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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

America 

I am taking the liberty of quoting an entire poem by Ray Bradbury, published today by the Wall Street Journal on its op-ed page ($).

America

By RAY BRADBURY

We are the dream that other people dream.
The land where other people land
When late at night
They think on flight
And, flying, here arrive
Where we fools dumbly thrive ourselves.

Refuse to see
We be what all the world would like to be.
Because we hive within this scheme
The obvious dream is blind to us.
We do not mind the miracle we are,
So stop our mouths with curses.
While all the world rehearses
Coming here to stay.
We busily make plans to go away.

How dumb! newcomers cry, arrived from Chad.
You're mad! Iraqis shout,
We'd sell our souls if we could be you.
How come you cannot see the way we see you?
You tread a freedom forest as you please.
But, damn! you miss the forest for the trees.
Ten thousand wanderers a week
Engulf your shore,
You wonder what their shouting's for,
And why so glad?

Run warm those souls: America is bad?
Sit down, stare in their faces, see!
You be the hoped-for thing a hopeless world would be.
In tides of immigrants that this year flow
You still remain the beckoning hearth they'd know.
In midnight beds with blueprint, plan and scheme
You are the dream that other people dream.


James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, on the one hand, and Alexander Hamilton, on the other, furiously debated the notion of a bill of rights, and specifically freedom of the press. In Federalist 84, Hamilton argued against the need for the Bill of Rights -- eventually the first ten amendments to the Constitution -- arguing that the Constitution itself comprised an unlimited enunciation of rights and protections. He fretted that a specific articulation of particular, enumerated rights had two problems. One, previous such declarations had come from royalty -- so who in fact was granting these rights? The Congress? Did that not then analogize legislators with nobles? And two, Hamilton was troubled that an enumeration of specific rights and freedoms -- and here he focused on press freedom -- would be misconstrued as unlimited and encourage "unreserved" behavior. He worried about libel specifically and not treason, but by 1798, about ten years after he wrote Federalist 84 and nine years after the states had adopted the Constitution, Congress had enacted the Alien and Sedition Act to limit press freedom.

Perhaps, legislators thought, Hamilton had a point about this notion of an unreserved press. He should have known, as he defended a prominent publisher in a libel case early in his career.

What do Bradbury's poem and Federalist 84 (and 51, to credit Madison with his more expansive view of press freedom and protection against tyranny) have to do with one another? First let's talk a little about Madison's view. He articulated that America's composition as in fact small, fractious groups, offered great protection against two forms of tyranny -- that of the majority and the minority. He was comfortable with expansive press and speech freedom because he never presumed the development of a monopoly press. Articulated differently, he did not foresee the rise of broadcast television. His day saw the presence of multiple local newspapers with wide views expressed. He did not anticipate a dominant political view expressed via a dominant distribution channel. He was trained as a lawyer, and born a Virginian. Hamilton, though a lawyer, was an inordinately successful businessman -- and an immigrant who had risen from the West Indies without so much as the stewardship of a father. These differences are instructive.

The MSM evolved from the advent of television in the 1950s into a dominant political voice. One can speculate about the process by which this developed, but it is hard to argue that the majority of the journalists that comprise the opinionmakers at CBS, NBC, ABC and the New York Times and LA Times are not Democrats, and of the especially liberal variety. Madison's notion of fractiousness does not apply to press opinions on Executive branch power, for instance, or foreign policy and the instrument of war. This is also exacerbated by today's lack of personal experience of the MSM in matters of law, business, diplomacy, governance and war -- power and money, in other words. The press of Madison's day was comprised of geniuses like Benjamin Franklin. Let's posit that no such Renaissance men like Franklin run today's MSM.

This is where Bradbury's poem matters. The dominant latent mainstream press view is that money and power are not merely matters which merit close supervision. They are inherently evil and dangerous. They are resented. And what is America? It is the richest, most powerful country in the world. And in a globalized world, the American MSM has dropped all pretense of being American, and transcended its citizenship to limit America's wealth and power. They've gone French, in other words.

Bradbury reminds us, and them, that the world votes with its feet. Those on the outside looking in strive and sacrifice to come here for the nation's liberty, understanding that evil resides in arbitrary, concentrated tyranny, not in Madison's fractious society. In recent days, Wretchard and Neo-neocon and many others have talked about the blogosphere as struggling again to find its voice, its meaning. In reality, the blogosphere is nothing more than the application of technology and intelligence in a way which, perhaps, Madison did predict. For the free exchange of thought and ideas. Not for resolution and agreement. But for the near anarchy of endless debate, without agreement. That is what press freedom is all about. That's why America is the greatest country in the world -- its not about evil power and money - its about freedom. So who is Bradbury's intended audience?

10 Comments:

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Wed May 17, 02:25:00 PM:

"The dominant latent mainstream press view is that money and power are not merely matters which merit close supervision. They are inherently evil and dangerous."

Funny, I think that it's also the dominant view of works such as the Bible. To be more specific, the "love of money" and the "abuse of power" are considered evil and dangerous. This isn't the view of the corporate media, per se, it's the view of Western civilization. Wealth and power are not inherently evil, but both are inherently dangerous. Both can consume those who pursue them for their own sake.

Luke 16:13 (NIV) "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

Mat 6:19-21 (TEB) "Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are."

(More of the same here)

For quotes about how power corrupts, do some Googling. You'll find that CBS and NBC did not invent the idea that great power can cause problems.

America is the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of the world. But it is not evil. Those Americans who put greed above goodness and power above wisdom are the ones we need to watch out for. If folks with these tendencies are running the show, then there's a greatly increased chance that their actions will tend towards destruction.

Are you suggesting otherwise?  

By Blogger viking kaj, at Wed May 17, 02:56:00 PM:

Let us not forget that a few scant years after the bill of rights was adopted that the ruling federalists passed the alien and sedition acts. If memory serves properly, I believe that John Adams and Alexander Hamilton lent their vigorous support. You have to wonder if they really believed that the constitution inherently provided all the protections needed, or whether they were leaving themselves a convenient loophole for use as soon as Jefferson and his cabal disagreed with them.

As regards freedom of the press, the actual press itself is in a sorry state. I was talking with my brother this weeked who works for Scripps Howard news service in DC. Print journalists are increasingly a dying breed, down to less that 3,000 writing for major US newspapers. One of the major problems in this regard seems to be blogging. People are spending more time reading and posting to blogs that actively subscribe to their bias than actually reading print newspapers.

I dismay if this leaves us in the thrall of the television networks with their emphasis on slipshod slickass reporting, "soft" news over hard news and the promotion of TV personalities over reporters. Katie Couric over Edward R Murrow indeed.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Wed May 17, 03:06:00 PM:

"One of the major problems in this regard seems to be blogging. People are spending more time reading and posting to blogs that actively subscribe to their bias than actually reading print newspapers."

As opposed to reading newspapers which passively subscribe to their bias? The truth is that most American newspapers had a partisan beginning. We, unfortunately, forgot this sometime in the past century or so.

The truth is that the Internet has almost every advantage over print newspapers, and few disadvantages. Its natural selection in action.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Wed May 17, 03:09:00 PM:

There is power, and there is power. (Money is perhaps just another manifestation of power.)

The power of the press can also be used for manipulative ends. If CBS News had been able to shape the Bush AWOL story uncontested Rathergate would have had a different name and denoument.

Maybe no-one is immune to corruption.  

By Blogger viking kaj, at Wed May 17, 07:03:00 PM:

In response to Final Historian (whose very nom de plume gives me fits, since history is almost always subject to revision in light of new facts), I can only respond as my 9th grade government teacher Leon van Rees taught me. That is, every news source is biased because it necessarily reflects the frame of reference of the writer. As active participants in a democracy, it is up to us to collect news from several sources and try to sort out the bias. Unless we are informed decision makers, democracy doesn't work.

BTW, Leon was a liberal south side Chicago democrat teaching civics to the staunchly republican Dutch Calvinists of Western Michigan. If for nothing else you had to admire him for driving a Toyote Corolla with a Carter bumper sticker. At that time and in that place it was to say the least provocative.

I dare to venture that most of the newsopinions offered on blog sites are researched all of 30 seconds before the blogger regurgitates. Whereas I trust major newpapers to generally research and verify the factual basis for their articles (even if we disagree with your spin Mr. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger) more carefully than that.

And, as a libertarain progressive (think Bob LaFollete or TR in his less war mongering moments) I believe that everyone should be entitled to publish their opinion no matter how eccentric (and Ray Bradbury is certainly eccentric) and have the marketplace of ideas sort things out.

Live long and prosper...  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed May 17, 07:29:00 PM:

"Whereas I trust major newpapers to generally research and verify the factual basis for their articles (even if we disagree with your spin Mr. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger) more carefully than that."

That assumption is part of the problem with the modern press. Then you have the likes of Jason (sp?) Blair making things up because he wrote for the Times, and people just assumed that he knew what he was about. This is why other papers and establishments run front page articles of news that is based on single anonymous sources and people take them seriously; because people assume that the paper knows what they are about.

Unfortunately, that's not true. Journalists lie, spin, mislead, and ignore information contradicting their position all the time based on orders from above or personal bias. I know for a fact that certain journalists who have visited Iraq have flat refused to print anything positive because they were ideologically opposed to the war. Poor behavior from the 'estate' which is supposed to bring the truth.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed May 17, 07:36:00 PM:

Mmm Bradbury. We have a government that has control over all three branches, a government that agressively quashes dissent, argues before the Supreme Court that US law doesn't apply on Cuban military bases, monitors phone records, incarcerates people in secret prisons, eliminates bankruptcy safety nets, intervenes between people and their doctors, claims that waterboarding isn't torture, and looks to be sending the National Guard to the border of Mexico.

Yeah, Mr Bradbury would be totally preoccupied about power of the press.

I love this. It takes some serious cognitive dissonance to claim America is great because of it's freedoms, and simultaneously support the people taking them away.  

By Anonymous Ken, at Thu May 18, 11:06:00 AM:

"He was comfortable with expansive press and speech freedom because he never presumed the development of a monopoly press. Articulated differently, he did not foresee the rise of broadcast television. "

Which is to say, he did not foresee the government asserting ownership of an entire medium of mass communication and only allowing a limited number of broadcasters to send messages, and only under license and subject to content restrictions. He, quite reasonably, thought that the enumerated powers of the Constitution and the First Amendment would forbid Congress from doing any such thing. Unfortunately, FDR saw it differently and managed to get his way.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu May 18, 10:39:00 PM:

"a government that agressively quashes dissent"

Have you been quashed? When, where, and how? Are you posting this from prison? No, because they don't give people incarcerated in secret prisons Internet access...

"argues before the Supreme Court that US law doesn't apply on Cuban military bases"

Doesn't the fact that it is arguing before the Supreme Court pretty much establish that it is law abiding?

"monitors phone records"

I address in another comment up a few posts.

"incarcerates people in secret prisons"

What people? Leading members of the political opposition? Political activists? Grandma? No. Enemy prisoners of war? Captured Iranian saboteurs? Failed Iraqi suicide bombers? Oh right, those people...

"eliminates bankruptcy safety nets"

Completely irrelevant to the "We're losing our freedoms!" idea.

"intervenes between people and their doctors"

Vague to the point of meaninglessness.

"claims that waterboarding isn't torture"

When it most obviously is, according to the Most Holy International And Universally Accepted Code of the Definition of Torture.

"and looks to be sending the National Guard to the border of Mexico."

Irrelevent again, and technically incorrect. The NG answers to the governors of the several states and are mobilized by the President only in time of war or rebellion. This is why it was necessary for the President to have consulted with the governors of the border states in question.

"and simultaneously support the people taking them away."

What freedoms have been taken away, aside from the freedom to carry boxcutters onto aircraft? I want an enumerated list, because I've obviously missed these momentous events and must catch up.  

By Anonymous Robert Bove, at Sat May 20, 07:09:00 AM:

Love your commentary, Tigerhawk, though you overanalyze what is a poor specimen. It just doesn't read well. Try it out loud, see what happens. (Bradbury's prose is far more poetic than his verse: Dandelion Wine, large sections of the Martian Chronicles, for example.)  

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