With Rupert Murdoch having won his war for control of The Wall Street Journal, we can begin to reflect on the Meaning of It All.
Here’s one layer of meaning: Liberals get to help us acknowledge the importance of an editorial page that stands for something — in The Journal’s case, for human freedom. Not many other American newspapers these days make that claim.
For sure there exist plenty of newspapers skeptical or sharply critical of, not freedom in the abstract — who would do that? — rather, of attempts to widen freedom’s availability. These papers don’t especially approve of cutting taxes; they don’t trust school voucher programs or businessman as a class; they doubt the efficacy of the profit motive; they repose enormous faith in government’s ability to regulate us out of any problem; they aren’t turned on by the prospect of entrenching freedom in Iraq and elsewhere.
On moral issues it’s another matter. What the majority of newspaper deep-thinkers like is license, or its first cousin. License isn’t freedom. The latter carries responsibility for consequences; the former says consequences (abortion, illegitimacy, etc.) are up to the individual.
The great majority of newspapers, in other words, are liberal, or, to use their favored term, "progressive." There once was a goodly number of non-"progressive" newspapers, dispensing non-"progressive" editorial viewpoints. No more. At the national level there’s just The Journal. Small wonder the rival The New York Times’ media critic the other day took a sharp dig at The Journal’s "medieval brand of conservatism."
"Medieval." You know — kings and nobles running the human show, under a feudal system contrived for defense against enemies. No inherent rights for anyone else; the serf confined forever to his tiny plot and smoky hovel, helpless to move, helpless to rise. We all can see of course how neatly the medieval worldview squares with The Journal’s proud and deliberate editorial commitment to "free people and free markets." Free people are reputed to make poor serfs, but maybe nobody at The Times stares out the window all that much.
Full disclosure. I subscribe to, and read thoroughly, both newspapers every day — The Journal and The Times, a feat that can take a couple of hours. This is how you learn, if I am not mistaken. This is how you come to think — in spite of the progressive elitists who dominate American journalism.
Progressive elitism, even in the age of Bush — perhaps especially in the age of Bush, the president all good elitists despise — dominates discourse in America due to two factors: 1) progressive elitism’s own sense of superiority and 2) the lassitude of non-progressives in pushing their own arguments, in standing up for freedom. The non-progressives — call them the conservatives — operate an assortment of valuable idea factories known as think tanks. Yet you rarely find these folk, or their like, in the media, digging up and highlighting freedom issues; commenting adversely, in the feisty spirit of the First Amendment, on the progressives who give them such a hard time.
Don’t tell me either that conservative talk radio makes up for everything. If you want something remembered, don’t just say it, write it down.
No, sir, in the media that matter — magazines and newspapers — the task of upholding freedom falls largely upon the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal, who happen to have the brains and the moxie to make it work, sometimes resplendently.
As for other journalistic citadels of medieval, pro-freedom thought — prithee, sweet, my lords, there ain’t none. Unless you conclude (as you might) that in the serf-and-master department, it’s the progressives, with their love of compulsion, who best typify the type.
Wait till the health care debate really starts up and the progressives start measuring 300 million Americans for the shackles and leg irons of government control. I’ll be counting on Mr. Murdoch and his Journal to set our would-be masters straight.