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TODAY

Thursday, July 18

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Airbags

I don't know how many people read my column every week. I know of at least 10. It could be a few hundred. I don't know. I do know you all are probably like-minded folks, and so it is a whole lot of preaching to the choir that goes on. This little column, one of millions on the internet, swims in obscurity every week, for all my bluster and loudness, utterly meaningless.

So much, friends, hinges on this election. So much. In a real way, a very real way, the world that our children come into depends on the direction our country takes in the next few years. But it's getting to the point where it's hard to care who wins anymore. Because the problems are so profound, and we can't get anybody to talk about them. Nobody will listen to the problems that face us. Not the Democrats, certainly not the Republicans. Not the Greens or Libertarians, either. Nobody.

I love my country. In a very real way, in the way you can feel in your heart, I have an abiding love for the institutions of our nation, and the people I feel lucky enough to call my countrymen and women. I get excited when I look at the reproduction of the constitution in the back of an old history text book on my bookshelf. I get so excited when I come out to vote, that I can hardly draw in a breath. But our ability to heal what hurts us, what hurts our country -- the great republican experiment, thrust finally into our hands by history -- is quickly sinking in a morass of media pandering and self-obsession.

Comedian Jon Stewart was on CNN's "Crossfire" last week. My favorite comedian since I was a kid and read his book, Stewart looked broken and profoundly sad. He looked at the hosts of "Crossfire," Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, and, addressing them as symbols of the titanic media institutions, he pleaded with them:

"Stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America."

They are hurting America. Not Begala and Carlson per se, but the media culture that chases the story, that refers to itself more than it brings us real news, the media that obsesses over cult of personality is mugging liberty, is leaving that most precious gift in the history of all mankind to fade into nothingness.

Seeing Stewart, who is after all merely a comedian, plead so earnestly, really hurt my heart. It hurt my heart and I thought about the minute details we've been obsessing over for the last six months, I as guilty as others, and I wept. I thought about the "horserace" coverage, I thought about the SwiftVets and President Bush's jacket bulge and all the rest of it, and my heart broke over and over again.

It is nothing other than theft. This nation, this precious democratic experiment, belongs to us, and what the media has done to us is nothing more than theft. And theft makes thieves.

I'm young. I have barely begun to truly breathe the rejuvenating, healing vapors of freedom that our nation has offered to generations before me. I have yet to be afforded the opportunity to bring children into this world, into this nation, and teach them about the flame of democracy they would one day be trusted to defend. It is not fair that I, and millions like me, must watch as the generations above us take for granted and trample over the promise of liberty and freedom. This is our nation, our democracy, too, not just theirs. In fact, it is more ours than theirs, and yet they feel free to trivialize all the things that matter, all the things that are important and essential to a vital, free society to feed their own egos and pocketbooks. And it makes me despair.

We have to take up Stewart's cry. We have to tell them to stop lying. To stop colluding with the wealthy and powerful and finally serve the people. To stop abusing our trust. To stop appealing to people's basest desires and have some personal responsibility. Stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

Americans are not dumb. We are not fools. We want to be taught, I believe that. We want to know. But we aren't offered the opportunity. We are given cheap entertainment, we are made unknowing johns, seduced by a skillful whore. Pandering -- the English root of the word pander is to pimp. To be a go-between for a sexual liaison.

The media -- left, right, centrist, whatever -- are pimping. Appealing to what is base. Appealing to our weaknesses. Betraying our trust. We mustn't allow this. We mustn't allow them to assault what is good in us. We cannot abide by this continued trivialization, or all that is good about America will perish from this Earth.

I believe what Washington said. I do believe that all humanity has entrusted to Americans the flickering flame of a truly free society, of a great experiment in justice and equality. And I see, every day, the people in power, the generation in control of our destiny, snuffing that flame out without a thought -- in fact, with a glimmer of self satisfaction in their eye. And it does hurt my heart, as it should hurt yours.

How can we let this be? How can we let this happen? I cannot stand for it to happen in my short time on this Earth. None of us are long for this Earth. We will meet our Creator and have to answer for our actions. And history may judge our actions for the good or the bad, but inaction is worse: It makes us ciphers, and no human activity is lower than a shrug.

I don't quite know what is to be done, but something must be done, mustn't it? Something can be done -- and for those who tell you otherwise -- don't you believe it.

In my history book is a cartoon from the 1920s. In that cartoon, a majestic, beautiful woman, peace and liberty personified, leads a sad, resistant little globe by the hand. The globe wore a label, "The Wicked World."

We bear a great responsibility, a responsibility to lead the wicked world towards a brighter future. Believe it, know it, that there is a war, a war against the worst instincts in ourselves. Only by winning that war can we protect the flame of the American experiment. In this war, as Gandhi once said, we must be soldiers, but soldiers of peace.

And in this war, we must be armed with vision, we must speak as one voice emboldened by nobility of purpose.

Let it never be said that we flunked our duty to humanity to protect that sacred flame.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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