(Writer's note: By arrangement with my syndicators, my columns are placed here a week after their newspaper release)
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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, NOV. 30, 2010
BY BOB FRANKEN
How sad it is that so many of our leading public figures invest large chunks of their political capital on the cheap shot. And why not? From their point of view, it pays huge dividends.
Apparently the gutter's not the limit if they can gain the allegiance of millions who settle for pablum in order to justify their misplaced resentments.
Case in point: Sarah Palin shamelessly exploits an aversion to complexity with simplistic bombast and outright deception. She is more than happy to fill the vacuum that is created when reason and knowledge have been sucked out of policy arguments. The name of her game is blame.
In her new book, Palin goes after Barack and Michelle Obama. She just cannot avoid the appeal to bigoted Caucasian victimhood: “Both of them spent almost two decades in the pews of Jeremiah Wright listening to his rants against white people.” Palin's hardly the only one.
It is always so fascinating, for instance, to hear public figures angrily deny they're racists even as they gratuitously play the race card. We've watched and heard the hard-right cheerleaders like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh repeatedly make their crude, prejudiced comments designed to attract millions of alienated listeners and viewers.
Newt Gingrich has built an entire career on a pile of ugly phrases. With him, it's an art form to somehow give his abrasive appeals to ignorance the false sheen of intellectualism. He has found Muslims a handy target for his exploitation. What other explanation than rabble-rousing can there be for his demand that “we should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States.” Pure demagoguery. So is calling Obama a “secular socialist.”
Let us not forget Michele Bachmann, one of our most blatant demagogues. She couldn't care less about facts. When she shouts through her twisted megaphone that the president's recent trip to India cost $200 million a day, she knows it riles up her true believers. She had to know full well that this is grossly exaggerated, and a fabrication. She's not that ignorant; she's anything but. And her rants where she constantly accuses any opponent of being “anti-American” are pure McCarthyism.
To spread the scorn, we cannot overlook those trashers on the left. How many times have we heard antiwar leaders throw around terms like “baby killer” or similarly demonize anyone who might disagree with their approach? They still love to vilify President George W. Bush as “stupid” or worse.
Even Obama is not above stirring the cauldron. Recall his pandering during the campaign about corporate entities spending millions to defeat Democrats using foreign money. It was unfounded and unfair, but the president knew that it might push some xenophobic buttons, so he went for it.
As for blame, that goes to us, too. We, the willing accomplices in media, that eat conflict up with a spoon. What would TV news be without the incendiary sound bite? Irresponsible? No problem. Inaccurate? Deal with it. What better way can we get people to watch the verbal bloodletting? What better way to fill the time between commercial breaks in an inexpensive way? It gives new meaning to the “cheap” in cheap shots.
The political gladiators all know that these cheap shots work. So never mind how costly they are, how much they further rip apart a divided nation. They'll only stop selling when we the people stop buying.
© 2010 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.