"The first thing that happens in a revolutionary era is the great figures of the old era get discredited."
So said Joshua Cooper Ramo, author of the compelling new book The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It, on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show.
And, he might have added, so do the old era's once-sacred media tropes. I've been writing for a while about the media's reluctance to give up its reliance on looking at every issue through a right vs. left frame (and assuming the truth is to be found by splitting the difference).
But the country's shift away from right vs. left thinking and towards a right vs. wrong frame continues to gain momentum -- making it harder and harder to keep pushing the discredited meme.
The latest examples of the discrediting can be found in the current fights over gay marriage, health care, and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.
Not that long ago, gay marriage was a dependable wedge issue Republicans could use to keep its base in line. But, in the wake of last week's Prop 8 ruling, that wedge is clearly splintering.
All you have to do is look at Dick Cheney who, speaking at the National Press Club today, said, "I think freedom means freedom for everyone." Cheney said he supports gay marriage as long as it's sanctioned at the state level -- a more progressive position than President Obama's current civil-unions-not-marriage stance.
And then we have the strange-bedfellows pairing of Ted Olson and David Boies. The Bush v. Gore adversaries teamed up last week, filing a federal lawsuit they hope will lead to a Supreme Court ruling allowing gays and lesbians to get married in every state.
"We wanted to send a message," Olson explained to Larry King, "to the American people and to the courts that this isn't a Republican or a Democrat issue. It's not a liberal or a conservative issue. The right of individuals committed to one another to live in a stable, committed, loving relationship is something that we should all respect and be for."
Interestingly, a number of traditionally progressive groups, including the ACLU, oppose the Olson/Boies approach, fearing the Supreme Court is not ready to rule in favor of gay marriage.
This line of thinking brought together two pundits not usually found on the same side of an issue, George Will and Paul Krugman. During this week's roundtable on Stephanopoulos, Will argued that the Olson/Boies suit was premature and that the democratic process, which is moving towards acceptance of gay marriage faster than anybody had anticipated, should be allowed to move forward without the courts getting involved -- to which Krugman responded: "I agree with George."
So while the timing of the lawyers' lawsuit may be open to debate, the value of the left/right conceit as a way to explain the battle lines in the gay marriage fight no longer is.
Same with health care. Even as many in the media are licking their chops in anticipation of a replay of the Clinton-era fight over health care (TV producers are cuing up the old Harry and Louise ads as we speak), the American people are making that take on the debate as antiquated as fax machines, Wite-Out, and 8-tracks.
A new CNN poll shows that a large majority of Americans -- 69 percent -- say they would favor greater government influence over the country's health care system if it would lower costs and provide coverage to more people. In addition, 62 percent of the public thinks the federal government should guarantee health care for all Americans (unless you want to argue that the American left has suddenly vastly expanded, it's time to give up the right vs. left way of discussing the health care debate).
Equally telling is the growing number of business executives who would love to see the government take on more of the burden of providing health care. Most are keeping their feelings on the down low, but, according to Benjamin Sasse, a former Assistant Secretary of HHS under Bush 43, in private "CEOs overwhelmingly want out of this [health insurance providing] business." And why wouldn't they, with insurance premiums charged to employers rising 119 percent over the last 10 years?
As for the Sotomayor nomination, so far the biggest fight hasn't been between the right and the left -- it's been between the right and the far right.
So while "old era" figures like Limbaugh, Gingrich, Inhofe, and Tancredo have been foaming at the mouth, the most noteworthy pushback to their over-the-top charges has come not from progressives but from GOP Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions.
"Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials," said Cornyn, speaking of Limbaugh's and Gingrich's playing of the race card. "I just don't think it's appropriate and I certainly don't endorse it. I think it's wrong."
And Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, went on Meet the Press and praised Sotomayor as "smart," "capable," and having "a good record." "She's got the kind of background you would look for," he added, "almost an ideal mix of private practice, trial prosecution and circuit judge. That's strong in her favor."
Appearing alongside Sessions, Sen. Patrick Leahy illustrated why it's time to consign the left vs. right frame to the political graveyard -- especially when it comes to discussing Supreme Court picks:
I remember some of the liberal groups picketing my office, complaining I was going to vote for Justice Souter and that he would be against women's rights. Well, he's turned out to be, of course, a strong supporter of women's rights.
The seismic shifts in our society have rendered right vs. left thinking as archaic as a flat earth map. It's time for those in the media using it to navigate this revolutionary era to catch up with the public -- and the new realities.