liberal democracy had been striving," the "ideal the European Union was designed to entrench," the "dream of Blairism," and the "aspiration of President Obama." But does it work? Problem for the U.S., according to Daley, is that it has "a far stronger and more resilient belief in the moral value of liberty and the dangers of state power." If anything, what the Tea Party was demanding in the debt ceiling was that "there must be a debate about where all this was going." And the same issues, she believes, are occuring in Europe: "Also collapsing before our eyes is the lodestone of the Christian Socialist doctrine that has underpinned the EU’s political philosophy: the idea that a capitalist economy can support an ever-expanding socialist welfare state." But this gives rise to an economic predicament. "What is to be done about all those assurances that governments have provided for generations about state-subsidised security in old age, universal health provision...We have been pretending – with ever more manic protestations – that this could go on for ever." Daley thinks the Tea Party might have it right: "The hardest obstacle to overcome will be the idea that anyone who challenges the prevailing consensus of the past 50 years is irrational and irresponsible. That is what is being said about the Tea Partiers. In fact, what is irrational and irresponsible is the assumption that we can go on as we are."

The Los Angeles Times Editors on the Problematic Withholding of Child Welfare Reports. The editors at the Los Angeles Times opine on a local issue that seems deserving of national attention. In California, certain counties are refusing "to produce reports dealing with the deaths of dozens of children who came to the county's attention over the last four years because of abuse or neglect." The editors try to come up with a reason why: "Uncomfortable with scrutiny, or worried about lawsuits, or jealous of their reputations, or otherwise skittish about the possible consequences of allowing the public to see how the county operates, the supervisors decided that no file would be released until their lawyers had established that the cause of the child's death was in fact abuse or neglect." Now they are again faced with a state probe, "the county's in-house lawyers and outside law firm assert that child death files are protected by the attorney-client privilege," a justification the editors find "absurd and outrageous." It does seem curious, particularly, as the editorial argues, "many of the files are not privileged at all." They are government "internal reviews of child deaths," which were "forwarded for review and approval to the county counsel's office. An after-the-fact sign-off by lawyers cannot and does not render a document privileged." Moreover, "even files that arguably are privileged could and probably should be released" for the public interest. As the state is now, "the only evaluations of the county will be those it performs itself, and the results of those evaluations will remain known only to the county. Not since the days of Chief William H. Parker's Los Angeles Police Department has this region seen an institution steeped in such arrogance, insularity and contempt for public accountability."

Gloria Steinem on the Militarization of Jeju Island in South Korea. Famed activist Gloria Steinem writes about how a naval base is about to destroy a crucial stretch of the coast of Jeju Island in South Korea, a Unesco world heritage site. They will put in "dock and service destroyers with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems and space war applications." The residents of the region "have been living in tents along the endangered coastline, trying to stave off the dredging and bulldozing."They’ve tried to block construction with lawsuits and pleas for a proper environmental impact study. They’ve been fined, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. They’ve gone on hunger strikes, chained themselves to anything available, invited tourists in to see what’s at stake, established Web sites and won support from global peace organizations...Police officers patrol outside." Then she gives this surprise: "This has been going on for more than four years." Steinem writes: "For myself, I am writing this column, putting a petition on my Facebook page, and hoping for enough Arab Spring-like activism to topple one naval base...Besides, now you know."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.