This actually got started because I read the pamphlet Glenn Beck wrote (sic) and attached to the front of Tom Paine's Common Sense. What was startling was not that Beck was prurient in his appeals to McCarthistic nostalgia -- you just expect that by now -- but that he hadn't read Tom Paine carefully or, I suspect, at all.
I thought, what kind of a moron does that?
Well, I eventually realized that this is an unfair characterization. Beck is not really a moron, he's simply an entertainer.
Extrapolate from there. :^)
Why talk when you can SHOUT?
A lot of people have been staging political theater at town meetings across the country during the last few weeks – even up in Kewaunee where Rep. Kagen had a tough time answering questions over endless interruptions. Why would people show up at a meeting and then not listen to the answers? Because they aren’t really interested in answers. Their real task is to create endless distraction.
One of the more outspoken opponents at the meeting, who quietly identified herself as a “mom,” was actually a former vice-chairman of the Kewaunee County Republican Party and had worked on John Gard’s campaign. To her credit, Ms. Blish claims she is no longer a member of the Republican Party.
This got me thinking about the nature of current political discourse, the civic and civil conversation we have to have with each other in order to make a democracy work. More and more it seems that people don’t want to have that conversation anymore.
That’s because the function of political talk these days, increasingly, as Rush Limbaugh himself explained, is merely to “entertain.” The escalating vitriol and shrieking style is not about elucidating political and social issues, but about ratings. Angry self-righteous American Mullahs are more engaging, and profitable, than civil and concentrated political discourse. Anger always out-sells facts. Passions, right or wrong, always outsell understanding. Sizzle always out-sells good steaks and entertainment always outsells reality. Never forget this.
Fox News is a great example. Liberals like to say that Fox News (sic) has a conservative agenda because Rupert Murdoch is politically conservative but this assessment is near-sighted. Stop and think for a moment: the Fox Network makes most of it’s money from its News division and from shows like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” Is it remotely possible to imagine that “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad” are socially, morally or politically conservative? Nope.
But then, if their ideology is all over the place, what’s the real agenda of Fox?
Profit. Of course.
They make money by appealing to whatever will keep viewers glued to the screen, whether it’s Homer Simpson or Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, like Rush, are merely entertainers masquerading as political commentators and their political patter is nothing but a pornographic minstrel show all done up in white face to keep us watching. The truth is, even I can’t turn them off – and for the same reason it’s hard to stop watching a Jerry Springer show once you accidentally stray into one. You never know when a fight will break out and you’re always curious to see just how far they’ll let things go – this time.
And they always let things go further. Always.
Think about it: What bumps ratings into the stratosphere? Complex conversations about intractable political issues that strike at our deepest assumptions about America? Or infomercial-slick howlers shot from the hip of Jerry Springer wannabes who have a knack for titillating audiences with a strip tease of “what outrageous thing will he say next?”
When Glenn Beck calls the first African-American President a racist you wonder what he’ll say next. How about “Obama is an Islamic Terrorist”? Hm Already used that one. How about “Obama’s not an American citizen!” Nah, used that last week. “We’re on the road to a Communist dictatorship like Soviet Russia!” Nuts, used that during the election. How about “Obama isn’t sneaking cigarettes, he’s actually a high-functioning crack addict.”? Not bad.
Anyway, don’t worry: They’ll think of something. Maybe security will have to start throwing people off the stage.
All of this uncivil, shrieking, political theater is, after all, only an entertainment. The authors of those anonymous e-mails that claim Obama wants to kill your grandma? Entertainers. The people interrupting civic conversations at the town meetings? Entertainers. Face it, these days William F. Buckley wouldn’t get 10 seconds of air time on Fox.
But there’s a price for all of this: The social impact of all of these entertainers is not in the content of anything they say – since the their comments aren’t even well formed enough to count as lies – but in the distraction it’s causing and this distraction keeps us from the most important task in a democracy: digging through governmental obfuscation (whether Congressional, Executive, or Judicial) to find the truth.
So what do we do about all this shouting? Here’s how we start: turn off the TV, put on the coffee and start talking with – not at – each other.