Mon. Oct 15, 2007
The Long Dark Tunnel of American Politics
Regular readers of this site may recognize this as the beginning of another of my Jeremiads, a screed against partisan jackassery of all colors. Though I must say I’m collecting additional evidence and refining my view quite a bit. Others may bow up at the very term “partisan jackassery,” as it is something they … enjoy. Feel free to move on. But for the two or three of you who fit neither description, as well as to rid this voice from my head, I shall proceed.
Over the past weeks (hell, months) I’ve come to see an ever darker tunnel between here and Jan. 21, 2009, when whomever takes office. And this dark tunnel is filled with the brown slime that will be issued on behalf of parties or their candidates, or, most particularly, the candidates’ more rabid supporters. And maybe some other nasty surprises from those still in office, who knows. But let’s stick to the “political.”
I truly believe there are lots of honorable people wanting to serve their country, and feel they can best do so by working for the party and/or candidates they believe can best take care of this country. They might only work for them part-time during the local campaign, or they might actually go to DC with the winning candidate and work for them full-time.
I believe there are others that are interested solely in the best short term outcome for their party, often to the exclusion of the country’s long term interests. Many of them work in Congress or elsewhere in DC. I suppose some “graduate” from the first group into this second one.
And I believe there are still others who see a large wave on which they might surf. They don’t even have to necessarily agree with the wave (though they might). Riding it is what’s fun.
Then we apply the 80/20 rule. People in the above groupings have already demonstrated its application, in that 80% (more or less) of people are “passives,” and though they might intellectually agree, they are not the type to actively participate in the above manners.
But I think you can apply that 80/20 rule once again (or 90/10 if you prefer, I won’t quibble). Of those who are supporting a party candidate actively (like, in a blog?) 20% will do so in a knee jerk destructive manner. There is a “hard core” to both parties, who will put their blinders on and offer knee jerk support for even the most incomprehensible political acts. We should remember even Nixon never really fell much below 25% in the approval ratings. Pick the least liked member of either party, and there’s still that 20% who “have their back,” no matter what.
Though I am militantly independent, I do still like to read the views of thinking Democrats and Republicans. I seek out the guy or gal who strays from the herd, oh, say about 20% of the time. The one who is usually on board, but has a working brain that occasionally says, “whoa, pardner, your logic is galloping away on that issue, trying to follow the herd.” And that means I immediately cull out the “knee jerks,” which means many of the “big name” political blogs.
I tend to see their “interactions” in headline form via Memeorandum, which I have to admit, is the most entertaining way to read them … “SCREAMING RED HEADLINE ABOUT EVIL BLUES” ... an hour later, linked to it “WE NOT EVIL WE’RE WEEVILS AND STOP SCREAMING.” Who needs to click through and wallow in that mess? I already know what I need to know.
But there are exceptions. One happened last week, a Texas Caged Death Match between Michelle Malkin, Ezra Klein, and a 12 year old kid. Or something like that. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations, you are a normal well adjusted human being. If you not only know what I’m talking about but are already mad at my description of it … please. Stop now. You’re just going to get madder.
Looooonnnnnggggg story short, the Democrats made the mistake of having a 12 year old give the Democratic response to one of Bush’s Saturday radio addresses (take the number of people who listen to Bush’s Saturday radio addresses, maybe 50, and cut it in half to get an idea of the impact of this original broadcast). In our current political environment, any time you use one person, however perfectly they are suited, as an example to advocate on a heated partisan issue, that person will be subjected to incredibly harsh scrutiny by people who are only interested in “winning.” Even a 12 year old kid.
And that’s pretty much what happened. In the name of accountability, many people called the kid’s house, his parent’s finances were probed, incorrect information about them was distributed, etc. It went on and on for days.
And I think there’s plenty of blame for both sides on this one. I’m also sure both sides don’t see it that way at all. Which is always the case. “Hey, I may be 80% covered in manure, but he’s 90% covered. Go measure it, you’ll see!!!” Neither notice that, on average, they are both 85% stinky.
Michelle Malkin actually took it upon herself to do more. I don’t want to go into it in any detail, other than to say I found it a bit scary. Others did, too, even more so. She defended herself most vociferously (I expect she orders breakfast that way), and then things took an interesting turn.
A challenge of a debate on the actual issue was, um, issued by Ezra Klein. I thought, wow, maybe this ugly mess can be an opportunity to turn blogs back towards what we’d once hoped they might be in this arena, a place to advance the public debate, and raise it above the mud pit professional politicians have occupied for so long. Maybe there can be a silver lining here….
“Debate” Ezra Klein? What a perverse distraction and a laughable waste of time that would be. And that’s what they really want, isn’t it? To distract and waste time so they can foist their agenda on the country unimpeded.
Um, no, he wanted to debate you about his evil agenda, and yours. But it is indicative of our times that this is what we’re reduced to: actual debate on an issue is seen as “a perverse distraction and a laughable waste of time.”
It’s hardly the first example of someone who is not really interested in the democratic process, they just want to be heard. Like the big anti-war protests in February of 2003. Where were they the previous October when the authorization was before Congress, and their protest might have had some real impact on the democratic process? By February, it was a done deal, and all the protests accomplished was to get a bunch of people on TV.
If you truly are committed to your party, your candidate, your issue, be a part of the process. Not a part of the noise that surrounds it, having no positive impact.
Not everyone is interested in that. Snark, vitriol and choir preaching offer more immediate feedback. But then there are those who are riding the wave:
“[Ann] Coulter, by contrast, is smarter and far smoother. She couldn’t care less about any pushback — she wants the pushback. That’s why it’s rarer to see Coulter engage in defensive, rage-filled rambling. Attacks don’t make her mad — even if she’s factually wrong. She’s not a believer in the cause, or her journalistic integrity — she’s an entertainer. Malkin, however, does care on some level. She craves to be respected. And she knows on some level that she’s been knocked down on the canvas — and she’s deeply embarrassed. But, she’s decided to double down rather than acknowledge the mistake and move on to other battles.”Publius
I’ve always said that talk radio is the audio equivalent of professional wrestling. Lots of big noise, broadly drawn good guys and bad guys, with the winner pre-scripted, but no real blood or substance. Faked for the sake of income. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, some people love professional wrestling. Coulter is talk radio without the radio.
Beyond all of that, in this particular case, the issue was the S-CHIP program, which I believe has an annual cost equivalent to about a week of what we’re spending in Iraq. As opposed to that alleged $400 billion “free” prescription drug plan for seniors that actually is costing more like $800 billion … and required my Mom to make an additional monthly payment when she had no prescriptions. The sense of scale on these “battles” seems completely off kilter, as Megan notes:
Reading the comments on this, I have to ask conservatives and libertarians: is this really the hill you think we should die on? I do understand your objections to the program, but an informal survey of swing voters, in their current incarnation as my mother, indicates that this is killing you with the moderates. Save it for national health care next year, is what I’m saying.
But every issue, even the smallest, has to be a war. Nothing less will do for those 20 percenters, on both sides. And it’s my opinion they are destroying the process itself. They’ve made depicting their political opponents as enemies Job One. Policy initiatives are Job Later.
In the 1980’s, our “enemies” were overseas, behind some Iron Curtain. During the 1990’s, many were convinced our “enemies” were mostly in DC. In the 2000’s, many are convinced their enemy … is their neighbor. They wouldn’t put it to you that way, they’d say the enemy is That Other Party. Harry, the guy next door, he may have some weird politics, but he’s OK.
They don’t even see the disconnect. They’d never dream of accusing Harry of some of the things they write or say about members of That Other Party. Certainly not to his face. But in various partisan outlets on the web? Boy howdy, it’s what I live for!
Though I’ve complained about the length of this campaign, I fear the “fun” is about to run out. With so many candidates on both sides, they have been too busy trying to establish themselves to generate much negativity towards each other. Though that is beginning to change.
But by early February, the Eventual Two will be obvious to all.
Then the generic party mud, which has so far largely been cast aside for more candidate specific sludge, will finally be brought to bear.
Guliani vs. Clinton. Romney vs. Obama. Or some variation of the two. Each of those four people offers great opportunities for political fundamentalists of various stripes to sling the ugliest of brown matter.
And you can be sure someone will. In the age of blogs, YouTube videos, and other instant Internet creations, borderline content a campaign could never issue itself will appear and spread virally. It will be seen by millions, and the campaign(s) will have complete deniability (and at the same time, a complete inability to stop anything damaging once it has gone viral).
There are those out there, and you know it as well as I do, who will feel free to make ugly comments or insinuations a campaign never would; about Obama’s race or background or name, about Clinton’s alleged sexual proclivities, about Romney’s multiple wives, and Guliani’s insistence his house staff work naked.
You didn’t know those things? Oh, you will. And things a lot uglier. But they will get more air time and “eye balls” than most of the paid commercial efforts by these campaigns.
It’s a long dark tunnel until Inauguration Day. Get some hip waders, and hope than once we all get out of this tunnel, we can hose ourselves clean.
That, in itself, may take a long time.