If you’re on the right, you probably won’t like this post. Then again, I heap equal amounts of scorn on a couple of lefties. Why?
Let’s put it this way: Sean Hannity = Michael Moore. They are the left and right hands of the devil. Different dogma. Same bullshit. If the target of your scorn doesn’t do enough bad things to make your point, lie about them.
This, my friends, is political discourse in the twenty-first century. Where else can you get reasonable people to tell you with a straight face that Obama is a socialist. (If you don’t believe how monumentally stupid that belief is, go ask an actual socialist. The comment makes them giggle and look at you like the poor stupid bourgieosie* pigs you and I are.)
But why is it like that? And were there ever good ol’ days when people were more civil to each other?
And before you whip out that old chestnut of what the Founding Fathers would think, let’s look at the dawn of the republic, shall we? The only two presidents to run uncontested are George Washington, who probably won the election of 1788 back in 1775, and James Monroe, who was reelected during a brief, shining moment in American history when we had no political parties worth mentioning.
Starting in 1796, things got nasty. John Adams was accused of wanting to rejoin England or elevate himself to king. Then we come the the election of 1800, when not only was the man who screamed the loudest for independence called a monarchist and an Anglophile, but the author of the Declaration of Independence also found himself slandered, eventually his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings brought to light by opponents. The things these men’s surrogates said in the name of politics would get you fired from any of the twenty-four hour news networks before they could get the first sentence out. And it only got worse. If you read the partisan newspapers of the Antebellum Era, you’d swear the Civil War started fifteen years earlier.
There was a period of time in the twentieth century when the FCC was more concerned with keeping private companies from curtailing free speech in this country and less concerned that your kid might see boobs or hear words you pretend they haven’t already heard on the playground, there was the Fairness Doctrine. If you stated an opinion on television or the radio, you needed to give the opposing side equal time. This is why William F. Buckley thrived. On his show, he used to pummel his liberal opponents intellectually, but he also would not tolerate a whack job who held the same conservative views he did. Buckley, his stoner fellow conservative PJ O’Rourke, and most liberals of the era got that it was about the debate, not demonizing all who didn’t agree with you. Besides, segregationists and red baiters did a bang up job demonizing themselves.
Then the Fairness Doctrine went away, and along came Rush Limbaugh. At first, he was funny. After all, there came a point where the New Deal coalition running the country got a bit full of themselves and forgot what, exactly, FDR and Truman were trying to do. Frankly, they needed someone to poke a few holes in them to let out the hot air.
Somehow, Rush’s formula merged with that of Morton Downey, Jr., the chain-smoking loudmouth who was the Jerry Springer of his day. And then Rush began believing he was somehow a rebel of PJ O’Rourke’s caliber (Um… No. O’Rourke wrote for Rolling Stone and National Lampoon, saying, “No, establishment, some of us on the right think you suck, too!”) and a pundit of Buckley’s towering intellect (Buckley would have kicked your ass for saying “feminazi.”) And then he multiplied. Suddenly, it was better to be angry and blame the other side for all of society’s ills and defend some of the worst human traits as “rugged individualism.” Not that the left was left out of the fun. West Coast wine aficionado Tom Leykis doubled as sort of a liberal Rush Limbaugh up until 2009. (Sadly, as we’re rid of Glenn Beck, they’re bringing back Leykis this year. So you get callouses in your other ear now.)
We all know about the right’s collection of whack-jobs-for-hire – Limbaugh, Hannity… I still seethe with rage whenever I walk into a bookstore that’s giving shelf space to Ann Coulter that might go for someone more deserving who admits they write fiction. Let’s start with James Patterson and work our way from there. But the left, as I’ve already pointed out, has no shortage of self-righteous asses who get paid to tell you someone else is a bad person. Recently, I watched the movie Game Change, about John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. McCain couldn’t help himself. He kept watching the opinion shows, and the director used actual clips from Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. Keith Olbermann came on and said something really pithy and stupid about McCain that he would not say about Barack Obama even if it was true. I couldn’t help shouting at the TV “Keith, shut the fuck up!” (And then my wife looked me like I was insane, and I said, “Now you know why I quit listening to AM radio.”)
Or let’s take Michael Moore, who, when the facts don’t fit the point he’s trying to make, will outright lie about it even when contradicted in his own movies. My personal favorite was when he was promoting Sick-O and responded to any criticism of the movie with, “Well, your sponsors are pharmaceutical companies.” Still, like the office wingnut who tells you the British and Canadian healthcare systems are little better than those of Third World nations, Mike didn’t really care for Brits and Canadians pointing out that, while they preferred their systems over ours, they were anything but the utopias Moore portrayed them as in his movie. In fact, more than a couple of people from the UK and Canada said their systems would not work in America, nor could the UK and Canada swap systems. Mike’s been silent on that point. Like Glenn Beck, he doesn’t like those pesky facts.
It goes back to my earlier post about left vs. right. We do have an annoying tendency to be tribal and binary about things. Everything is us vs. them, which is a concept I’ve long since rejected out of hand. Moreover, there has never been a shortage of people who want to turn honest differences of opinion into war because it profits them. Some, like Glenn Beck, really don’t believe a word they’re saying. They just say it because the outrage helps them sell books or foot powder or gold-buying schemes. Most people see anxiety as something to deal with, sometimes something to medicate if it gets out of hand. Most of these jerks see it as a revenue stream. Fear, my friends, sells better than sex. But I don’t pay for sex. And since I have a perfectly functioning pair of amygdala, I reserve fear for when the car skids on ice, when that pain in my back starts in my chest, or that someone, somewhere is secretly plotting to kidnap me and force me to watch Showgirls over and over until my eyes bleed. Beyond that, my most irrational fear is heights – stupid, but useful when you consider gravity can be painful at the end of a fall, especially those longer than two stories. So if I want fear, I can think about pancreatic cancer or a remake of Showgirls, all for free. Beyond that, I try to filter fear from my politics, from my financial decisions, and from pretty much the rest of my life.
Many people don’t, but many people don’t realize it. Because we all worry about our kids, about illness, about money. Where the merchants of fear come in – and let’s be honest. They’re selling fear – is when find ways to exaggerate normal fears. Remember the swine flu scare? Glenn Beck should have had his ass tossed in jail for outright lying about the vaccine on his show. Why didn’t he just run into a movie theater and scream “Fire?” It’s the same goddamned thing. But that’s the formula they use.
“So, Jim, what do we do about it? And why so wordy?”
I’m wordy because I’ve developed a seething hatred of pundits. Most of them are gutless jackals sucking up shelfspace and airtime and bandwidth. As to what we do…
- For starters, quit buying their books. Quit going to their web sites. Quit watching their shows. Quit listening to them on the radio.
- Stop confusing the news shows with the opinion shows. Sean Hannity is not a news correspondent. He’s an asshole with a microphone. There’s a reason Cronkite was only on half an hour a night. Walter was all about that’s the way it is, not the way things oughta be.
- Whenever someone uses the phrase “politically challenged” or advocates assassination or talks about vast conspiracies, write that person off. They’re not telling you anything worth repeating.
- And when their response to criticism is “They’re out to get me!”, it’s probably a sign you didn’t need to take them all that seriously to begin with.
Sure, there are people in this world who need to sound the alarm and be shrill about their politics. But keep in mind that, if you live east of Beijing or west of Damascus, it’s not likely someone’s going to shoot you for it. You are overmortgaged, overworked (or unemployed), but not exactly living in a war zone. (Sorry, but even our worst ghettos are slightly less scary than your brakes failing. You might die. Odds are, you’ll just go home and watch Idol.) So the demonization that’s being fed to us by the media serves no legitimate purpose. None.
Unless you’re a gold broker or own a foot powder company. But I’ve bought Gold Bond without any prompting from Rush Limbaugh, so thanks, guys, but it was itchy feet that sold me on the product, not black helicopters.
*Yes. I had to look that up. And people wonder why socialism never really caught in America.