I’d like to introduce you to … me
Twenty years ago, I moved to Reno from Portland, Ore. It was meant to be a temporary stay, put off as I was by the conservative reputation of Reno and Nevada more generally. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by several large billboards proclaiming “Reno’s Most Liberal!”
“Really?” I thought “most liberal what?” It took awhile to get that the reference was to slot machines, not politics. It was not the last time my assumptions would be tested here. Nevada is its own, quirky, independent and contradictory place where the usual political dichotomies can get stretched out and reshaped into something quite unique.
One person who helped me transition into this place was Cory Farley, whose column back in those days signaled to me that I might find some like-minded folks in this town, and indeed I have. Farley’s steadfast and humorous treatment of politics, traffic and other salient topics has been and will continue to be an important voice in our public discourse. My cartoonized mug might soon occupy the same space his did, but as everyone who reads his work knows, there is no replacing Cory Farley.
The other day, I got a call from Brian Burghart to offer me this post: the liberal columnist for the RN&R. I must say, I am flattered and humbled by this opportunity—and, in a shocker to me and anyone who knows me—almost completely verklempt. After all, it is one thing to be liberal and quite another to take on the public role of a liberal spokesperson. My first response was to start running anti-conservative diatribes. I even wrote up a column that I thought was a clever, one-sided attack on a hapless fictional character who sat mute while I delivered one murderous blow after another to his silly anti-tax, xenophobic ideas. Maybe this is what happens when one is flush with the initial glow of pundit-hood. It’s like a trance, or something—the intoxication of the one-sided argument.
Then I got some feedback from a friend. “Isn’t this exactly the same thing that drives you crazy about all the right-wing media types?” Oh. Yeah. It is. The incessant, black-and-white, hyped-up attack mode that substitutes for meaningful political discourse is exactly what drives me crazy. And seeing it in the draft of my own first column, I understand why media people do this: It’s easy. It’s also kind of fun—who wouldn’t love to just say whatever they want without having to prove it or answer to critics? Most of all, it’s entertaining—to a point. That is, getting all fired up and righteous is a great way to get people either mad at you or cheering behind you, and all this sensationalism is a great way to get attention. Or so the Fox News ratings suggest. But where does it get the rest of us?
It gets us in this political morass where style (and bad style, at that) scores far more points than substance, where elected politicians are willing to hijack entire states to cling to their outworn ideologies, and where pot-shots and name-calling take the place of thoughtful discourse. On the other hand, I also notice, with dismay, that some of our most prominent Democrats have been acting out their historic role of crumpling in the face of opposition. Pelosi melts into a blubbering mass, Obama retracts several national security goals, and Democrats now refuse to fund the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison camp. So—there is work to be done. I, for one, do not intend to get the apparently requisite spine-ectomy for this job. I do intend to foster thoughtful discourse. And I fully reserve the right to deliver the occasional well-earned pot-shot.