I did the David Sirota radio show Thursday morning. Some Westword media columnist hyped it in advance as a "cage match." The only cage I saw was the one Sirota kept rattling, while making a monkey of himself.
Sirota runs his radio show with all the charm and good manners of a left-wing Bill O'Reilly -- minus the ratings. He thinks being the "host" licenses him to hog the airtime, by jabbering on with his dull-edged talking points, lest his "guest" -- me in this case -- get a word (or complete thought) in edgewise. Most talk hosts at least do a little background research before they go on the air, in order to sound semi-informed. Sirota relied on a mish-mash of press clippings, with "facts" taken out of context. He's all about opinions, few of them informed.
I should have known it would go this way when he began by insisting that he'd cast no aspersions on Colorado Springs, or drawn any overly-broad conclusions based on pathetically little real knowledge. He was only passing along the "facts," he insisted, as reported in the Denver Post. He apparently couldn't imagine that there was more to the story, and this city, than what appeared in one news piece of questionable objectivity.
Sirota focused on our obscenely low property tax rates in El Paso County, when I thought we were there to talk about the city (where property taxes range from low to high, depending on where one lives). He couldn't quite grasp the concept that our problems stem from falling sales tax revenues, stemming from the economic downturn -- something that can be blamed on stingy spenders but not stingy voters. The premise of his questioning was that lower taxes and smaller government inexorably lead to municipal disaster. It drove him bonkers that I wouldn't concede the point and believe just the opposite.
He billed me as a "family values conservative" in pre-show hype, but I'm a libertarian (maybe he doesn't know the difference). He expected me to be an apologist for wasteful Pentagon spending (since everyone in the Springs must be a part of the military-industrial complex, right?), when much of my Washington career involved fighting wasteful government spending (amazingly, Sirota actually used Medicare (or was it Medicaid?) as an example of a well-run federal program!).
I provided context for our homeless camps, explaining how progressives in the ACLU helped create the situation. I thought explaining the environmental impacts of having hundreds of campers defecating and urinating into a waterway might bring out the green in Sirota, and that the violence and sexual assaults that reportedly go on in the camps might get his heart bleeding. But he's wedded to the idea that there's some correlation between the homeless camps and our recent budget cuts; nothing other than cruelty and callousness can be behind our attempts to get a handle on an unhealthy and unsafe situation.
Is that how progressives now define "compassion" -- letting people sleep through the winter by a creek? Or did he just get so twisted-up in a flawed premise that he lost his bearings?
When I began describing the innovative approaches we were taking in response to our budget crunch, the babbling tapered-off a bit. It was like his mind began shutting down, unable to grasp the idea that government isn't the answer to everything. He strained and strained but still couldn't get it. In between the pauses I managed to complete a sentence. Plumb out of talking points, and unable to badger me into submission, he handed-off to his callers, who mostly fumbled the ball.
An hour flew by in the wink of an eye. I explained that voters here will raise taxes on themselves when the need is clearly demonstrated and the spending plan is specific. Didn't compute. I told him about all the services and amenities we provide without government involvement. Didn't compute. And so it went, point after point. If it didn't fit into Sirota's caricature of Colorado Springs, it just couldn't be so.
I always thought progressives opposed blind prejudice and blunt stereotypes. I guess it's permissible when the objects of scorn are conservatives -- or a "conservative city," in the case of Colorado Springs. I thought progressives were supposed to be the people with open minds. I saw little of that today in David Sirota.
He landed a few; maybe I did too. But the vaunted "cage match" was a lot less bloody than what you see on Spike TV. I appreciate him having me on the show. It was fun.
David said he'd actually been to the Springs a few times when I invited him down for a tour, just so he can see how the other half lives. He must have stopped here for gas on the way to Sante Fe.