commentary (2006-05)

When the far-left and far-right collide

Basket Cases

by Matt Edens

The revolution, as it turns out, wasn’t televised. Now a bootleg tape may yet turn up on City Councilman Steve Hall’s public access political show, but overall last Thursday’s “Take Back Our Government” rally out at the Clinton Highway Expo Center barely produced a blip in the local media. Even the Halls Shopper ’s Sandra Clark—while generally sympathetic to the rally’s anti-Ragsdale, anti-wheel tax slant—sounded more than a little disillusioned after attending the rag-tag proceedings for two rambling hours, commenting: “It’s hard to see how fellows who can’t run a meeting expect to run a county.”

That doesn’t bode well for Councilman Hall, someone most of the folks wandering in and out over the course of the evening presumed would use the event to officially announce he was a candidate for County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s job. (I wonder, when Hall coyly stated, “There is a possibility that I will run,” did they feel jilted? Shaken by a sinking sense of deja vu?) Four more commission hopefuls were in attendance, as well as two incumbents running for reelection (along with Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary—who, after failing to “take back” the governor’s mansion, are having a go at a Senate seat instead).

I have to say that county politics have never particularly caught my fancy, nor do I tend to keep tabs on Lloyd, Lumpy and the less colorfully named members of the local far-right radio regulars. Truth be told, I would have been willing to let the “Take Back Our Government” rally roll right by without so much as batting an eye if it weren’t for curious occurrence.

“On behalf of the Save The Candy Factory campaign, I want to, first of all, thank City Council member Steve Hall for sticking with his position on this issue…” began one the evening’s speakers, a self-styled progressive who fought the privatization of the Candy Factory, seeking instead to preserve its status as publicly-owned meeting space. 

Hall, of course, was the sole nay vote a few weeks back regarding the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) crucial for the Candy Factory’s sale to Kinsey, Probasco, Hays and Associates (Cardinal Development, whose owner Brian Conley is also publisher of Metro Pulse , is a partner in the redevelopment proposal). The staunchly conservative councilman won accolades from the small group of largely leftist environmentalists, activists, artists and pseudo-socialists who spoke out against the sale, whereas Council’s most left-leaning member, former labor advocate and living wage proponent Bob Becker, was booed for his yes vote and comments. The Save the Candy Factory faction also drew support from Greg “Lumpy” Lambert. A used car salesman who earned some notoriety awhile back by giving away a free rifle with the every purchase, Lambert spoke at County Commission’s January meeting against approving TIF (Lumpy, coincidentally is also hoping to “Take Back Our Government” as a County Commission candidate).

While the Candy Factory debate may be the first time such a convergence of far-right and far-left has taken place on the local level, the phenomenon has become commonplace of late as the old left/right dichotomy becomes increasingly out of date. In its place, author and business journalist Virginia Postrel proposes that the new dividing line is between “stasis” and “dynamism,” defined largely on how one views the future.

And, in Postrel’s view, the seminal moment in the making of this new paradigm may have actually been televised. In her book The Future and its Enemies , Postrel describes a 1995 episode of CNN’s Crossfire .  The topic was, rather nebulously, a debate about “The Future,” and guest and former ‘60s icon Jeremy Rifkin spent most of the segment offering up, not the fiery arguments against that the Crossfire bookers no doubt hoped for, but a surprising series of attaboys to conservative pundit Pat Buchanan’s positions on everything from globalization, immigration, technology and the information economy.

Whether progressive or paleo-conservative, Rifkin and Buchanan, as well as the crowd at the Expo Center and many of the people protesting the sale of the Candy Factory, all largely agree on one basic principle: Things are going to hell in a hand basket (figuratively speaking, perhaps, depending on their individual views on religion). The only argument, if any, is over whose hand is lugging the basket—big government, big business or, increasingly, both.