Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Liberality For All: The Interview!

This is part one of a two-part article on Liberality For All, its creator, Mike Mackey, and the state of political discussion in our country. For part two, click on over to http://www.theaveragejoes.net/, an excellent entertainment site that’s kindly offered to host some of my film reviews.


“It is 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. America is under oppression by ultra-liberal extremists that have surrendered governing authority to the United Nations. It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City.” -From the synopsis of Liberality For All

Depending on whether you prefer your states red or blue the above synopsis is either the greatest thing you’ve ever read, or a cause to slam your head violently into your computer. Mike Mackey’s brilliance lies in knowing this, and using that knowledge to turn a profit.

In today’s violently partisan national landscape, self-described “Conservatives” and “Liberals” see each other not as a part of the same democratic whole, but as enemies to be fought, beaten, and ridiculed. By creating “Liberality,” a comic book that simultaneously satirizes and proselytizes, Mr. Mackey can have his proverbial cake and eat it too. Liberals will buy his book to marvel over it’s admitted over-the-topness. Conservatives will buy it to see their heroes do what they cannot: bring down the liberal establishment.

But how serious is Mike Mackey? Does he really fear a future where “ultra-liberal extremists” betray our country?

When word of Mr. Mackey’s book first started circulating a few weeks ago, the reactions from liberal blog sites varied from bemusement to outrage. Obviously, he made an impression. He’s also made an impression on Diamond Distributors - the largest comic-book distribution company in the U.S. “Liberality” received the designation of “Certified Cool” in Diamond’s “Previews” magazine. It garnered a “Spotlight” column. It landed the inner, back, cover.

Clearly, he’s on to something.

But is Mr. Mackey a man driven to spread the word of the Conservative gospel, or is he a man who sees an economic opportunity? Is he a dead-pan satirist, shining a light on political extremism? Who is Mike Mackey?

Reading Mr. Mackey’s site and his promotions (“Comic shops nationwide will be rushed harder than a Ted Kennedy assault on a Liquor Barn grand opening!”) paints the picture of a man who is as Red as Alabama clay.

He has been quoted as saying that “It is over for the ultra lib wing the democratic party and the media! Fox News ratings are exploding because they show both the Right and the Left side (they are fair and balanced). The Internet now allows access to news and information and has broke the bound of information suppression by the growing left like CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, and the vast left wing media.”

However, in corresponding with him, a more thoughtful, balanced, and savvy individual emerged. To Mr. Mackey’s credit, he responded kindly and respectfully to my questions, providing longer and more level responses than I had honestly anticipated. He knew at the outset that I was a “liberal,” but never treated me with anything less than professional respect. I like to think that this is because I extended that same respect to him and to his beliefs.

I promised Mr. Mackey when I began writing him that I would not use our interview to do a “Hit Piece” (his words) on his book, and I have no intention of breaking that promise. The level of political discourse in this country between Democrats and Republicans has sunk to Prehistoric levels of angry chest-thumping and teeth-baring. I’ve no desire to continue in that vein.

More importantly, I believe that most people in this country are sick and tired of maintaining that level of vitriol. Democracies are ready-made for long arguments, but they depend upon communication to function properly. Both sides have to be willing to have an actual conversation, or the average Joe and Jane are left flapping in the wind as people in power on both sides use our petty fights to further insulate themselves from the American People.

It was in the spirit of communication that I wrote to Mike Mackey; An attempt to understand his thinking and to have the sort of intelligent pseudo-conversation (all correspondence was via email) that is sorely missing in our day-to-day lives. I have not altered any of Mr. Mackey’s responses. They appear as he wrote them. I make some observations of my own throughout, but I encourage you to make up your own mind about what he has to say.

Who Is Mike Mackey?

A resident of Kentucky (“Or, as Michael Moore says…Jesusland,” Mackey observes), Mike Mackey is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. He has claimed in debate to have been a biology major, but an email to EKU’s alumni office reveals that the Michael Mackey who attended EKU from 1985-1990 was a Psychology major. When asked, Mr. Mackey told me that he has been involved in the sale of collectibles for the past several years. Assumedly, this means that he has dealt in the same products that he is now producing himself - namely, comic books.

A fan of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, he’s also a Christian, recommending that I read the Bible for the slam-bang ending (which, I am happy to inform him, I have).

At the outset of our interview, Mr. Mackey informed me that he’s already received two death threats regarding “Liberality,” presumably from incensed liberals. That amazed me for two reasons (I’m easily amazed).

First, if being “liberal” means anything, it means being the sort of person that embraces free speech. That you don’t always agree with what’s being said is sort of the point. We have the First Amendment in this country to insure that people with opinions not shared by others can speak freely.

Second, this sort of reaction inevitably means that the product in question – namely, Mackey’s comic – will drum up serious, serious money. "Liberality" is going to sell like hotcakes.

The Birth Of A (Liberal) Nation

I started out asking Mr. Mackey what inspired him to create Liberality. He replied:

Nothing like it had been done before. It is a satire (with serious issues) and I am a firm believer in how that laughter can be both thought provoking and healing between rivals. In fact laughter may be the only common ground between Liberals and Conservatives.

What’s interesting about Mackey’s above statement is what it implies; namely, that liberals and conservatives have grown so far apart that laughter is the only thing our political parties continue to share. It also implies an apparent desire to provoke a dialogue through what he acknowledges as satire. Sort of.
Liberality For All is a satire but also deals with very serious issues. The most difficult challenge was to tell a story with “comic book fun”; while maintaining a level of serious issues. 9/11 and war on terror could never be told satirically with out insulting victims. So the issues involving 9/11 are told in a serious manner, with the development of the character Reagan McGee [The book’s young hero and a completely fictional character –M.].
However, I seem to have struck a bit of a nerve with many liberals. Which I think find challenging the question posed by the Liberality For All mini-series:
What if today's anti-war Liberals were in charge of the American government and had been since 9/11? What would that society look like in the year 2021? What would be the results of fighting “a more sensitive war on terror” and looking to the corrupt United Nations to solve all of America 's problems? The Liberality For All mini-series poses that question… I await an answer
” (emphasis mine).

Well, it is an interesting question if only because most staunch conservatives really do seem to believe that liberals would, if left to their own devices, hand control of our country to a “corrupt” United Nations. What’s also worth noting is Mr. Mackey’s implicit assertion that, since 9/11, the war on terror has been handled appropriately, if not well.

Given that Mr. Mackey’s chosen dramatic backdrop (a dystopian society ruled by an oppressive upper-class) is a familiar one both from comic books and literature I asked him what stories, books or other material might have inspired him to write “Liberality.”
None… absolutely zero… books or stories. Although it is funny to read about all of the ideas I have swiped. The greatest influence to do the LFA series was a painting by the Fantasy Illustrator Clyde Caldwell. He did a hilarious illustration of Rush Limbaugh fighting a 3 headed-hydra (the heads were Bill, Hillary and Al Gore), it showed the conflict between the Right in the Left in a tongue in cheek manner.”

Whether Mackey realizes it or not, Liberality channels the work of authors such as Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and George Orwell (1984), but does so with a “through the looking glass” twist. The societies that Bradbury and Orwell portrayed were, arguably, overly-conservative police states quashing individualism of the sort that most liberals support and fight for. Mackey’s work inverts that archetype, making the liberal ideology the oppressive force.

Building Character

While the premise of “Liberality” is worthy of much discussion, what fascinates me is Mr. Mackey’s inclusion of real-world conservatives as characters.

Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, and Sean Hannity are three of the most polarizing conservative faces in modern America, and Mackey’s use of them suggests a dual purpose: the lionization of these figures in an ideological sense, and the exploitation of them to maximize controversy along with sales. It’s not a bad plan. I actually really admire it.

Still, these particular figures beg explanation from Mackey. I wanted to know – why these particular personalities?
The elements of the storyline required representation in various areas: a public voice for FOIL (hannity), a darker covert side (Liddy), and a militarist (North). Reagan McGee [The book’s young hero and a completely fictional character –M.] represents defiance to his societal norms. Oscar is the nano-tech-dude that makes the comic fiction of the “extraordinary” powers of comic characters possible; and as a peace loving Muslim he is driven with an inner purpose. Michael Moore as VP is more ironic symbolism than an attack on his person.”

G. Gordon Liddy worked for Richard Nixon, and was directly involved in the Watergate scandal (read a primer on Mr. Liddy
here). He was convicted and served four and a half years of a twenty year sentence. Despite his background, Liddy has thrived. He’s a nationally syndicated radio host, an author and speaker. Similarly, Oliver North was involved in the Iran/Contra scandal of the 1980’s (read a primer on Mr. North here). He too has managed an impressive resurrection, and many people including my own father believe him to be a hero. It's interesting that Mr. Mackey has chosen to spotlight people that arguably have a checkered past in the eyes of many Americans.

I spoke with Mr. Mackey about this – telling him that many liberals would say both G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North committed crimes while in positions of governmental power. Mackey responded:
John Kerry got a silver star shooting an unarmed VC teenager in the back. Yet the Left vilified Bush calling him a monster for being what they called AWOL (without any thing but fake documents, as proof) from a war they loathed. If Liberals actually believe Bush avoided a war which they hated, shouldn’t they have supported him…instead of a VC murdering John Kerry? Instead Liberals viewed both candidates by what they were like today…not yesterday. Should their views on Liddy and North be any different?”

In the spirit of honesty, I’m unsure how that answers the question I posed. Still, the fact remains that Mackey does not see either man as unfit for admiration. There is, he says, much to admire.
Col. North’s charitable foundation has raised over 6 million in scholarships for the children of slain soldiers. [G. Gordon] Liddy wrote the memo that led to the development of the D.E.A. How many kids did that keep off drugs…How many lives did that save? Although, a point of scorn to many anti-gun liberals (like Michael Moore and Rosie O’Donnell, who seem to feel the only people who should own guns are the military, police….and their bodyguards), Liddy has worked tirelessly with the NRA to protect every liberals “right to choice” in America; that of course being “the right to choose” which caliber weapon to defend their home with. How about we judge people on what they are doing today, and not what they did or are accused of doing yesterday?

Those are some valid points. I do think it’s more important to judge people based on what they do now, not what they did “back then.” And regardless of your feelings on topics like drug enforcement and gun ownership, the reality is that many Americans care deeply about these issues.

Still, past action is an indicator of present character, and so I ask Mackey if he disagreed with the charges leveled at Liddy and North. Additionally, if he accepted the validity of those charges, were there mitigating factors that would excuse their actions?
If Col. North was guilty of anything, why after millions of dollars in investigation…why did he not spend a day in jail? Liddy is the first one to admit he has many felonies…but remember it was the hero of the Left Jimmy Carter who commuted his sentence.”

Mackey’s admiration of North extends into action as well.
Ten percent of the profit of Liberality For All goes to a scholarship fund for slain soldiers (the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, founded by Oliver North and highly supported by Sean Hannity) Support for those that have given the ultimate sacrifice can be appreciated by everyone… I am very fond of that charity … I suppose it may have influenced me more toward Ollie & Sean.”

Ten percent of sales is a not-insubstantial amount. And a charity that helps the children of slain soldiers attend college could not be worthier. Our troops are underpaid and unfairly demonized for participation in wars that were, or are, opposed. And although the inclusion of radio personalities like Sean Hannity and Mr. Liddy would seem to be a commercial proposition to increase readership of “Liberality” among those hard-core right-wingers that absorb their programming or buy their numerous best-selling books, Mackey says there were far better commercial prospects out there, and that working Sean Hannity into the book was harder than he’d thought.
The average comic book buyer is a 26 year old male, An Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin character would have been better commercially to a conservative audience of 26 year old men…I was not really looking for that. Of course, I cram in a tribute to Ann with the “Coulter Laws” reference. Sean was much tougher to insert into the series than either North or Liddy. And Liddy? As a gun packing, Harley riding, ex-FBI agent…fear evoking BAD-ASS…Gordon is absolutely perfect for the comic.”

Perhaps so. Still, it’s an odd amalgamation of real-life people that Mr. Mackey has compiled. Notice the lack of conservative politicians. Apparently, when America is in its hour of greatest need only talk-radio can save it.

Ann Coulter In Ass-less Chaps

Mr. Mackey’s above-name-checking of Michelle Malkin and Anne Coulter, two right-wing “hotties” routinely spotted all over cable news and in bookstores, brings up an interesting point.
The comic buying audience is, by-and-large, male and traditionally loves their heroic women in poses that reveal their heroic asses. It would have been more lucrative (certainly even more controversial, although Mackey is already arguably pushing that needle into the red) to have included Anne Coulter, scantily clad and bearing twin firearms; or Michelle Malkin in leather, carrying a “Whip of Justice.” Out of respect for them, distaste at the comic community’s insistence on pin-up girls, or some other consideration not apparent, Mackey left two ready cash cows perfectly untouched.

"Liberality" contains an admittedly satirical premise, and a cast of characters that seem like strange choices to comprise a super team. The natural question to ask after reading Mr. Mackey's site, samples, and synopsis is "Wait a second...Is this guy putting me on?" Is Liberality, in actuality, a brilliantly conceived and executed parody?

For Part II of my interview with Mike Mackey, visit the average joes.