Saturday, August 15, 2009

An uncivil tongue: entertaining us to death.

Hi everyone,

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. :^)

Saturday's column.

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.



wbman said...

I found it ironic that on the front page of the same newspaper, there was a large article about the demands being placed on the Albrecht Free Clinic. There were a stories about people needing help because they can't work or lost their insurance coverage. Then, in the letters section, we have Jim Geldreich writing that only 45 million people without insurance really isn't "a problem". Well, I guess it isn't if you have coverage. It helps to work for an insurance company, like Jim. By the way, he forgot to add that he's chairman of the Washington County Republican Party.

Mpeterson said...

True. Always good to have great coverage, work in the insurance industry, and be a local party chairman to lend confidence to one's convictions.

On the other hand...

I was struck by Owen's story about Wendy, his wife, getting sick. The one thing I refrained from mentioning, when I paid my respects over on BS, was that Owen and his family are now one major illness away from personal bankruptcy.

As are, I note, the rest of us.

James Dionne said...

You forgot Keith Olbermann. And Rachel Maddow. And ACT UP. And GreenPeace. And PETA. And And many, many others. Nice one sided article.

PaulyW said...

At some point this has crossed over into a angry exchange about all issues. Health Insurance is the current lightning rod. People are frustrated of the lack of good jobs coming back, stimulus that is not really stimulus, and wasteful projects (re-paving hwy 45 north of Kewaskum to Eden). I just think people are scared of going even further into debt with another government program.

Insurance is a mess, but how are we going to pay for it? We can't just say we are going to cover it all and pray that it won't cost us additional taxes. There needs to be more discussion.

How do you get the attention of a politician that comes back from Washington and wants to tout the party line and move on? Half of our congress people don't even know what they are presenting to the constituency. They supposedly represent the district not the party leaders in DC.

Public opinion is on the side of voting down the current plan. BTW, who cares who is speaking out and thier political affiliation. Free speech is still a right?

Mpeterson said...


Most issues actually have more than 2 sides -- it's been the ploy of our news media to characterize things in simple to digest terms so that they can crank up the juice.

PETA as wacky as they are, has some good arguments. On the more conservative side, I like David Frum quite a bit -- leave it to a good Canadian to find the sane route back for American conservatives.

But even good conservative points are being drowned out.

Mpeterson said...


You vote 'em out of office, that's how. But Americans have been on autopilot for so long that they'd almost forgotten how to get organized outside the party system -- until Obama revitalized the Democratic base.

We just lost a friend, a businessman, a strong fiscal conservative, and one of our strongest team members from the Obama campaign. His button read "Republicans for Obama."

It's the ideas that matter. The Party's are interested in making money... like Fox News.

PaulyW said...


The day of having news on TV because it meant something to somebody and it was how you got information is now it has to pull it's weight. Fox News is on top because it caters to the conservative crowd which is in fashion now. We are moving so far so fast with information that we can't possibly take 5 minutes of news thats not sensationalism or we change the channel. Nobody has time to sit down and talk about anything anymore.

Why does it take 1130 pages to fix healthcare???????

Mpeterson said...

it's going to take a lot more than pages in one law to fix health care in this country.

On the other hand, Pauly, where were you on the Patriot Act? :^)

wbman said...

Hey Pauly, free speech shouldn't mean interfering with the rest of the assembled to hear the presentation or ask their own questions. Yelling "Read the bill" doesn't accomplish much.

And before you pull a "Yeah but..." it wasn't right for lefties to do it at college campuses when someone they didn't like was trying to speak.

PaulyW said...

Old news Mark. It's passed, just like all the other bills rammed through by our congress. Nothing like a good old Crap and Tax bill that will do more harm than good. So this bill was where people drew the line in the sand.....they know its a load of garbage and it's gonna have to go back to the drawing board.

Other Side said...

Fox News is on top because it caters to the conservative crowd which is in fashion now.

That explains why they did so well the past two elections.

Mpeterson said...

You know, Pauly is an example of folks who've been told repeatedly in the right-wing media that they actually constitute a MAJORITY position in the US political universe... when they don't.

I think this is a major cause of the anger and disappointment -- and fury -- we've seen among people who, like that Angry Man asking McCain how they could possibly be behind, are suddenly waking up to discover that the last 8 years were an illusion.

I'm just musing, of course.