Sunday, August 24, 2008

Get Off His Lawn!


Dick Feagler solidifies his place as the Plain Dealer's very own Crankshaft with today's column on the 1968 Democratic convention. For those of you so fortunate as to not get Feagler's columns in your local paper, his shtick is that of the cranky old nostalgist: his Sunday columns tend to be retrospective, casting a fond eye back at the supposedly halcyon days of Cleveland in the 1950s and 60s in order to note how much worse things are today.

Fine-- I suppose there's a place for that, and underneath the mass of sentimental, reactionary goo there are often wonderfully remembered details of the city's past in Feagler's columns. Today, though, is a reminder of the cognitive dissonance that such nostalgia can engender.

Who wouldn't want to read about the 1968 Chicago convention? It was a violent, traumatic, but historically fascinating moment in American politics, and the parallels with today's war-ridden landscape are not exact, but might be worth discussing. Feagler begins by remembering his own experiences as a 30-year-old reporter being sent by the paper to the city. But after a funny anecdote about being given a military surplus helmet for his trip, and some finely wrought details about the dangers even the press faced in the old Mayor Daly's city-- "The first day we got there, Chicago handed us press passes. By the second day, most of us had thrown them away. Wearing a press pass in the throng was a sure way to get slugged by a cop. So you threw your pass away and just ran"-- Feagler wastes his remembrances on this:

Looking back on them, elections matter a lot.

[Brian says, Indeed!]

And the one we're about to have, according to me, is the most important in 40 years.

[Quite possibly! Or at least since 1980!]

The disrupters are more insidious. [Yes, I worry about poor media coverage and Republican concern trolls, too.]They don't take to the streets as they did 40 years ago. [Good point, Dick-- the role of those cable chat shows can be really counterproductive]. They don't put their money out front. [Absolutely not-- they "swift-boat" it. Good catch.] They hide behind blogs. And blogs are a coward's way to fight.

[...]

[SIGH]


Our country, which has changed so much in 40 years, still grapples with some of the same problems: A war we can't win and shouldn't have begun. A United Nations we ignore. Health care problems. Social Security's future.

Same old stuff. And, if we care, the whole world is still watching.

But now we fire blogs at each other and exchange opinions filled with hate.

At least the kids in Grant Park in '68 put their asses on the line.


God. Do we really-- at this late date, and in the age of Judith Miller, Mark Halperin, and Ron Fournier-- need to keep having this discussion? Are blogs really the problem with our national discourse? Is Feagler going to bust out the "wearing pajamas in our mom's basement" meme, too?

We could debate what it means to "put their asses on the line"-- bloggers are going to the conventions this year, they'll have a physical presence-- whether or not the '68 protesters did good or harm in their actions in Chicago, how different or similar firedoglake or Digby or Crooks & Liars or Field Negro or any of the other fine, politically-oriented blogs you can find on the roll to your right really are from, say, The Port Huron Statement that became one of the rallying points of the student movements in 1968 (does a manifesto count less if it's online or something)? Hell, we could even talk about how Obama and Howard Dean both used the 'net as a communications tool and a fundraising apparatus, how they've used it to help register new voters, and how other organizations like Blue America are doing the same for liberal/progressive candidates in races across the country this year. Surely that's an example of literally putting your money where your mouth is, of putting your ass on the line.

But let's play along with Crankshaft, and follow his statement to its bitter end. Let's assume for a moment that blogs are the "coward's way out," that there is something to be said for mocking the notion that they matter. Yeah! Right on, Dick Feagler! Those stupid kids, sitting in front of a computer screen, typing out their thoughts and hopes and fears as if they matter, presuming that writing will somehow make a difference! Fools! Thank god for people like you, who show them what real commitment and courage is, by sitting in front of a computer screen, typing out your thoughts and hopes and fears as if...

Oh. Wait...

3 comments:

john said...

Amen, and it looks like someone's been eating his Wheaties.

Bob Westal said...

This Feagler guy is a genius. The only reason we don't all have newspaper columns from which is to inveigh is that we're too scared of the steady paycheck. Got it.

Brian Doan said...

Thanks, guys! Yeah, Feagler has some fascinating memories, but he's clearly reflective of a larger fear among newspapers and magazines that they are losing their audience to online sources. And rather than improve their product, they choose to disparage the service that Steve Benen, Digby, Christy Hardin Smith and so many others offer on their news and commentary blogs. Sad.