Sunday, January 28, 2007

Now The Nation wants to reach the country? Now?


In the tradition of The Encyclopedia of Cheap Travel; The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel: The Art of Cultivating Preferred Customer Status (Travelers' Tales); Been There-Comped That: Free Travel, Dining and Entertainment, All for the Cost of Some Ink and, possibly, Fifty Layovers: Fifty Lays in Fifty Days, The Nation is preparing to bring you The Nation Guide published by Vintage Books (and not their own imprint) in an easy to read soft cover oversize.

What the volume (we wouldn't call it a "book") hopes to do is to provide readers with a city by city (small towns may be ignored) guide to various businesses, retailers and organizations in each city that can be seen as "progressive." (They probably would've called it The Nation's Progressive Guide To America, but there's already a magazine entitled The Progressive.)

We think it will probably, in the long run, cause more trouble than the project is worth. (The first case of an employer not paying overtime could lead Fox "News" to say, "And it's 'progressive'! It's judged as such by the left mag The Nation.") We'll note that the editor is Richard Lingeman and we're not fond of these type of books to begin with. For instance, we enjoy reading Pauline Kael's books of collected reviews, we loathe For Keeps which is a cutting/sample of reviews and about as useful to film lovers as Blockbuster's ("Collector's Edition") The Greatest Movies Of All Time. We think it's of little use to readers since reviews are repeatedly reduced and Kael's fiery writing is reduced to snippets.

(For those wondering, if and when we can convince Ava and C.I. to take a weekend off, we'll do a cutting of their various reviews. They are both opposed to the idea which is why they have provided you a commentary, week after week, for 2 years now with no week off. That feature, if it ever is used, isn't a 'prize' we'll be proud of. It is merely something on the backburner should they really need a break. In the early days, we all wrote the TV reviews -- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I. together -- around the third or fourth review it became exclusively Ava and C.I.'s terrain because what readers were responding to was their contributions to the group reviews.)

Besides being little use to readers, we have to wonder who their target audience is?

Since they intend to cover the entire United States (or include it, actual nominations -- research -- will be done by magazine readers who submit their choices and Lingeman will act as a combo team of Simon, Paula and Randy for this American Progressive Idols), it seems fair to guess that they intend to sell it everywhere. We're sure it will do better on both coasts, possibly in the north, we're wondering what reaction they are expecting from the south?

When you can't leave the false stereotype of "red" and "blue" states out of your magazine [see , most recently, Sasha Abramsky's "Blue-ing The West" -- we noted this in our "Nation Stats" tally here, you can also drop back to selections from Christopher Hayes -- in many outlets including The New Republic(an) -- infamous for the 'groundbreaking' work "How To Turn Your Red State Blue"], do you really think you have a right to expect liberals, Democrats, lefties in the south to use their money to support your project?

Do they really need Abramsky to weigh in on their state? Does he really see himself as a latter day of Alex de Tocqueville? (If so, he is in the minority.) It's interesting because The Nation ran an editorial ("Stand Up and Fight") right after the election (November 22, 2004 issue) where they (unsigned! Sick 'em, Alterpunk!) declared, "It would be a mistake to adopt the television stereotype of red states and blue states." Did anyone at the magazine read that? Did it register? Did they miss Laura Flanders' The Country Is Purple tour last year?

Offering more than a single sentence, and getting to the heart of the matter after the 2004 election, was C.I.'s "'Red' States" series. (Part one, part two, part three, part four through November 26-27, 2004.) A lot of us working on this edition read it at the time and enjoyed it. We didn't think too much of it. Wally and Betty did, living in southern states (Florida and Georgia). C.I. had mentioned that nonsense in passing in previous entries because it was being tossed around by light weight pundits and offending southern readers. (They were readers then, about to become members.) They dictated the content (read the series), they wanted it addressed and it was. When this site first started, C.I. was there with the 'gang' (Ty, Dona, Jim, Jess and Ava). In the early days, that was it. And while C.I. would say "Take my name off it" on some pieces, there was no problem with them going up. The exception was when any of us attempted to use the mythical "red" state v. "blue" state frame. It's an easy shortcut and it was conventional wisdom. On that, C.I. would get as loud as needed that, if something like that went up, it was walking time. Members of The Common Ills community responded to that series, they appreciated that someone got the reality of what they were dealing with and that someone would defend them. That was a trust and it couldn't be broken.

For those who haven't read the series, the problem couldn't be reduced to an electoral college map (though the map did indicate Bully Boy had a heady win -- he didn't -- and that's why it was so popular with many). The series highlights what people were seeing in their own areas, the Democratic Party (in a presidential race) not opening a headquarters in their county or parrish. The Democratic Party not funding races. Democratic presidential candidates not even visiting their areas.

Texas members maintain that Teresa Heinz Kerry visited more areas than John Kerry did. And members in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a huge area, note that she visited and he never did. She was also highly effective in rural areas of the state including one member who thought Democrats were "the devil." She went to see Heinz Kerry to "meet the enemy" and ended up seeing a living, breathy person who spoke with compassion and sincerity and, as a result, the woman voted Democratic for the first time in her life and is now a declared member of the Democratic Party. Where did she get the idea that Heinz Kerry had (spiritual if not physical) horns? From talk radio.

The south is not big on mass transit. People are in the cars. Rural individuals usually have long commutes. After you pass the age of bubble gum pop and are burned out on rap or classic rock, there aren't a lot of choices. (File it under "Media Consolidation" -- not some crayola stereotype.) NPR doesn't reach all areas. (We're not praising NPR.) For many adults who want to be informed that leaves talk radio. Or 'sports' talk radio which trumpeted Bully Boy's war like no one else, featuring non-sports guest such as a History Channel hack who called for the murder of Susan Sarandon -- but you didn't know about that because it required work and not just falling back on easy stereotypes. When Barbara Ehrenreich joins The Idiot Bellafonte in (wrongly) slamming GreenStone Media, she's not just coming off like a fool who will buy any lie The New York Times judges fit to print, she's misunderstanding the importance of media like GreenStone Media. In the south, people complained about bosses that blared Dr. Laura and Rush nonstop at work. Especially offensive when you're one of the groups they're pouring hatred on (African-Americans, gays and lesbians, etc). Complaints to higher ups rarely result in changes (though it does trigger retaliation assignments from the boss you complained on).

That is the reality they live in. It's not just a case of listen to something else (if the boss is playing it in the work space, you have no choice), it's not just a case of listen to a CD (some only have radios in their cars -- the tape player or the CD player may be busted and when you're spending X number on gas for your commute and you've got bills to take care of, luxuries aren't top of your list).

Here's another reality they live under: backstabbers. That can be a Ralph Hall (who finally declared what he always was -- "Republican" -- but spent years wasting monies that could have gone to true Democratic candidates and spent years slamming the Democrats while taking the party's money). That can be a Martin Frost.

Let's stay with Martin Frost for a minute. Is "Democrat" a dirty word? What impression do you send, if you're a Democrat, and you treat it as such? In his losing race in 2004, he wouldn't even include the word "Democrat" on his yard signs. As community member Billie explained to us tonight (she's in DC for the rally as well), that's flat out stupid. In Texas, the ballot lists candidates by party. If someone liked him but assumed he was a Republican (and his 'debate' with Pete Sessions called that into question for many in that area), they might vote straight ticket for the Republican Party and assume they were voting for him. As Billie also pointed out, what do you think if he's managed to fool or trick you during the campaign and you find out in the booth, "He's a Democrat!" You might be offended that he's not a Republican. But more than likely, you were a Democrat who knew that was the party he was with and you were left to wonder why you should vote for someone who can't even declare himself a Democrat in his campaign?

What message does that send to the undecided, to the middle, to Republicans fed up? It says that the Democratic Party is such a waste of time that there's no point in running as a Democrat. What message does that send to young people who haven't even begun to vote? Frost was far from the only Democrat in the south to do that. Nor was he the only one to attack other Democrats. (He's infamous for an attack on Nancy Pelosi that aired on the local NBC station.) It's a funny sort of set of beliefs.

A set similar to what The Nation must have held when they selected the cover of their soon to be on the racks and in the mailboxes latest issues which features a blue pick up truck with the word "DIXIE" scrawled across the back.

That sort of bigotry doesn't endear you to your desired audiences in the south.

The bigotry is rooted in a "F*ck The South" 'humor' post that was promoted by many websites who supposedly are attempting to appeal to all Democrats (we wouldn't say they were trying to appel to the left) and are quite willing to ask for and take your money. It was quite popular in the weeks after the election and appeared all over the place. It wasn't as popular if you lived in the south. If you lived in the south, you were more likely to wonder why the Democratic Party's failures were being blamed on you. Like Dallas, you might note that your county elected an openly gay woman in the 2004 election. (Dallas is from Dallas, Texas.) If you're Betty, you might remember the shock you had when you visited a northern state that didn't just look rural but apparently had never seen a person of color, that must have been why Betty was followed through a grocery store by two of the store's employees. That doesn't happen to her in her home state of Georgia. But there she was, in a so-called progressive, so-called "Blue" state, being eyed like a criminal as she pushed her buggy through the store and being asked for identification when she paid (on a machine) with her ATM card. Her ATM card that required a code and didn't require her handing it to the checker. Betty wonders if The Nation intends to think of a pithy slogan to put on the back of a Honda when they profile the north?

We doubt it because, despite the "Stand Up and Fight" editorial, despite Laura Flanders own tour, the magazine seems unconcerned about the way they regularly scapegoat the south (don't even get us started on redistricting). People are people. They aren't their governments. If that were true, everyone in the US would have to be thrilled that the Bully Boy represents this country. But it's easy to scapegoat.

In the 2005 DNC chair race, a lot of websites were pushing Slimey (and his touched up netroots). The Common Ills didn't. The community endorsed Howard Dean. The reasons for that went to the "'Red' State" series. (C.I. wants it noted that the community made that endorsement.) Howard Dean realized that taking back control meant making every race competative. That didn't slip the attention of the community that had just read the "'Red' State" series. Regardless of where they were from, the series demonstrated that the problems weren't an issue that could be explained with crayolas or markers (though many pundits and 'reporters' tried to act as though they could be).

Money had not been poured into the south in decades. That's the bean counter approach to politics. What's the easiest race to win? Okay, we'll pour money there! And as you do that, year after year, you let the structure die. Joan is fond of pointing out that if John Kerry wanted to windsurf (we're not slamming windsurfing), instead of taking a vacation from the campaign trail, he could have visited her state (Hawaii) which rarely sees a presidential candidate. They did get Al Gore in 2004. Of course Bully Boy also visited. The Republicans are playing long term. They knew there wasn't much chance of a win in Hawaii but Bully Boy was there during the presidential campaign.

The bean counters (the Jimmy Carvilles) want the easiest race possible. They don't want to do the work. They don't want to inspire the grassroots, they don't want to recruit long term voters. They're focused only on one election and swinging the swing voters over. In swing states!

That's strip mining the structure of the party and harming it election cycle after election cycle.
Howard Dean rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He got slammed by some (who are used to having vast sums of monies) for that. But thus far, he's stayed true the belief that a national party must be willing to compete in every state. Billie, Dallas and Diana all note that they didn't vote for Dean in the primary (they were for John Kerry) but Dean actually showed up in Dallas.
Dean came in on a Sunday and spoke outside their City Hall. Went from low on their list of favorites up to second place and someone they wanted to learn more about. Why did they go see Howard Dean? Because not many other candidates managed to show up.

They take the lying stereotype very seriously. Not that long ago, Kat included the summary for Flanders' show in an entry she did at The Common Ills. She didn't think (she says it right now, "I wasn't thinking. I didn't even read it, I just grabbed it with copy and pasted it in there to get the day's guests up at The Common Ills). Kat apologized for that. That was in February and for some, it's only recently stopped being a sore spot. (Kat notes that if you're a member who is offended still, "I am sorry. I didn't read it before I grabbed it and posted it.") Now if Kat, who is beloved by the community, can get in hot water for posting an e-mail highlight of Flanders' show that includes 'Red' state, 'Blue' state, you can imagine the reaction to The Nation.

Southern community members express that they no longer read The Nation because of the repeated insulting stereotypes. We hear that when we visit campuses in the south and some student brings up The Nation. Someone will usually follow the lack of coverage of war resisters and other topics with, "Well, I had to stop reading" -- citing the repeated use of the false 'Red' state stereotype.

So now, now, The Nation wants to reach the country? Now? Will their guide divide the book into 'Blue' and 'Red' states?

It may not matter at this point. They've done enough damage to themselves in the south. Considering that following the election, they knew enough to know it was a false stereotype, it's amazing that they have continued to allow articles to repeat it in issue after issue. Maybe they think readers in the south are masochists who enjoy being pissed on?

There are real liberals out in the south. Not just in isolated pockets. And they work their butts off combatting stereotypes about candidates, about legislation, about rumors . . . Bill Clinton will never die as a source of false rumors repeated as fact on many "sports" radio stations in the south. For those who have never sampled "sports" radio in the south, it's usually a group of men -- the whiney one gets to be the token non-full-on-right winger -- he's for the war, of course -- he'll never say he's voting for a Democrat, but the other males will all put in their plugs for Republican candidates. When not doing that, they're fond of discussing Angie Harmon's vagina -- they use the term "cooter." Issuing death threats to celebrities. Talking up The Shield -- and other Fox shows. They continue to insist that WMDs were found in Iraq. They continue to repeat all the disproven lies.

It's bad enough that many in the south have to suffer that sort of crap from 'local' media, to get insulted and stereotyped by The Nation (whose editiorial board as least once knew better) may qualify as the last straw. If the book proves to be a 'regional book' and do poorly in the south, that's the reason.
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