April 18, 2006

Your Weekly Reeder: What’s lost when leadership plays to the Base

Many times during my excellent adventure in Frankfort, I heard Republicans refer to “The Base.” As in, “That won’t play with The Base,” or, “The Base wouldn’t like that.” I thought I knew what The Base was, but, to be sure, I asked one of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s top aides to define it for me.As I suspected, today’s Republican base is the George Wallace constituency of the 1960s. The Base is almost totally white. It is generally opposed to diversity, inclusion and tolerance. It’s more interested in getting the Bible in our public classrooms than it is in living up to the teachings of the Bible.The Base wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, deny fundamental rights to gays and turn illegal immigrants into felons instead of addressing the problems in our economic system — the ridiculously low minimum wage, for example — that inadvertently create a huge need and demand for immigrant labor.Both in Washington and Frankfort, the leaders of The Base shamelessly exploit fear and ignorance to their advantage. They sell the idea that they possess a kind of moral superiority that gives them an almost divine right to govern, even if it means circumventing the law.The leaders of The Base surround themselves with sycophants instead of independent thinkers. They are obsessed with control and manipulation, so they devote an extraordinary amount of time and effort to undermining what Rush Limbaugh and his ilk denigrate as “the mainstream media.”The truth is, the real mainstream media is controlled by The Base. Check the TV or radio listings and see how many talk shows you can find that don’t have a pro-Base point of view. The big media conglomerates, most notably Gannett and Clear Channel, are controlled by men who are more or less in tune, philosophically, with the Karl Roves and Tom DeLays of the political world.The power of The Base has become so pervasive that it has made cowards of the Democratic Party and the “mainstream media.” It’s not that The Base has a numerical superiority; it’s just that it’s far better organized and more unified than its disjointed opposition.Consider, for example, the politics involved in where a new arena should be located in Louisville.The leading proponents of the LG&E site — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Gov. Fletcher and Arena Authority Chairman Jim Host — all are card-carrying members of The Base, and they stacked both the Arena Task Force and the Arena Authority with their yes men and women.On the Task Force, the only mavericks were John Schnatter, founder of the Papa John’s pizza chain, and State Rep. Larry Clark. And only Schnatter voted against the LG&E site on the grounds that (a) the numbers fed to the committee by Host were bogus, and (b) the selection process was flawed by a gross lack of transparency.On both counts, Schnatter eventually was proved right. Sadly, it made no difference. Even after Schnatter and David Jones commissioned a study that concluded that the old Water Company site is better for the taxpayers in every respect, The Base was unshakeable.In no small part, The Base has been aided and abetted by both The Courier-Journal, which used to be a great newspaper, and Mayor Jerry Abramson, who used to be a traditional Democrat.Once the leading proponent of the old Water Company site, Abramson switched sides for the sake of political expediency. His motto: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — even if they’re wrong.In an ordinary election year, the mayor’s sellout would give his Republican opponent a tremendous opportunity to win the voters who (a) prefer the old Water Company site for any number of other reasons, beginning with the fact that it will be $114 million cheaper, (b) prefer a new arena at the Fairgrounds or on the University of Louisville campus, or (c) want no arena at all.Alas, however, Abramson’s opponent, Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, also belongs to — you guessed it — The Base. As a member of the Arena Task Force, he wielded his rubber stamp with gusto. As a result, he has been rendered mute on an issue that could win him the entire South End and some of the West End.How pathetic. The city, the state and the nation deserve leaders who believe in diversity, inclusion and tolerance. It deserves leaders who have the vision and the courage to deal fearlessly with the realities of today and tomorrow instead of trying to perpetuate the discredited values of yesterday.It deserves better than The Base. Contact the writer at billyr@leoweekly.com