- John Nichols's new book pokes fun at Florida's election mishaps.
Journalist John Nichols is high on American democracy. It was "born in dissent [from] wild, radical dialogue that challenged the corrupt, inefficient status quo," he says. He points out that only one-third of the American colonists stood for revolution; another third supported England, and the final third just hoped to sit it out.
The events of September 11 have resulted in a stifling of dissent that worries Nichols. In his travels around the nation since that day, he's found evidence that public opinion polls are not entirely accurate. The dissenters are simply not being reflected in the television or print media, Nichols says. "Grassroots Americans are engaged in a rich, healthy dialogue about issues of war, peace, terrorism, foreign policy, and domestic issues. I would gladly take any random group of 535 Americans and put them in charge of the country, as I believe they are far more open to honest debate and discourse than our Congress has been."
Nichols, a regular columnist for The Nation and author of the just-published Jews for Buchanan: Did You Hear the One About the Theft of the American Presidency?, believes there are few dissenters to be found in the current crop of legislators. He is also frustrated by the media's blackout on issues such as the resurgent anti-war movement. "Only one industry is protected in the Constitution: the press. The founders did that for a reason. Up to that point, the king was seen as the source of what to do and think. Americans needed to have many sources of information, so that ordinary people could make decisions. The tendency of the media [today] is to shave off the edges and go for the most simple and sensational stories."
Jews for Buchanan is a send-up of the Florida election debacle. "If you believe that George W. Bush was legitimately elected President on November 7, 2000," he says, "you have to believe that thousands of Palm Beach Jews, many of them survivors of concentration camps and retired New York garment workers, cast their ballots for Pat Buchanan, who is frequently accused of harboring anti-Semitic views." During the 36 days following the election, the media looked at the issue "as a personality fight, not as a story about the basic process of democracy."
Nichols will read from his book at Mac's Backs Paperbacks in Cleveland Heights on Friday; he will also give the keynote speech at the Ohio Progressive Scholars Conference in Oberlin on Saturday. Both talks are likely to be heavy on his ideas about democracy and access to the media. "We know that America is a democracy only when we see evidence of debate and dissent," Nichols says. "If there is no dissent, if everything is lockstep, what is the point?"