Before there was the blogosphere, the chat-room, even television, there was radio, the original demotic medium, the one with the ability fracture falsehoods and elevate truths with a single, swooping bold-pitched note. This past Sunday, we had a rare chance to take to the airwaves as co-hosts of WBAI's "Beyond the Pale." We were filling in for Esther Kaplan, journalist, author, and one of the show’s longtime hosts, who was kind enough to entrust us with her show while she is on leave. It was a heady, thrilling, and wildly fun experience, and we’re hoping to reprise it in March.
(For those of you who are so excited by the mere prospect of hearing our dulcet tones that you want to go straight to the tape, you can click HERE to connect to the show. For those who might need more inducement, read on.)
We began our show with – what else? – a conversation about Ron Paul, the anti-war, anti-government cross-over candidate who’s been stirring up the left almost as much as the right (case in point: the readers and writers of Mondoweiss). For twenty minutes, we probed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Paul candidacy with the help of The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates and the left's (how else do you describe her?) Phyllis Bennis. Though both readily acknowledged the positives of Paul's run -- "I get a thrill up my leg too," joked Coates, quoting Chris Matthews -- the overall take-away was, beware the false messiah, no matter how great his foreign policy pitch might sound. Bennis warned:
"[W]e have to separate support for positions from support for candidates. Ron Paul comes with a commitment to ending wars, but he also comes with a commitment against economic injustice, for states' rights, for economic policies that are completely skewed toward the rich and away the poor, he opposed the United Nations, would pull the US out of the United Nations, would not allow any level of foreign aid. So the notion that he stands against current wars is hugely important … but the idea that somehow that by itself given all of the other negatives is enough to support a candidate -- I have a huge problem with that."
As for Coates, he took the positives in the very mixed Ron Paul grab-bag and molded them into a challenge for progressives. "Why don’t we have people on our side saying this? Why don’t we have people on our side aggressively pushing these issues? Why are they off the table?" His answer, at least in part, was for progressives to take a page from the abolitionists' playbook and recommit themselves to the long, hard, retail work of organizing.
We're sorry the segment lacked of a strong Ron Paul voice, and we had in fact lined up Salon's Glenn Greenwald to provide this perspective. Unfortunately, the radio gods saw fit to scramble our plans, and our heart-rates, by making it impossible for us to reach him due to technical problems on our end. Thankfully, both Coates and Bennis didn't miss a beat when our line-up changed seconds before going on the air. (You can watch this bloggingheads discussion between Greenwald and Katha Pollitt to get an idea of what he might have shared.)
In the next segment, we zipped from Tehran to Jerusalem (or, Jerusalem to Tehran) with political scientist John Mearsheimer – he of the The Israel Lobby and the University of Chicago – for a discussion about Dennis Ross. Ross, of course, is the veteran Israel-lobbyist-cum-peace-negotiator who spent more than 20 years guiding US policy toward Israel-Palestine before resigning his post in the Obama administration this past November. To listen to Mearsheimer, it is not a resignation we should mourn.
"By almost every account, he is the central player on the American side. And of course what's happened here is that he's failed, or at least the administrations that he has served have failed. The fact is that Dennis Ross has not even come close to making peace happen between the Israelis and the Palestinians."
Another fact? Both during his days in government and after, Ross has been one of the big pro-Israel boosters of the "military option" against Iran.
Finally, in our last segment we made our way back to the States – from the edge of war with Iran to the alleged war for Jewish votes and money in the 2012 presidential election. If you've opened a newspaper or turned on the TV news during the last few months, you've probably come across a story claiming that American Jews are fleeing President Obama over his Israel policies and hurtling breathlessly, desperately, into the embrace of the Republican Party. With headlines like “Why Obama is Losing the Jewish Vote” or “Obama’s Jewish Problem,” the story takes Obama’s plummeting Jewish support as fact – and then go on to suggest that he’d better change his "anti-Israel" ways or risk losing the whole election. The only problem, as our Guest Greg Sargent explained, is that the story isn't entirely true.
"A lot of this has to do with trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If these folks push the idea that Jewish voters may be abandoning Obama then people say to themselves, wait, is there a reason we should be? And so the idea is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the thing they're predicting actually happens."
We pressed Sargent on whether pressure to retain Jewish votes and money is helping direct the administration's policy in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he didn't believe it was. You can draw your own conclusions.
And so we came to the end of our first show. To date, no one has called to offer us our own program on MSNBC or to suggest kicking Limbaugh from the air once and for all and replacing him with a left-listing, Klezmer-themed program. But we look forward to the day when words like Palestine, social justice, Israel lobby, failed peace process, and Iran war-mongering become as common in mainstream radio as Tea Party, deficit reduction, bomb Iran, and Tim Tebow.