And don’t let it hit your you-know-what on the way out, either

I learn something new every day. Today I learned something new about myself. It starts with the journalist in me that guides the editor in me to have an open-door policy on submissions for op-eds and columns and reported news pieces from viewpoints from across the political spectrum. Even as the Augusta Free Press has repositioned itself over the past year as the “Valley’s progressive voice,” we have followed in line with my thinking there, frequently granting space to contributors from even the farthest fringes of the far right.

Let me say this next little bit carefully. I’m as aware as anybody that there are people off the deep end on both extremes of the political spectrum, but the AFP has been, ahem, fortunate the past couple of years to only have the extremists on the right denigrating our good name and the good name of its editor in personal jibes that were so clearly over the line as to warrant the dismissal of a handful of individual abusers from these pages on a permanent basis.

This, of course, isn’t by accident. I mean, look at what these same extremists are doing to their own party here in Virginia with the brouhaha over now-former chairman Jeff Frederick that has the GOP fringe promising internecine warfare on Republican candidates and officeholders and anybody else now deemed to be Republican In Name Only. I shouldn’t be surprised, then, to see the AFP get caught in the crosshairs at least from time to time.

This is on top of the successful strategy of the far right for more than 40 years now to treat discourse like a pack of hungry dogs treats a turkey dinner with all the trimmings – attack, attack, attack and then attack some more just to make sure. The guys on the other side, as they well know, with all their book learnin’, they’ll give in from time to time, they’ll concede just to be gentlemanly; that’s the best time to get ’em, when they say somethin’ nice.

It took the good guys a while to catch on, like, say, until about 1992 or so, but even today you have people like me conflicted, and me more than most. I’m conflicted because of my day job, one, and two because I consider myself center-left politically – the left coming on social issues, though I’d be careful to label myself too far left even there, except to say that I favor gay marriage, and support full and equal civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, and I oppose restrictions on abortion rights, which makes me Lenin to all but a few social conservatives. The nuance with me there is I don’t care to try to tell you how to think on either of those issues, which of course infuriates the social conservatives even more, because they obviously do like trying to tell people how to think on their issues.

The center for me comes on foreign policy and on fiscal policy. I, like Mark Warner, like Bill Clinton, think government needs to be run as any business would be, with an eye always to the bottom line, and really, the fact that I put the center in there first is because it’s the center that drives my perspective. Gay civil rights are a moral issue, sure, but domestic partner benefits and the extension of tax benefits to married gay couples makes us more economically productive, as does universal health care, as does comprehensive sex education.

I get myself in trouble in my Democratic Party meetings when I half-jokingly tell people that I think of myself as a little-l libertarian – don’t spend my money, and don’t tell me how to live my life. I say I half-jokingly refer to myself that way because I break significantly with little-l and Big-L libertarians on the role that government plays in economic development, or rather that I see a role for government to play in economic development, whereas the libertarians, Big- and little-l, think that to be heresy.

I was going somewhere with this, you might remember. The far right has been masterly in reducing the public debate to the lowest common denominator, and those of us on the other side of the ledger have struggled to find an effective retort. “No new taxes.” Who’s for new taxes? For that matter, who even likes the old ones? “Win the war.” Well, of course win the war. It’s been how long since we declared Mission Accomplished now? Come home already, for chrissakes.

Remember how Jim Gilmore swept to victory from the far right in his 1997 gubernatorial race with Don Beyer? “No car tax.” And that was it. Beyer’s car-tax cut was so much the better – it involved a writeoff on the state income tax that didn’t shortchange localities and didn’t put such an onerous burden on the state coffers that what we ended up with has nearly bankrupt state government twice.

But it took him more than three words to spell out his plan – and for that matter, he was just a tired old liberal, if you listened to the far right, anyway.

That’s where I’m going with this. In the course of playing fair and above board I’ve allowed submissions from a cadre on the far right to play this 40-plus-year-old bullying game on our pages, and I’m upset with myself for having done so.

My message here, finally, where I’m going with this – the lesson so many years in the making is finally a lesson learned. The door to the far right is officially closed.

 

– Column by Chris Graham


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