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Pacifica, My Pacifica

Life Among the Ruins

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 07, 2001.

There's another letter in the paper today, claiming that Ralph Nader is not at fault for the election of George Bush. These letters come in the usual shill-speak style beloved by the Boulder Left: a position paper covered by the feigned gossamer of a supposed impulse reaction to an attack on St. Ralph. Oddly, you hardly ever see these written attacks on St. Ralph, and the ones you do see bear all the stigmata of having been constructed as straw dogs designed for projectile analysis, which is to say they are written by the same people who write the replies to them, cleverly fooling us. Even so, the public response has been wan, due primarily to the fact that hardly anyone cares about Ralph Nader, and that they realize most who voted for him would not have voted otherwise. It is hypothetically true that if a thousand of Nader's votes had gone to Gore, Nader's values would be a lot closer to power than they are now. People get worked up over this. I don't know why.

My observation is this. Nader and his followers don't have the stomach or the competence to assume power, and they self destruct when they verge on victory because they, secretly even to themselves and fortunately lacking a Lenin, don't have courage to rule. They retain the tantrum ethic of the American Left since the Vietnam War. This may seem too broad a swipe at some very patriotic, very intelligent, very motivated people working towards some highly desirable goals. But I truly feel it to be true, in general terms, and I believe you can draw some illustrative examples from what has happened to that paragon of the American Left wing Intelligentsia, Pacifica Radio. On the brink of national success, by which I mean an extension of its influence and values into the mainstream, brought about both by longevity and journalistic competence, Pacifica has lost both its values and its importance. It is a loss to absolutely everyone, and it is being handled very, very badly.

I haven't said much about the Pacifica turmoil on KGNU primarily because I, admittedly, haven't followed it too closely and because, while I only care in an academic sense, it is gut-wrenching to friends I like and admire but do not often agree with on certain issues. I guess the reason is that I have always felt, and said, that Pacifica was just another network, that it pandered to and performed for its audience, the people likely to infuse it with cash, just as relentlessly as NBC panders to readers of the Wall Street Journal, or a church panders to its parishioners by assuring them that its ethical values are superior to others, and that blessings await for their held beliefs. And while Pacifica is often correct about the manipulative and outrageous extra-curricular activities of our government, it is sometimes dead wrong and is no more likely to highlight its errors than the Daily Camera. I offer its genuflect posture towards the Sandanistas and the heroic common people of Nicaragua a decade ago, and its inability to admit it had been wrong about its beloved concept that the common people adored the Sandanistas until the first free election resoundingly voted them out. My cynicism was further bolstered by the existence of Larry Bensky, a personality incredibly annoying to me. He always delivered in this conspiratorial sing-song usually associated with old lady gossips, and was always drawing attention to how insightful, correct, and wonderful he and those who thought like him were, and all without the slightest trace of humor, much less humor at his own expense. But that was my prejudice, cheerfully admitted. Bensky, and many of the Pacifica stars of yore, have been removed or forced to resign. Others, like Amy Goodman, are under great pressure to do so.

Pacifica started out as a genuine, populist, left wing entity. In recent years, its deterioration came from its inability to handle its long-term success. It felt compelled to provide programming dedicated to such small, possibly non-existent niche groups that its ratings and income were affected. In overpowering simplification, entities from NPR and outside filtered in and tried to force the more troublesome and least popular programs off. They also made it difficult for the more rabid and very popular left wing elements to function as they normally had. This is the bureaucratic mind at work, and it is predictable. The revolution is over, time to establish stability, and look to a future of such. And here is the conflict. There are those who would claim that the revolution is not over, it never is over, and that perpetual turmoil is both desirable and constructive. These are the questions: is it better to have a moderately left wing network favoring unions, anti corporate, pro minority rights with occasional sallies into far left hysteria to be easily heard by a majority of Americans on a regular basis OR is it best to have a few stations in urban markets pandering almost exclusively to an aging left wing and provide programs much like Hispanic-Norwegian Gay Women with Oppressive Overbites Who Like to Polka and Condemn their Fathers Under the Guise of Seeking Political Relief from Patriarchal Authority? Of course, there is indeed the suspicion that what is happening at Pacifica is a right wing plot to destroy the network by fanning internal dissent. Certainly, there are those on the right who would and may have done so.

But even if the most strident paranoid theory is entertained, why couldn't Pacifica defend itself, or at least do a better job than it has? Why couldn't it evolve with some smoothness? Why could it not, apparently, change at all? Had it become just a bastion of people defending their jobs and status at the expense of the whole?

Like one of its favorite groups, Native Americans, it shies away from issues that don't redound to its credit. How come American Indians, if they were so as one with nature and spiritually superior and great, he-man warriors, were so regularly surprised in their teepees a lot by clunky cavalry regiments? Of course American Indians succumbed to bought treason and the fact they would not unite and surrender their local authority to another in order to wage a war. And that sentence could be applied to Pacifica's diverse elements and the American Left in general, but it is not a condescending put down, really. The American Confederacy, the political opposite of America's left, could not either. What all these losers have in common is an inability to adapt to survive, and to substitute self-congratulatory mythology. It may just be that Pacifica has served its purpose honorably and well and is no longer needed. Some other progressive, left wing, revolutionary consortium needs to rise, and quickly, to provide balance to the homogenized garble of the establishment. Pacifica, as we have known it, is gone, under hostile pressure - yes - but guillotined by its own inertia and the parochial concerns of surprisingly selfish heroes of the Left. Time to move on, bury the dead, and focus down the road. Illegitimati Non Carborundum. This is Dark Cloud.