Brian Lehrer is host of "The Brian Lehrer Show," WNYC Radio's daily call-in program, covering politics and life, locally and globally. The show airs weekdays from 10am-noon on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and wnyc.org.
It's A Free Country...So What?
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
The Free Country Manifesto
Read | Argue | Listen | Act
Every schoolyard argument seems to devolve to the exclamation that “It’s a free country.” This, of course, is never a political statement. It’s just every kid’s assertion that she or he can do whatever the hell they please, like change the rules of dodge ball so they win. But as a future wonk of a ten year old, I did sometimes wonder: Do kids in North Korea not change the rules because it’s not a free country? My guess is that they do, but they hang it up on some other cultural narrative. This one is ours. It’s active rather than passive, individually liberating and a little in your face. And I like it.
But of course, with freedom comes responsibilities. I wouldn’t recommend that to my son as a retort on the schoolyard. The rule changers will think he’s a nerd and immediately act on their free country right to pummel him.
But for us grownups concerned with the state of the union, the freedom/responsibility continuum seems to be at the heart of our current troubles and polarization. Sometimes it feels like our whole nation has become a schoolyard, with politicians, businesses, the media, and a lot of regular folk shouting right past each other.
That’s where we come in. “It’s a free country” usually ends a conversation. What do you really say after that? It’s like saying “everything is relative” or “we’re all gonna die eventually.” Yeah, so? But here, it’s a conversation starter.
Our mission here is twofold: to provide you lively political content and to partner with you to build a unique interactive community. That doesn’t mean glossing over our differences. But it does mean airing them with the idea that we don’t have to become Babel in the process. We can do it in pursuit of building that shining city on a hill. Together.
Don’t just say something, do something.
If this experiment succeeds, there will always be something to learn here and there will always be something to do. We hope to make this not just another news and opinion site, but a diverse political community to come hang out in. Get to know each other through social media. Mix it up with people you disagree with. Maybe even find some common ground or come to see things in a whole new way. Challenge yourself with our news and politics quizzes. Join a crowdsourcing team and help with an investigation, or help us invent a new tool. Tweet us a link for others to follow. Nominate and vote for your favorite posts. Or just take in some strong narrative writing from our guest bloggers, visit our Politics Bites soundbite roll, or gaze at some beautiful and illuminating infographics. I’ll say it again: There will always be something to learn here and there will always be something to do. So get ready to participate. Get ready to act and to interact.
Maybe we’ll change the world, or at least the way we talk politics. Or maybe it’ll suck and we’ll all go home early – storm off the dodge ball court because we didn’t get our way. But one thing’s for sure. This ain’t North Korea. It’s a free country. So let’s give it a try.