There's hope: Democrats are finally showing more sense than Republicans

There is hope. If the country doesn't fall completely apart in the next 2 1/2 years, anyway.

The other day, I caught part of a radio interview with Dave Saunders, one of the authors of a new book about the Republican takeover of the South and Midwest, Foxes in the Henhouse, and, guess what? Somebody in the Democratic Party finally has a clue. Instead of just writing Southerners off as stupid for voting against their own best economic interests--which God knows they've been doing--Saunders and his co-author, Steve Jarding, analyze the cynical way Republicans have manipulated the debate, and the dopiness of the Democrats who've let them do it.

They offer practical suggestions about how to make it more rational, one of which is that Democrats stop talking about gun control and just leave it to local governments to decide. This makes total sense to me. I've lived in little Western towns chock-full of heavily armed citizens, and, believe me, those people would die before they'd stop lugging arsenals around in their pickups.

I'd die before I lived next to them again. Now we're all happy.

Giving up on top-down gun control would undermine the right wing's "Ooga-booga! Vote for us because they'll take your rifle away!" thing that keeps millions of hunters clutching their shotguns to their chests and voting Republican. At the same time, Saunders and Jarding suggest that Democrats get busy establishing common ground with hunters on the issue that actually does threaten their recreation: the destruction and degradation of natural habitat that's one of this administration's most successful initiatives. Loss of wildlands is a more direct blow to hunters than to almost anyone else. (I know, Cheney's a hunter, but he can always shoot on his friends' private holdings. That's how royalty has always done it.)

Saunders and Jarding go so far as to suggest that we open the national parks to hunting. Yeah, it's sacrilege. But before you dismiss the idea out of hand, remember that hunting season is tightly regulated and only lasts a couple of weeks--and think how it would increase advocacy for our raggedy, impoverished park system. No one but a strict, non-leather-wearing vegan has a right to feel superior to hunters on moral grounds, and the environmental movement desperately needs every one of them. At the least, it's an interesting idea.

Speaking of hunting, the political blogs are all abuzz about the suggestion last month by a fill-in talk show host on KFYI-AM 550, a Clear Channel talk-radio station in Phoenix, that there be a lottery for licenses to shoot immigrants as they cross the border. Brian James' show aired March 8; two weeks ago, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for an investigation.

It seems that there are things you can't say even on right-wing talk radio--who knew?--and advocating murder appears to be one of them. The station contends that the show, for which it has posted an apology on its Web site, was satire; the attorneys say that nothing in the show indicated that James was kidding. In fact, when one caller said he couldn't be serious, James insulted her and said he certainly was. He went on to discuss the best ammunition to use for a sure kill with another caller. His disclaimer: "KFYI does not advocate shooting illegals. It might be fun, but they don't advocate it."

The complaint states: "This type of threatening and inciting speech is dangerous and totally irresponsible for anyone, particularly a licensed body using public airways. We are deeply concerned that, given the intensifying conflict over immigration in Arizona, this speech may lead to violence. Tempers are short on both sides, and the situation in Arizona is highly volatile."

In an article on its Web site, KFYI's Program Director Laurie Cantillo says that the station received no complaints from the show's listeners. She also wants to know why it took the government so long to request an investigation--a response squarely in the paranoid tradition of rabid radio, where the best defense is an insinuation-rich offense.

According to Andrea Esquer, spokesperson for the attorney general's office, it just took a while. It was a few days before the Arizona Interfaith Network brought the show to their attention, and another week or two before they could get a tape of the whole show. More time went by, because Charlton had to clear the letter with his superiors.

"Mr. Goddard has the greatest respect for the First Amendment. He wanted to be sure that he understood what had been said and in what context," says Esquer. "And once he did, he felt that this went over the line. It's up to the FCC to determine what happens next."

Of course, the timing is unfortunate. One would suppose that the idea of using migrants for target practice is not as amusing even to KFYI listeners as it was six weeks ago, when they could still imagine them as faceless and friendless.

Not surprisingly, James did not get a hosting job he was reportedly up for on the station. Too bad. The best thing that could happen to the Democratic Party is for guys like him to keep right on talking.