Confessions of an Alienated Journalist

November 4, 2004
Category: Archive

I stood on line for two hours Tuesday to vote, predicting that a big turnout of young people and new voters would push John Kerry over the top. This morning I’m looking in the mirror, wondering, as a journalist and a citizen, if there is something fundamentally myopic about how I see the world.

It seems that the Democrats are insensitive to “moral values.” This puzzles me because I think that opposing a war, or working for economic justice, or making health care more available in America all derive from a moral vision. Apparently, it is not the moral vision — the set of faith and family values — that helped re-elect George W. Bush.

I am now taking seriously the theory that we mainstream journalists are different from mainstream America. “Different” is too pale a word. We are alienated. We may live in the same country, but we treat each other like aliens. Maybe it’s worse than that because we usually see and suspect the alien in our midst. The churched people who embrace Bush, in spite of a bumbling war and a stumbling economy, are more than alien to me. They are invisible.

I see the cheering crowds at the Springsteen concerts. I tap my feet while celebrities rock the vote. I imagine pro-Kerry college students heading for the polls, getting hernias from lifting Michael Moore on their shoulders.

But there’s stuff I can’t see. I can’t see what is in the hearts and minds of so many working class and rural Americans attracted to George W. Bush as a defender of moral values. In my skeptic’s mind, the expression “moral values” is nothing more than code language for showy piety and patriotism, with more than a dash of racism and homophobia. In my cynic’s heart, I see Red, White, and Blue transformed by others into Guns, God, and Gays.

What am I missing? And what are you journalists not showing me?

Wait. I’m a journalist. I am that skinny guy in the mirror.

  • I don’t know the difference between evangelical and charismatic, but I can argue about who has sluttier videos, Britney or Christina.
  • I know little about the “born again” experience but can celebrate the narrative structure of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
  • I’ve never listened to a religious radio program or attended a church supper, but I can tell you whatever you want to know about Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge.

I attend Catholic Mass most Sundays, but in my life as a citizen I am a thorough secularist. In fact, I believe that excessive public piety is a danger to democracy, a first step toward the theocratic fanaticism that has poisoned the Islamic cultures around the world.

This is starting to sound like a confession. Maybe it is. I once was blind — and still can’t see. My blind spots blot out half of America. And that makes me less of a citizen, and less of a journalist.

Correction: An earlier version of this column misattributed a story about The Pillsbury Bake-Off.