Bill Safire and I disagreed on more issues than we agreed.
It’s like that with former Nixon speechwriters and Nation scribes.
But Safire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist who has died at age 79, was an honest conservative.
He had ideological commitments, and partisan inclinations. He did not merely work in Richard Nixon’s White House, he shared many of Nixon’s ideas. And where they disagreed, it was often because Safire stood to the right of the 37th president.
Once he exited Nixon’s employ -– with his honor essentially intact — Safire was free to advance conservative views without having to play political games.
Unlike so many of today’s faux (or should we spell it “Fox”) conservatives, he did not barter his ideology’s good name off to the highest corporate bidder.
Because of this, Safire and I found common ground with progressives during one of the most intense battles of the Bush-Cheney era.
When Bob McChesney and I were campaigning with our allies in the media-reform movement to prevent Bush administration appointees on the Federal Communications Commission from removing the few remaining barriers to media consolidation, Safire was an ally. We were in frequent communication during that spring and summer, and I found myself referencing Safire’s columns on a regular basis. Indeed, when I testified at the FCC building on the eve of the June 2003 FCC vote, I had the honor of highlighting the vital contribution my conservative compatriot had made to the struggle for media diversity.
Safire wrote a number of columns arguing against lifting regulatory caps and barriers that had been put in place to prevent a handful of corporations from gaining control of media conglomerates from gaining control of the national discourse — and to prevent an individual corporation from dominating print, broadcast, cable and digital communications in a city.
“(While) political paranoids accuse each other of vast conspiracies, the truth is that media mergers have narrowed the range of information and entertainment available to people of all ideologies,” he explained a Times column written when most major media outlets were ignoring the FCC fight.
To a greater extent than most prominent conservatives (and quite a few prominent liberals), Safire understood that a one-size-fits-all media would diminish the range of debate — squeezing out dissent from the left and the right in a manner that would ultimately undermine democracy.
“Does this make me (gasp!) pro-regulation?” asked Safire in one of his 2003 columns. “Michael Powell, appointed by Bush to be F.C.C. chairman, likes to say ‘the market is my religion.’ My conservative economic religion is founded on the rock of competition, which — since Teddy Roosevelt’s day — has protected small business and consumers against predatory pricing leading to market monopolization.”