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Out of Left Field | Commentary by Charlie Vignola
| Monday, Jan 14, 2013

charlievignolaComedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks made a terrific little comedy in 1991 called “Defending Your Life,” and it had a lasting effect on me.

In the movie, Brooks imagined an afterworld in which people are put on trial and forced to “defend their life” to prove that by the time they died, they’d conquered the fears that had prevented them from living the best, most fulfilling version of their lives. If they failed to make the case, they were sent back to Earth in the hope that this time, they would overcome their fears and become happy and productive members of the universe.

The movie had a simple but profound message: We all face fears every day, but it’s how we handle these fears that determines the quality of our lives.

From my perspective, the modern Republican Party is a party that’s absolutely dominated and defined by fear, and it infuses every aspect of its party platform.

* Fear that al-Qaida is as strong as ever, and that Iran is building a nuke to give to terrorists so they can destroy Washington, D.C., and Tel Aviv.

* Fear that illegal immigrants are stealing all of our jobs, draining our social services and committing crimes.

* Fear that there’s a War on Religion – at least the Judeo-Christian kind – and that God is being driven from the public square.

* Fear that America is in hopeless moral decline, what with homosexuals demanding marriage equality and having the temerity to believe that the love they feel for one another should be recognized legally and regarded as normal.

* Fear that whites are becoming the minority in America and that changing demographics are turning this country into a racial mosaic they no longer recognize.

* Fear that the government is coming to take their guns – the one possession right-wingers seem to prize above all others.  I truly think if they had a choice between having a home but no gun, or having a gun but no home, they’d choose the latter.

* Fear of the government in general – that it’s becoming a socialist tyranny straight out of a bad Ayn Rand novel, with the “takers” sucking the “makers” dry … which is why we need all of those guns just in case we need to show the government who’s boss.

There’s a weird disconnect within the Republican Party. They revere the Founding Fathers as renaissance geniuses who created the greatest government ever seen in the history of mankind, yet they simultaneously distrust and revile that very same government and seem to be one step away from armed insurrection at any given time.

For those who think America is only one new gun law away from being a fascist dictatorship, here’s the truth: Every two years, you get an opportunity to change everything without a single bullet.  It’s called an “election.”

Yes, folks, we still live in a representative democracy, the greatest one ever devised, and it still works perfectly fine, despite the occasional hiccup like 9/11, the Iraq War, the abuse of the filibuster or the rising national debt.

If you don’t like the way things are going, you have the right to vote the bastards out every 24 months. You could even run for public office yourself and be one of those bastards, if you’re so inclined.  That’s what’s so cool about living in a free country.

Look. There are lots of real things to worry about, and there always will be.  In fact, many of the fears Republicans have are justified – at least from their philosophical point of view.  But that’s part and parcel of the conservative mindset.

Conservative intellectual William F. Buckley famously said the purpose of his right-wing magazine, The National Review, was to “stand athwart history, yelling ‘stop.’”  Clearly, he was fearful of the direction of social progress and wanted to freeze politics and morality in a form he understood and made him comfortable.

Generally, most people don’t like change, and most people fear what they don’t understand.  Fear and prejudice are like molds that can only grow where there’s a lack of experience and education.  Of course, no one likes to think their biases are irrational, because no one likes to admit they’re naïve or ignorant.

But times change.  Not too long ago, it was perfectly acceptable that women couldn’t vote.  And it was illegal in certain states for black people to marry white people.  And homosexuals were deathly afraid of revealing their true feelings.  Let’s be honest: If you weren’t a God-fearing heterosexual white male, America kind of failed to live up to its true potential until the last 50 years or so.

It’s been a long hard fight for equal rights and social justice, and there are a lot of sore losers who fear what America is becoming, who’d like to turn back the clock and stand athwart history, yelling “Stop.”

But America is a dynamic population that’s constantly changing, constantly improving, constantly evolving.  Of course, the party that doesn’t believe in evolution has problems with this.

Here’s the thing. America wasn’t created by fearful, narrow-minded people, but by bold, enlightened people who believed in the expansion of human rights rather than the suppression of them. That is, after all, what “liberty” means.

Conservatives may have their issues with FDR, but they’d be foolish to argue with his all-time great quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

 

Charlie Vignola describes himself as a former College Republican turned liberal Democrat.  A resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1999, he works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Barnabus Collins says:

    Well the liberals have it really easy … they just have to instill fear in the GOP! Har! Oy vey … how many times will you liberals go back to a dry well to look for water?

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