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Stick to my knitting

The notion for this blog has been rattling about on my to-write list for months. It many ways it should not need to be written. All the same, again today another of Those Comments came in: "Just stick to movie reviews. you have no idea of what you're talking about. You love socialism? Move to Europe."

There are 352 comments on that blog. My guess is that 15 or 20 of them give similar advice. I also get it constantly via Twitter and Facebook. It goes without saying that it's my blog on my site and I can write what I please. But that makes it all too simple, especially since almost all of these comments are friendly: "I've enjoyed your reviews for years, etc." "I like your writing, etc."

But...stick to the movies! There is an implication here that I have been assigned a role and must perform it. I was writing about politics before I ever wrote a movie review. I've done op-eds for The Sun-Times since time immemorial. Some people are under the impression that I've become sidetracked in the last ten minutes.

There may be a larger implication, that most people are not qualified to hold political opinions. It's said to be impolite to bring up religion or politics at dinner. That means many meals go without any discussion of what we believe or why we believe it. That's not the way I was raised. Politics were always discussed at our family dinners, and in my memories of long-ago Thanksgivings, after the table had been cleared at my grandmother's house my dad and Uncle Everett and Uncle Johnny all repaired to the living room, fired up their Luckies and Camels, and started in about Eisenhower and Stevenson, Nixon and Kennedy.

There was never any anger. What I remember is good-natured laughter. My Uncle Everett, a Republican, had a way of following a punch-line by lighting a fresh smoke and puffing emphatically. It was a form of punctuation. Then my dad: "Everett, the trouble with you is..." Uncle John was considered a political miracle, because in a state, county, city and Congressional district controlled by Republicans, he was a Democrat and yet had been appointed Champaign postmaster, which was a patronage job. "Everybody likes John," people would say.

I don't recall the words "liberal" and "conservative." People in Downstate Illinois thought in terms of party, not ideology. By writing The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater unleashed a word into the common vocabulary and people began to identify with it and its opposite. Both are ancient terms much honored by their roots in British partisan politics, neither until recently a term of reprobation.

I am a liberal. I've never made it a secret. On my blog, some comments describe me as a "typical liberal" so frequently I begin to suspect that word processing programs have been modified to insert the word "typical" in front of "liberal" in all usages not actually part of a recipe.

Nobody is a typical anything. We are all atypically ourselves. By demonizing those who disagree, we bring the conversation to a halt. Words like "socialism" are also not helpful. I wonder if the reader who recommended I move to Europe has any idea that perfectly respectable people can be socialists. In a national poll, Canada recently selected a man named Tommy Douglas as the greatest Canadian, and he was a socialist, but that wasn't the reason for his popularity. He was also a Baptist minister. As premier of Saskatchewan, he introduced universal health care to that nation. But don't get me started. Canadians in general think of him as a great man. He may even qualify as a "typical liberal."

I saw an article the other day saying that most Americans don't much follow politics. That is a tragedy. Democracy is like a lot of things: If you don't use it, you lose it. I suspect that many Americans who are absolutely positive who they will vote for in the next election would not be particularly articulate in explaining why. This is partly the fault of the superficial nature of our media, where idiocy rules television. You can more easily find the reasons why viewers support the competitors on the dominant television genre. (That genre, of course, was founded decades ago as "The Original Amateur Hour," although its descendants are neither original or amateurs.)

So anyway, yes, I make bold to write about politics. I am proud of the calibre of the comments, both with me and against me, that this blog draws. I would feel diminished if I had to write only about movies. Or let me be more precise: If you give it some thought, to have a license to write about movies is to be licensed to write about anything. "All politics is local," said Tip O'Neill. To which I append: "All movies is political."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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