Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Best Elements in the Country Are Not on the Right

"We are free today substantially but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. A republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when that day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions." -- James Madison, quoted by George Seldes in The Great Quotations: The Wit and Wisdom of the Ages.
George Seldes was the uncle of my friend Marian Seldes, the great actress. He was a journalist whose early work on the dangers of tobacco were suppressed by the tobacco industry. His political newsletter, In Fact, went after many powerful interests, especially the National Association of Manufacturers. This is from his wikipedia page:
Among the favorite targets of In Fact was the National Association of Manufacturers. Defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who subscribed to In Fact while an undergrad at Harvard, said, "I heard about the National Association of Manufacturers first from Seldes and more from Seldes than I ever heard again. If you were to read the mainstream press, you'd hardly become aware that such organizations existed, that businessmen worked together to pursue their own interests." In fact [sic] also attacked Charles Lindbergh for his Nazi sympathies, the American Legion for helping to break strikes, and labeled many captains of industry as "native fascists." Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said, "[Seldes] used the word fascism to reflect an authoritarian state of mind that tended to stifle free speech and dissent and also tended to believe that might was right."
Whenever I hear wingnuts saying that liberals are the real fascists, I think back to Seldes's day, when people really understood what fascism meant. As someone who was assaulted by Bush supporters many times because I dared to say that we had been lied into war in Iraq, I'm damn sure that it's not the left trying to stifle free speech and dissent. I was called a traitor by people I'd known for a long time because I wouldn't get on the bomb-Muslims bandwagon.

And now, those same people who were so wrong about Iraq, and about Bush's tax cuts to the rich creating jobs, or deregulation creating jobs, or lax oversight from Federal Agencies (foxes guarding hen houses) creating jobs, those same people are belittling Occupy Wall Street. Those same people are spewing supply-side crap about the lowest taxes in 60 years being too high, about Obama causing all the debt that was really caused by Bush, about regulations being the reason rich people won't spend all the money they're sitting on, and I'm just glad that George Seldes isn't here, because I'm afraid his head would explode if he was.

Seldes was, of course, called a communist because he dared to stand up against the rich and powerful (because to the right, there is no middle, you're either with them or you're a commie). He was a gadfly and a muckraker, something we could sure use more of today. Of course, there are some respected media critics in today's world who follow in Seldes footsteps, like Dean Baker. It's just that no one reads them, which, of course, was a problem for Seldes too. The big difference, of course, is that for Seldes, it was actual censorship and Joe McCarthy that stopped people from hearing what he had to say. Today, you can read Dean Baker's Beat the Press any time you want.
"A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a free press." -- George Seldes
But you can't just have a free press. You have to pay attention. When someone tells you that both sides are the same, that Obama is creating as much of a mess as George Bush, don't hit them like they would you. Just point them towards the truth. And keep reading it yourself.

h/t Rick Unger

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