February 12, 2008
Debate or Debase (Bob Franken)
@ 12:18 pm
This not about a specific incident. The real problem is the pervasiveness of unworthy political debate.
In making their points, far too many commentators are far too often careless or clumsy. They don’t mean to to be heavy-handed, they just get flustered by live TV. Sometimes they get too consumed by their own point of view to articulate it in a forceful but appropriate way. So they blurt out their opinions in ways they didn’t mean to. That can play right into the hands of a candidate who seeks to get sympathy votes by assuming the victim role.
Even more egregious are the nihilists who intentionally seek to gain notoriety with each and every malicious, inflammatory insult. It doesn’t matter to them that what they’re saying is really beneath contempt. Why should it? We encourage them by lapping their bile right up.
In both cases, I don’t have to mention names. We know who they are. We’ve made them celebrities.
What we’re celebrating is a combination of cynicism and mindlessness. Instead of paying attention to rational conversation about issues, we focus instead on the latest inane titillation.
We never learn. Each time the self-serving demagogues spew out something moronically toxic about the candidates’ looks or even their sex lives, they get new prominence.
Even when they get to the issues, their commentary is frequently nothing more than facile bigotry of the lowest type. That, in turn, prompts an outraged sputtering instead of a measured response. It all reaps tons of publicity, which is the point, after all. We in the media give breathless coverage because there’s nothing like controversy to cheaply get us from one commercial break to the next.
As for the candidates themselves, when they’re not taking part in this game, they’re filling the time between controversies with poll-tested, empty rhetoric. That leaves fertile ground for the opportunistic rabble-rousers.
The irony is the hyperbole isn’t necessary. The political system and this election are absurd enough as it is. There’s plenty to ridicule without crossing that line between sharp commentary and dullard’s insult.
This is not to say there are no thoughtful program hosts, journalists and personalities out there, analysts and advocates. There are quite a few who routinely present commentary that is well-informed and stimulating at the same time. I admire them.
Any fool can come up with the other stuff. They speak for those who are too lazy to be well-informed or too stupid to rise above their basest prejudices. It takes a little work and intellectual energy to form opinions based on facts and come up with sparkling ways to express them.
There’s one really effective way to handle those who insist on being moronic or toxic. It’s the one tactic that horrifies them. We can ignore them.