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We are Liars and a Traitors
by david   November 6, 2003
cbs, reagan, bush, conservative

CBS has decided to pull the Reagan miniseries. We saw it coming -- the attacks began in late October, as conservatives objected to the "historical inaccuracy" of the biopic, and the Hollywood Reporter saw CBS possibly cutting the 4 hour mini-series to a two-hour, less-objectionable, one-night shot. The big network's dumping it altogether should not come as a surprise, especially in the face of threats of a campaign by the right against advertising during the show. While not surprising, CBS's action is still a tremendous blow to art and to free speech in general, and is just another example of a conservative suppression of dissent and open discourse by crying "liar" and "traitor."

A principle example of what was supposed to be objectionable about the Reagan mini-series was a statement made by Brolin-as-Reagan about the spread of AIDS: "They that live in sin shall die in sin." While conservatives cry "he never said that!" and the screenwriter herself replies that this is a fictionalized Reagan -- apart from lines taken directly from public speeches, he may never have said any of these things, Reagan biographers agree that he may well have felt exactly that way. Regardless of whether Reagan really felt that homosexuals deserved AIDS (BTW, I know many hardline conservatives who felt exactly that way and said as much, including my late grandfather, a Reagan Republican who served many years as a state legislator), the fact is that pressure from powerful conservatives was able to shut down a film critical of their greatest modern hero (my grandfather is also the man who convinced me, as a child, that Reagan's should be the fifth face on Mt. Rushmore) with an effort which lasted less than three weeks.

While Hollywood is in an uproar (ironic, since the mini-series, like most of its ilk, was likely to be cheesy and panned by most of those who are now defending it, albeit for its quality, not its content) over this blatant and frighteningly successful attempt to quash creative freedom, I shudder at the larger implications. Ever since September of 2001, conservative bullies and White House strongmen have been quietly or not-so-quietly quashing speech which does not sit with the Presidential or conservative message. Whether it was branding those who preached caution about 9/11 retribution (like me) as "un-American," calling those who opposed the war in Iraq (again, like me), especially after it began, "traitors" to America and her soldiers, or blaming a "liberal media" for painting a grim picture of postwar Iraq, the current administration and its conservative following has made it a matter of policy to quash dissent and uncomfortable questions with a loud cry of "liar!" or "traitor!" rather than engage in civil debate. (When asked, at a press conference last week, if he could promise that by this time next year America would have fewer troops in Iraq than we now have, rather than talking about the future, President Bush said, "That's a trick question -- I won't answer it.") When those simple tactics fail, they punish continuing dissent by exposing a CIA operative wife, or by suing a former SNL writer. Rather than allowing The Reagans to air, and then examine it in an open forum, exposing whatever inaccuracies were to be found and correcting them with fact, conservatives screamed "liar" and bullied CBS into withholding it. Even the Showtime version, set to air next year, will likely be changed from what was meant to air next week, so we'll never really know what the hell they objected to, or whether those things made the final cut (this assumes that the bullies actually saw the show -- most admit to be reacting to a short, seven-minute highlight reel -- they don't appear to have any desire to actually watch the entire program before condemning it).

Surely nothing could be more American than the expression of contrary opinions, and healthy debate over those opinions. And yet, with it's policy of bullying and cries of "traitor," the current conservative movement, headed by the Bush administration, seems to want to squash that expression entirely. These conservatives don't think the American public can watch a television mini-series and not take every word of it as stone fact. They don't think the American people can hear two (or more) opposing opinions and choose for themselves the one that makes the most sense. They don't respect the average American enough to leave that choice in his or her hands. More ominously, they don't think the American people should hear opinions which contradict their views.

Fortunately, not all of us are answerable to big corporate interests and political pressure. And we say that Bush did not finish his work in the still dangerous, violent Afghanistan, that Bush's administration is illegally holding hundreds of prisoners in Cuba in violation of the Geneva Convention, that he lied to us about WMD and Iraq's nonexistent ties to Bin Laden in order to forward a war he'd planned since before his inaguration, that he and his broke the law in betraying an undercover operative, that his reckless economic policies (speaking of Reagan) have led dozens of states to financial ruin and put millions out of work, and that his imperialist aspirations have left us with an ongoing conflict in the middle-east which we can not afford to support, in terms of money or human lives. And that Reagan should not be the fifth face on Mt. Rushmore, no matter how big conservatives build his legend, or how much they decry those who draw attention to his flaws.

Unfortunately, CSP's reach is somewhat smaller than CBS's. At least for now.

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