Both Barack and Michelle Obama made speeches in which they compared the positive “what is” with the normative “what should be.” “There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity,” Barack Obama said in a May 2011 speech. “Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
In an April 2009 speech at a London girl’s school, Michelle Obama noted that, before they were married, Barack Obama took her on a date to a “community meeting.” “As he talked to the residents in that community center, he talked about two concepts,” she stated. “He talked about ‘the world as it is’ and ‘the world as it should be.’ And I talked about this throughout the entire campaign.” She related the same story a few months earlier at the Democratic National Convention: “Barack stood up that day, and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about ‘The world as it is’ and ‘The world as it should be.'” She concluded her speech at the convention by declaring that she and her husband had committed themselves “to building the world as it should be.”
The Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger noted in 2012 that Michelle Obama, in her remarks at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, referred to Saul Alinsky, the founder of modern community organizing, when she said her husband had won her heart by speaking of turning the world as it is into the world as it should be.
It is true that Alinsky used almost identical words in Rules for Radicals. For example, in the prologue he wrote, “As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be.” However, that concept did not originate with Alinsky. After all, Milton Friedman, a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, discussed the concept a decade before the publication of Rules for Radicals:
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, intellectuals in the United States were overwhelmingly persuaded that capitalism was a defective system inhibiting economic well-being and thereby freedom, and that the hope for the future lay in a greater measure of deliberate control by political authorities over economic affairs. The conversion of the intellectuals was not achieved by the example of any actual collectivist society, though it undoubtedly was much hastened by the establishment of a communist society in Russia and the glowing hopes placed in it. The conversion of the intellectuals was achieved by a comparison between the existing state of affairs, with all its injustices and defects, and a hypothetical state of affairs as it might be. The actual was compared with the ideal.
Indeed, the concept of “what is and what should be” can be traced to Karl Marx. Michael Harrington, the chair of Democratic Socialists of America until his death in 1989, noted in Socialism, “There was, the nineteen-year-old Karl Marx wrote to his father, a basic contradiction in German philosophy between ‘what is and what should be.'” Harrington also noted that “… Marx claimed to have solved that contradiction between ‘what is and what should be’ which he first confronted as a young philosophy student…. The truth was not to be discovered in a Hegelian retrospect upon the past; it was to be created by means of a social revolution which would make the future.”
It appears this Marxist concept of “what is and what should be” is now promoted by many on the left, including those in the media.
In 1962, the year I was born, Walter Cronkite began serving as the anchor for the CBS Evening News. He continued in that position until 1981, the year that I graduated from high school. I literally grew up hearing Cronkite’s newscasts and, like most of those in my generation, remember that he closed each newscast with catchphrase “And that’s the way it is.”
As a journalist, Cronkite tended to focus on “what is,” and, as a result, became one of the most trusted men in the country. After leaving journalism, he was much more open about his liberalism and started talking more about “what should be.”
Today, it is obvious that many journalists would rather focus on “what should be” instead of “what is.” “And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place,” CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour said in 2000. Of course, it’s not the job of a journalist to make the world a better place, i.e., changing the world from what it is to what it should be. Nevertheless, many journalism schools and media outlets echo Amanpour’s sentiment. Here are just a few examples:
- “As a [Journalism & Mass Communication] major, you will be able to acquire an education that will make two critical differences in your life. First, it will prepare you to satisfy your interests, advance your causes, and express your passions. In this way, it will help you make good progress toward realizing yourself. Second, it will prepare you to serve your organizations, communities, nation, and world. In this way, it will help you make the kind of difference that moves humanity forward…. You will be ready to make the world a better place for yourself and others.” (North Carolina A&T State University)
- “It doesn’t matter the medium—we teach you how to gather information, analyze it, boil it down, and then communicate it effectively, accurately, quickly and ethically—all to make the world a better place. That is journalism.” (University of Arizona)
- “Journalism should also shine a light on what is working, so people can act on their innate desire to help their neighbor and make their communities, and their world, a better place.” — Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post
- “In memory of Stone and Holt Weeks, following their tragic deaths in 2009, NPR and the Washington Post have partnered to give a promising individual the opportunity to launch a career in journalism…. The Stone and Holt Weeks Fellow learns about the role of journalism in ‘making the world a better place.’ This Fellowship offers a broad exposure to the relationship between journalism and public education, citizenship, social change and democracy, and will learn that a major aim of journalism, as expressed a century ago by author Finley Peter Dunne, is ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.'”
If a major goal of journalism is, as NPR and the Washington Post claim, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” and if journalists are supposed to change the world to make it a better place, wouldn’t journalists who subscribe to these beliefs agree with this statement offered by radicals Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in Race Course Against White Supremacy (2009): “If you want fundamental change, tie your fate to the most oppressed”? If that’s the case, I believe this helps explain why most journalists are biased in favor of the Democratic Party, which supposedly cares more about the oppressed.
Of course, we all believe things could be better than they currently are. However, in an attempt to make things better, those on the left tend to enact legislation that would only work in some unattainable utopia. As Paul A. Sexson and Stephen B. Miles, Jr., noted in The Challenge of Conservatism (1964), “[T]he liberal, as a liberal, thinks so much in terms of should that he simply fails to see the is. The liberal, as a liberal, is unable to handle realities.”
If socialists and their allies in the media merely influenced themselves in Washington, D.C., New York, and other liberal strongholds, constitutionalists would have little reason to be concerned. However, they do not stop there. “One of our key strategic goals is to surround swing voters and our opponents with an echo chamber reflecting our values and positions—to create a sense that our views represent the consensus of the mainstream,” Robert Creamer, the progressive community organizer and political consultant who was suspected of inciting violence at Trump campaign rallies in 2016, wrote in Listen to Your Mother: Stand Up Straight!: How Progressives Can Win (2007). Further, “Elite outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post are particularly important in creating a bandwagon effect of ‘conventional wisdom’ in the media.”
Unfortunately, the left-wing echo chamber has a serious effect on the voting habits of the so-called “low information voters.” As Tim Groseclose demonstrated in Left Turn, the liberal bias of members of the media causes our political views to make a left turn—that is, to become more liberal.
The mainstream media are not going to become reasonably “fair and balanced” any time in the near future. Several generations of journalists have been corrupted by the belief that their job is to “make the world a better place.” Complaining about that corruption is an exercise in futility. We constitutionalists need to realize that, accept it, and then work on finding ways to share our values and positions directly with the voters.
Kevin Groenhagen is the author of The Tea Party Challenge: Understanding the Threat Posed by the Socialist Coalition.