Talk Radio: Democracy at Work

Recently, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said, "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem." The "problem" the GOP Minority Whip was talking about is the fact that conservative radio listeners from coast to coast have been flooding his office and every other senate and congressional office with phone calls and emails stating their opposition to that flawed immigration bill they were trying to foist on the American public. What the senator seems to be against is a medium that is giving voice to millions of people who are being informed about the machinations of government and then taking a role in the dialogue that concerns their future.

It must be a painful adjustment to delude yourself into believing that you have your finger on the pulse of the national community and then become frustrated when you discover that you don't have a clue regarding what most Americans believe. Before the immigration bill is reintroduced to the Senate floor in an attempt to bring it back to life, President Bush and those senators who supported the failed effort should take into consideration the opinion of the American people (those who are here legally), inasmuch as they are the ones who put them in office. Since these elected officials are, at least ostensibly, supposed to be responding to the will of their bosses (us), they should take a peek at what a majority of us are saying.

A New York Times/CBSNews poll taken May 18-23 found that 69% of Americans believe that illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported; 82% of those surveyed said the federal government should be working harder to "keep illegal immigrants from crossing into this country." And according to a Rasmussen poll, by a two-to-one margin (60% to 28%), Americans set a higher priority on gaining control of the nation's borders than regularizing the status of illegal immigrants, while 75% opined that it's very important for the United States to "improve border enforcement and end illegal immigration."

Perhaps that doesn't sit well with Mr. Lott or with his colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who recently spoke to the National Council of La Raza and impugned the motives of his fellow Americans regarding the bill they don't agree with. Here was a US Senator saying the "loud people," the "bigots" who disagree with amnesty for illegal aliens should "shut up" and go away. It seems increasingly evident that some of these politicians, who ostensibly represent the people, get really upset when the people are actually heard from. They want us to believe that the failure of the bill is a sign that the system is broken. Yet, it appears that the only thing broken when it comes to our immigration debacle is the spine of those elected officials who would rather pander to lawbreakers than stand up for the overwhelming majority of their constituents who believe the law should mean something.  

A few years ago, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer were overheard talking about stopping talk radio by legislation, if necessary. Undoubtedly, that was a reference to the so-called, "Fairness Doctrine" that many politicians have been trying to pass for decades. It begins with the proposition that talk radio is unfair in its coverage and therefore must be regulated to ensure "fairness." Translation: talk radio has too many listeners who agree with conservative principles; hence, it must be silenced.  

In the spring of 1987, both houses of Congress voted to put the Fairness Doctrine into law; a statutory inclusion which the FCC would have to enforce, like it or not. But President Reagan, in keeping with his deregulatory efforts and his long-standing belief that government should stay out of the affairs of business, vetoed the legislation. There were insufficient votes to override the veto. Congressional efforts to make the doctrine into law surfaced again during administration of George H.W. Bush. As before, the legislation was vetoed, this time by Bush.

While our pusillanimous reps are proclaiming that the system is broken because the bill was defeated, a more discerning response would have maintained that the system is working better than it was ever designed to work. The Founding Fathers could never have envisioned the Internet and the influence put forth by thousands of web logs. They couldn't have imagined a radio universe with sound waves reaching millions of human ears. We have entered a new wave of democracy, one that gives voice to the masses. Thousands of illegal aliens marched in the streets of some major cities while mouthing the implied threat to timorous politicians: "Today we march; tomorrow we vote." Now, millions of Americans are saying: "Today we blog; tomorrow we vote." It's about time someone paid attention to the majority for a change.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
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