Friday, April 08, 2011

REVIEW: Independence and Talk Talk About the Talk of Talking Heads

Edited by John Opdyke

Review by Todd Neff

I once covered local politics as a newspaper reporter in Boulder, Colorado. I felt I understood Democrats. Broadly speaking, they seemed to make decisions based on some semblance of what my five senses construed as reality, with a degree of humility, and with at least some empathy for the nonrich, not-environmentally destructive, nonfundamentalist masses. I thought I understood modern Republicans, a self-certain lot who seemed to make decisions unburdened by such empathy, based on a worldview so pixilated as to seem otherworldly.

I had no clue about independents. I mean, an independence movement seemed inimical to the idea of a movement in the first place. Michael Bloomberg’s rationality notwithstanding, a bunch of independent ideas assembled into a movement would regurgitate a mess of helter-skelter policy, right? The book Talk/Talk has helped set me straight.

Talk/Talk is a very different concoction, as books go. It’s a compilation of talking heads talking about the talk of talking heads they (that is, the talking heads featured in Talk/Talk) watched on Sunday TV talk shows. Independence movement leaders Jacqueline Salit and Fred Newman are the stars of this 170-page show, which proceeds in dialogue format, as in:

Newman: What we’ve said before and will say again: that independents are able to shape positions which come closer to where the people are. Democrats and Republicans who are party loyalists can’t easily do that. They can’t do that because their loyalty is fundamentally party loyalty.

That’s on page 45, the beginning of Salit and Newman’s discourse on “This Week with George Stephanopolous” of Sunday, July 8, 2007. The shows they watch change, and the dates and topics leap back and forth with pleasant randomness. There is no central message, no polemic. You realize, as you read through conversations on topics as diverse as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the applicability of Henry Kissinger’s power politics to the modern world, that being independent is mostly about thinking, and that Salit and Newman are well practiced at the art.

Closing the book, I had a sense that, perhaps, the independence movement is actually about policy-making on a rational basis, based on a will to deliver the greatest good for the citizenry – and not, as is the case with today’s political parties, warped by the pressures of self-serving lobbies from the left or right.

I’ll close with Newman’s words, spoken after a PBS News Hour on December 14, 2008. In the wake of the catastrophe in northern Japan and in the face of our own unfolding policy disaster courtesy of party politics, they resonate.

“There is something fundamentally tragic about our lives, all our lives. . . We’re up against forces which we’re thought to be smarter than and more powerful than, but which, in fact, we’re not smarter or more powerful than at all,” Newman said. “That’s our tragedy. We, meaning human beings, believe we are supposed to be in control – of nature, of the world. But we’re not, as we’re discovering. Can we do things better? Yes. Do we? Sometimes.”

Todd Neff is a Denver journalist and author of “From Jars to the Stars: How Ball Came to Build a Comet-Hunting Machine.

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