Bruce S. Thornton - Contributor
is a professor of Classics at Cal State Fresno and co-author
of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished
Age and author of Greek
Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (Encounter
Books). His most recent book is Searching
for Joaquin: Myth, Murieta, and History in California (Encounter
Books). [go to Thornton index]
Conservatives' Pyrrhic Victory?
On Cancelling "The Reagans"
[Bruce S. Thornton] 11/8/03
should resist the impulse to crow over CBS's pulling of its bio-pic
Reagans. There's no question that the show is an ideologically
skewed cartoon reflecting the liberal prejudices of Hollywood
types like Barbra Streisand, whose husband James Brolin plays
Ronald Reagan as the amiable puppet of his Machiavellian wife.
But compromising on the broader principles involved could turn
this into a Pyrrhic victory.
At issue are the fundamental differences
between the liberal and conservative assumptions that lie behind
the stands taken
on any individual issue. Liberals are, at heart, elitists who
distrust the intelligence and character of the average American.
Most people, in the liberal view, are dolts enslaved to various
pathologies such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia
-- diseases that leave them vulnerable to the manipulation of
corporations and their Republican minions who want only to ensure
the existence of a large cohort of docile consumers. In this
view, the "false consciousness" (in Marxist jargon)
of most Americans therefore require a class of intelligent moral
caretakers who have the expertise and vision necessary to realize
America's "true" interests.
This distrust of the "people," whose "empowerment" liberals
are always claiming to advance, explains their willingness to
surrender the management of society to self-proclaimed enlightened "experts," and
to limit individual freedom, if necessary, in order to keep this
childlike "people" from harming their own best interests.
That's why liberals prefer unelected judges with lifetime tenure
to legislators elected by and accountable to the voters. We had
a perfect example of this prejudice in the recent recall, when
liberals were squealing that the election to remove Davis was
an "assault on democracy," when in reality it was an
expression of pure democracy -- proven by the fact that more
people voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall than voted
for Davis in the regular election.
Conservatives are supposed
to be different. As champions of individual freedom and responsibility,
they prefer to leave as
as possible in the hands of citizens, who can be trusted to know
their own interests and decide accordingly. Rather than distrusting
the people, conservatives distrust large bureaucratic institutions
and their so-called "experts," particularly those of
the government that are beyond accountability to the voters.
Rather than trusting judges, conservatives prefer to fight in
the political arena where the people decide.
The point is not
that the people will always make the best or right decision.
But whatever decision is made, the people are
responsible for the choice they freely made. If the choice turns
out to be a bad one, then the same process will provide the opportunity
for correction. Political freedom, after all, doesn't necessarily
guarantee the right result: it simply guarantees that the greatest
number of people have participated in the process and will bear
the responsibility for the outcome. Whatever damage historically
has been caused by the mistakes made by a free people, they are
dwarfed by the carnage wrought by various elites of "experts" whose
visions of utopias the oafish masses couldn't see led to mountains
These different principles explain why typically
liberals are eager to censor and control what becomes available
that's why the term "political correctness" is universally
understood to mean the enforcement of liberal-leftist doctrine,
not conservative. On college campuses, it is the left that protests
the appearance of conservative speakers, disrupts their speeches,
vandalizes newspapers, and attempts to compel the administration
to use is enforcement powers to silence ideas of which the left
disapproves. It is generally the left that monitors textbooks
and curricula and reading lists, and that proscribes various
words in order to make sure the people aren't exposed to any
Conservatives, on the other hand, usually
favor a free market of ideas; their protests focus on the unfair
domination of the
market by one group that controls an institution. Content is
not the issue, for no matter how bad or pernicious the idea,
the more people who encounter it, the more its lack of merit
will become apparent. A free raucous debate will generally
allow the people to sort out treasures from trash; and if some
should prevail, the same process will eventually expose its
trashiness. We need to monitor the various institutions that
of course, but for fairness, not for content. If all voices
have an equal opportunity to be heard without fear of reprisal
coercion, then the market and the people who frequent it will
do the rest.
For these reasons, I think it would have been better
to encourage CBS to broadcast its anti-Reagan propaganda and
then have to
suffer the consequences of outraged viewers and nervous advertisers.
More people would've directly seen for themselves the biased
fictions passing for history rather than taking someone else's
word. The result would have been an embarrassing exposure of
the blatant prejudices in the popular media that liberals are
continually telling us are the figments of our paranoid imaginations.
Pundits and commentators would probably have spent weeks correcting
the distortions of the movie and thereby providing a more accurate
and balanced estimation of Reagan and his presidency.
As it is
now, the whole affair will blow over and the Hollywood left will
cast itself as a martyr to free expression and a victim
of the "vast, right-wing conspiracy," as Barbra Streisand
is already doing on her web site. No matter how untrue, the perception
that a conservative establishment used its clout to stifle expression
will gain traction and reinforce the current big lie that the
media aren't really liberal but in fact all too eager to kowtow
to the Republicans. And a golden opportunity to allow millions
of Americans to see with their own eyes that truth of liberal
dominance in television would not have been lost.
cannot prevail in the long run by playing the same game as
the other side, no matter how gratifying in the short
term it may be to give them a dose of their own medicine. Conservatives
must stick to their fundamental belief that free people should
have the power to run their lives, not self-selected elites
who claim some greater wisdom or insight.
2003 Bruce S. Thornton
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