Did you catch Steve Croft's interview of recently retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens on "60 Minutes" Sunday night? If you didn't, check it out here.
Two observations: 1. I hope to be half as cogent at age 70 as Stevens is at 90; 2. The fact that a man who was a moderate Republican when he was appointed by President Gerald Ford turned out to be court's leading liberal is as indicative of the polarization that our country has undergone in 35 years as anything I can imagine.
And therein lies the basis of today's column. Are we going to start choosing the companies we buy from based on their political compatibility? And, if so, is this a good thing?
Stevens provides insight into several decisions of recent vintage that he finds profoundly troubling. One is the court's decision to deny a recount of the Florida presidential vote in 2000, assuring George Bush's victory over Al Gore. But I got the feeling that he thinks a second decision -- to remove any restrictions on the amount of money a corporation may spend on a political campaign -- may have an even greater long-term impact on our society.
"Well, you know, basically, an election is a debate" he tells Croft. "And most debates, you have rules. And I think Congress is the one that ought to make those rules. And if the debate is distorted by having one side have so much greater resources than the other, that sometimes may distort the ability to decide the debate on the merits," says Stevens. "You want to be sure that it's a fair fight."
This all came to mind when I received an e-mail yesterday afternoon from Grist, the environmental blog. Grist is a nonprofit funded by grants, contributions and advertising. It seems that one of its sponsors, Credo Mobile, was recently attacked on the air by Glenn Beck for its campaign to get Discovery Communications to cancel "Sarah Palin's Alaska."
Grist forwarded a letter from Michael Kieschnick, president of Credo, who says that the company has been "fighting the right wing with our activist network and with millions in donations to progressive nonprofits." He says that Beck responded by putting Credo on his "blackboard," while using the schoolyard epithet "spooky evil dudes" to refer to the company.
"We doubt that Beck would call companies like AT&T that," Kieschnick writes. "After all, AT&T contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians, like Michele Bachmann and her House Tea Party Caucus members."
Kieschnick then takes the occasion to make a pitch to me to "get everything you expect from a mobile phone company-plus a whole lot more."
You know, there was a time in this country when people chose their shop keeps by what political party they belonged to, or what ethnicity they happened to be. And people chose their media -- newspapers and magazines in those days -- based on the cut of their ideological jib. There was no pretense of "we report, you decide." The decisions have been made in those proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
The smoke may be gone, but the mirrors remain. Personally, I'd hate to think that we're all sitting in boxes with nothing to look at except our own reflected opinions and values. And I'd like to think that the push and pull of our differences in opinion is what makes our democracy thrive.
Are our points of view so radically different nowadays that we need to choose our brand of laundry detergent based not on the intrinsic merits of the product but rather on who is contributing how much money to whom? If this be the case, marketing budgets may as well be under aegis of your company's Political Action Committee.
What do you think?