Thursday, April 28, 2005

Up In The Air

Finally caught "Left Of The Dial," the HBO docu about Air America and its attempt to shift talk radio away from the reactionary howling that dominates the airwaves. Interesting but not terribly inspiring. While I'm glad that Air Am exists and has extended its broadcasting reach, the network is essentially an arm of centrist Dems and assorted DLC types. That this is now seen as "the left" proves how much success the right has had in setting the terms of national debate. It also shows the lack of cohesive creative expression among progressives who don't view the Dems as the answer to everything evil.

I've listened to Air Am pretty regularly over the past year, and I think that even its most devoted fans will admit it's a very mixed bag. To be expected with any new venture. But I wonder what Air Am's ultimate goal is. To organize people? Wake them up to see their real interests? To serve as a release valve for all of us who can't stand this administration and its media/Web apologists? I'm starting to think that Air Am is strictly that -- a bitch & moan forum for mainstream Dems. Which is fine. God knows the Dems have plenty to bitch about. But whenever I listen to Air Am, I usually feel that the hosts aren't really talking to people like me, people who view the Dem party as another obstacle to real progressive change. They are talking to themselves and to the rank and file. Anyone outside of this tidy consensus doesn't seem to matter, and in certain cases, exist to be vilified.

Take Ralph Nader, who's long been the Devil incarnate to upstanding libs nationwide. Now, I didn't back Nader's '04 run. I thought it was a poorly thought out exercise in political vanity. Nader had no substantive base supporting him, and unlike his '00 campaign, he wasn't trying to help build an alternative progressive party. He ran to run and to be seen. That's it. And by doing this (among other things), he destroyed whatever cred he had left, and served as an easy target for those libs who think that Al Gore is a populist messiah.

There's a scene in "Left Of The Dial" where Air Am host Randi Rhodes has Nader on her show simply so she can scream at him. It was as infantile a display as I've ever seen. Rhodes wouldn't let Nader talk, trampled all over him in a self-righteous manner, yelled and yelled and yelled till Nader, who was on by phone, finally hung up. We then get a close-up of Rhodes's self-satisfied grin as she goes into a break.

What was the point of that? And whose interests did it serve? Nader's '04 candidacy was a joke to begin with. Why bother? Well, I'll tell you why -- Dems like Rhodes cannot abide progressives who aren't as slavish to the corporate party as is she. Oh, she'll rant and snort about the "special interests" in the GOP, but I've never heard her go off on a similar tangent about the party she loves. Maybe she has and I missed it. I don't listen to every minute of her show (there's only so much lib bluster I can take in an hour). But from what I've heard, Rhodes, like most of Air Am's line-up, is primarily a flack for the Dems. And if you didn't think that Joe Lieberman should be a heartbeat away from the presidency, then fuck you Jack. You ain't down with the humane side of American politics.

Amid all the Dem flacking, there are flashes of creativity and pointed humor on Air Am. Al Franken can be quite funny, esp when he reacts to clips of O'Reilly, Hannity and Rush at their trog worst. And some of Franken's scripted bits are reminiscent of his and ex-partner Tom Davis's routines on the original SNL. And I have a soft spot for Janeane Garofalo. While she can be incredibly strident to the point of flying way past her intended target, she's pissed off in a very genuine way. I also admired her guts during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when she went on any show that would have her to make the anti-war argument. Janeane took a ton of shit for that, death threats included, and she admitted that many times she was frightened and rattled. But she forged on and continues to do so. I also like her tats. We could use more libs like her.

Another positive side to Air Am is that they feature the lovely and talented Laura Flanders, weekend nights from 7-10. Laura and I co-hosted FAIR's weekly radio show on WBAI New York over a decade ago. I won't feign modesty here -- we kicked ass. Laura and I had great chemistry, and whenever I went off on one of my improvisational jags, Laura knew exactly when and how to bring me back to the point. I have very fond memories of that show, and of Laura, and I'm happy to see she's still bringing it. Personally, I think that Laura should be on weekdays, say, the mid-afternoon shift. It would be a hell of an improvement, and would push Air America in the right, errr, left direction.