“I think – as President Kennedy pointed out – sometimes when you try to ride the tiger, you wind up inside of it. And you’ve seen this over the last couple of years: Any insult to Rush Limbaugh is greeted with an immediate apology from whatever offending Republican, no matter their rank or stature. When you have someone who yells “you lie” in the middle of the State of the Union, donations flood into the website. So there has been a reward system based on the intemperance of the rhetoric, not on the substance of the ideas, the strength of conservatism as the solution to the problems. So this carnival atmosphere, once started, it isn’t that easy to shut off. And we may be about to pay a high price for it.” – Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist on Morning Joe (Photo credit)
There are few things more ominous and full of portent than this New York Times article about the changing nature and tone of communications in a small town in the Ozarks:
“But of late, more people in this hardscrabble town of 5,000 have shifted from sharing the latest news and rumors over eggs and coffee to the Mountain Grove Forum on a social media Web site called Topix, where they write and read startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another.”
So it was bound to happen, eventually. Apparently when you get wired, the less appealing parts of human nature aren’t far behind. This small town story of what happens next – real damage, divorce, suicide – is required reading for those of us who trade in any way in spiteful commentary we don’t have to fess up to.
If this isn’t a wake-up call about how we do – and how we do not – want to use our technological advances, I don’t know what is. The whole depressing tale is here.
“Confidence in our political system is beginning to fade.” – A Wall Street broker, yesterday
Another chapter in the continuing pitifully juvenile civil dialogue, this one from right here in Florida no less.
First there was this statement by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz referring to her semi-neighbor Representative Allen West on the house floor:
President Obama has vowed to veto this bill which ends the Medicare guarantee. Incredulously the gentleman from Florida who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from South Florida. Read all »
Currently all about Bob Schieffer’s commentary from yesterday’s Face the Nation. He nailed it:
“The author Kurt Vonnegut once observed that life was more or less a replay of high school, and with every passing day, that comparison becomes more apt in describing Washington. The one difference is that high school stays in session most of the time. Yet the parallels with high school are inescapable. Just think about this: Distractions such as vanity and the mania for gossip and the short attention span that prevents focusing on problems even long enough to try to understand them. Unbridled meanness toward those who are not part of your crowd. The cliquishness that requires group think – if you don’t believe exactly what we believe you can’t be part of our crowd. We’re right, you’re always wrong, and don’t confuse us with facts. An inability to act for fear it will cause a loss of popularity…”
Read the whole commentary (Anthony Weiner’s behavior is appropriately up next) HERE.
(Photo credit: Michael Foley Photography)
From Glenn W. Smith’s The Politics of Deceit:
Following Thomas Paineâ€™s advice, we should wake up and understand that our long habit of not thinking our political practices wrong does not make them right. . . Their very structure lends advantage to those who would mislead rather than lead, to those who believe their own power is more important than the health of democracy. . . The dissolution of social mechanisms for working out our differences â€“ and celebrating our similarities and common purposes â€“ has contributed to the deterioration of the public sphere and made possible the ascendancy of the politics of deceit.
Two New Hampshire Democrats – one elected, one running for election – are in deep kimchi over their posted comments while discussing the death of former Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens in a place crash:
“Well a dead Palin wd be even more dangerous than a live one…she is all about her myth & if she was dead she cldn’t commit any more gaffes,” Horrigan wrote.
Horrigan was commenting on another post by a Democrat running for the state house, party activist Keith David Halloran, who found himself in hot water Wednesday after writing about the crash: “Just wish Sarah and Levy [sic] were on board.”
Any Democrats who think all the incivility flows right to left should reconsider. When you can no longer see people through the lens of humanity, you’re a bridge too far.
The right-wing nuts who cry that ObamaCare is introducing euthanasia for the elderly and infirm, or that it is socialism, are ignorant wackos, to be sure, but they are right about one thing: Americans are about to be royally screwed on health care reform by the president and the Democratic Congress, just as they’ve been screwed by them on financial system “reform.”
The appropriate response to this screw-job is the one the right has adopted: shut these sham “town meetings” down, and run the sell-out politicians out of town on a rail, preferably coated in tar and feathers they way the snake-oil salesmen of old used to be handled!
This is not about civil discourse. This is about propaganda… The only proper response at this point is obstruction, and the more militant and boisterous that obstruction, the better.
(Photo credit. Got to like the pork rinds and beer bottle with the gasoline for a little color.)
*RATED R FOR NON-VILLAGE-SQUARE-ISH LANGUAGE*
Suggesting that our civic discussion has turned incivil is a vast understatement. Alas, even here where we are all about civility. Take this comment I received on this post referring – I assume – to Kathleen Hall Jamieson (who was on Bill Moyers yesterday):
You made a total asshole of yourself tonight on Bill Moyers. I used to have the utmost respect for you. You above all people were a true speaker of truth.
Not any more. *** Barack should have paid for Mcasshole to have his own half hour on TV … I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but Bush, MCcain and their ilk hate America and its citizens and your infanantile musings will do nothing other than speed up the attempt to destroy this country.
HOW COULD YOU END UP TO BE SUCH AN IGNORANT CUNT?
This example, left-leaning hatred. But any discussion of hatred has to cite right-wing talk radio and its endless hours of shoveling fury.
JEFFREY FELDMAN quoted on Bill Moyers Journal: “Our system is a deliberative democracy. And that deliberative democracy depends on a certain kind of talk, a certain conversation in order to function well. What right-wing rhetoric does, when it reaches that violent pitch, is it undermines that particular conversation, such that the focus of political debate, becomes increasingly hamstrung by fear, and the ability of citizens to engage in the basic act of civics becomes gummed up. That conversation breaks down.”
These examples are given:
MICHAEL SAVAGE:”Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation. What are the defense cells of a nation? Well, the church. They’ve attacked particularly the Catholic Church for 30 straight years. The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “America is being overrun by an invasion force from Mexico that’ll soon take over the country[…]you psychotic liberals don’t even know you’re digging your own grave and throwing lime in there. All that’s missing is the worm from the tequila bottle to go with it.”
MICHAEL REAGAN: “Take them out and shoot them. They are traitors to this country, and shoot them. But anybody who would do that doesn’t deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullet.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”That wasn’t the cries of the downtrodden. That’s the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not, and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”It’s Ramadan and Muslims in your workplace might be offended if they see you eating at your desk. Why? I guess it’s because Muslims don’t eat during the day during Ramadan. They fast during the day and eat at night. Sorta like cockroaches.”
NEAL BOORTZ: “I already have received at least one brilliant email today about the immigration problem […]this person sent me an email, said when we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill and when we yank out the welcome mat and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going-away gift let’s all give them a box of nuclear waste[…]tell ‘em it can, it’ll heat tortillas.”
These people aren’t helpful to conservatives, just as my poster isn’t helpful to liberals.
Hateful polemics serve their argument, their cause, and our country, poorly.
As the ugliness and emptiness of campaign ads does a final 2008 ramp-up, it’s time to re-run a favorite post:
Do you remember when candidates used to appear in their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures as they made obvious, irreconcilable and insupportable promises.
“I will improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers and lower taxes, create jobs, and get snow, guns and homeless people off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens , regardless of race, creed or hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.”
I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to publicize the names of their opponents just so they can splash mud and slime on them. It’s as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi Cola and spitting it into a gutter.
The candidate used to at least risk rejection by asking, sometimes pleading “vote for me” in his commercials. Now they hide behind hired voices who ask “you aren’t really going to vote for that guy, are you?” Then have the candidate mutter at the end like some nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window “I approved this message.”
There’s an old Madison Avenue adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Many current campaign commercials don’t even try to sell sizzle, they just hurl sleaze. People who create them are using the expensive power of articulation to produce messages that are just about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.
Look, I’m from Chicago, I love covering politics there and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says “I wish we had a high-minded political system like they have in Canada.”
The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is, they work. We might be appalled but we often follow through.
When ads become so personal, intense and insulting it’s difficult for the candidate who survives, I won’t even say “wins,” to climb atop the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman. And difficult for voters to respect or trust who they’ve elected, in spite of what they’ve been told. These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium.
By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.
As news from the campaign trail get uglier and uglier, as fact takes a back seat to whatever the character assassination flavor-of-the-day, as one needs to bathe after the simple act of watching the evening news, it’s about time for this blast from the past:
In 1800, the Federalist Gazette suggested that if Jefferson were elected over Adams, they would see a devastation of “those morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin – which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence.”
In their version of today’s editorial endorsement, they wrote:
At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is “Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; or impiously declare for JEFFERSON AND NO GOD!!!”
Worth noting for an advocate of civility in politics (and perhaps duly noted by media critics)?
Jefferson won anyway.
Did you know that while there are regulations on the veracity of advertising regarding the cereal you eat or the juice you drink, there is absolutely nothing regulating truth in political advertising?
Brooks Jackson, from the organization Facts.org offers us a bottom line: “If all you know about candidates in an election is what you see in their ads, you are going to cast a very poorly informed vote.”
On the PBS program Bill Moyers Journal Jackson continues:
The first amendment gives the press in this country and that includes broadcast outlet terrific freedom which is used to make a lot of money. But itâ€™s there because the voters need information to base a sound decision on. And I think In too many cases broadcasters and cable outlets are making huge amounts of money from running these political ads which in many cases are false and misleading and theyâ€™re putting very little of that money back into some reporting that would inform their viewers about when theyâ€™re being scammed…
…If you think commercial advertising is misleading, youâ€™ve got to realize itâ€™s the wild wild west when it comes to political advertising.
So as campaign 2008 ramps up, remember “let the buyer beware.”
No matter your candidate in ’04, no matter your candidate in ’08, no matter your party, this isn’t good news: ugly South Carolina political tricks are baaaccck… This time with this piece of high-minded political discourse targeting Senator John McCain from a group calling themselves “Vietnam Veterans against McCain.”
Last spin through South Carolina for the Senator, pro-Bush groups conducted push-polls asking voters how they would feel if they knew McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock. Truth? The Senator and his wife adopted an Indian ORPHAN from MOTHER THERESA’S ORPHANAGE, no less.
Then there is this smear against Mitt Romney a “mailer in heavily evangelical South Carolina, purporting to be a holiday card paid for by the Mormon Temple in Boston, wishing fond holiday wishes from the Romney family,” beginning with this sentence: “We have now clearly shown that God the father had a plurality of wives…” The FBI is investigating, though a lot of good it will do candidate Romney as a postscript months down the road.
Then there is this anti-Romney mailing out to Florida voters:
“Help me sound the alarm that one day the Mormon Church plans to replace the Constitution with a Mormon theocracy. Mitt Romney’s political success indicates this may be sooner than most have thought…”
Then there is email, this breathless Obama as undercover radical Muslim screed that’s been arriving in in-boxes for months. One version even mentions that email fact-checker www.snopes.com had verified the story when it had, in fact, done the exact opposite.
And, now, a Village Square pop-quiz. Referencing our last post, do you suppose these tactics target our:
- 1. Human brain
2. Lizard brain
3. Our inner second-grader?
Hint: My apologies to second graders for impugning their intelligence.