Monday, March 21, 2011

Lilliputian Politics

I have a confession to make. I’m not the biggest fan of NPR. I do listen to it from time to time because it’s the only place to get any substantive news on the radio, but it’s mixed in with so much pretentious trivia that I just can’t stomach it for very long. I’ve shut it off many, many times in eye rolling embarrassment. And something about the hosts gets uncomfortably under my skin; they make me squirm, actually. Their quietly bland, maddeningly neutral personas give me lucid flashbacks of kindergarten, where a similar group of annoyingly soft spoken adults taught me how to finger paint and learn shapes. After every segment about, say, basket weaving in Ghana or a farmer who writes poems about cats, I expect one of them to come and say, “It’s medication time.”

I turned on NPR the morning after the 2004 elections, groggy, hungover, depressed, and heard some unctuous weasel gloating about how the Democrats were just going to have to get used to being a permanent minority party, going to have to learn how to be become docile pets and obey their Republican masters in the new conservative millennium. He dripped with smug condescension and the nice, soft, soothing, soporific host didn’t offer the merest peep of a critical response. He could have stolen her lunch money and she would have passively allowed it in the interests of ‘balance’. For a moment I thought I was in a state of hypnogogia, that twilight phase between sleep and wakefulness when you have the most vivid nightmares. It turns out I was only hearing the voice of Grover Norquist, the creepy little conservative neuter who admires Lenin’s political style and wants to shrink down government and strangle it in the bathtub. So much for NPR’s leftist agenda.

This why the House vote last week to defund NPR was such a silly farce. Why are the Republicans so gung-ho about getting rid of it? It only receives $5 million in federal funds, so the idea that this is a necessary budget cut is laughable. We give more to oil companies every year in subsidies. And, of course, we spend more on our military than every other country in the world combined, an amount that will probably go up as a result of “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” It’s like cutting Top Ramen out of your household budget after buying a forty-thousand dollar car and then lecturing the kids about the importance of thrift.

Besides, it won’t pass the Senate anyway and the Republicans are well aware of it. Everybody knows this had nothing to do with money and everything to do with politics and ideology. But what politics and what ideology? Are Talk of the Nation and Fresh Air really that subversive? As I see it, the biggest danger they pose is that you might fall asleep at the wheel while listening to them. It was a stupid play put on by Republicans for the benefit their drooling base, which just can’t bear the thought of a tiny fraction of their tax dollars funding anything with a smattering of intellectual content (no matter how feeble that content sometimes is). God forbid their children should be sneaking off to listen to threatening programs like Car Talk or Science Friday.

If it we didn’t live in such perilous times it would be funny: club wielding Republican dunces attacking wishy-washy liberal broadcasters in a Lilliputian quarrel over nothing much at all. But in the overall context of our very real problems this kind of petty nonsense is frightening. It’s like worrying about a hang nail when you’re dying of cancer.

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