BROKEBACK

Annie Proulx: I think this country is hungry for this story.

Associated Press: Why?

Proulx: Because it’s a love story and there’s hardly much love around these days. I think people are sick of divisiveness, hate-mongering, disasters, war, loss and need and want a reminder that sometimes love comes along that is strong and permanent, and that it can happen to anyone.

INDEED . . . CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

Uncivil Discourse
By Charlie Cook, National Journal

I am deeply troubled by the tenor of current political discourse in this country. More and more Republicans don’t just disagree with Democrats, they despise them — and vice versa. People don’t just challenge someone’s views — they challenge the other person’s integrity. Enjoyable, informative, and civil discussions between people with different points of view are becoming rare.

The most recent episode to deeply offend me occurred after Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s wife left the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in tears. An Alito opponent soon asked on a popular liberal Web site, “Do we want a judge who would marry such a weak-willed bitch?”

On the same day, I happened to watch The War Room, a documentary about the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. In one scene, Clinton strategist James Carville fielded reporters’ questions arising from allegations by conservatives that Clinton had been brainwashed or recruited as a Soviet agent while he backpacked across Europe during college.

There may well be plenty of reasons to oppose Alito’s confirmation or to have opposed Clinton’s candidacy, but aren’t these attacks out of bounds for a civil society?

Of course, playing politics has never been a game of patty-cake. Politics junkies have all heard that a House member from the South beat an anti-slavery senator unconscious in 1856 and that the 1884 campaign chant against Grover Cleveland, who was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, was “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.”

But an unreasonable share of today’s political conversation is venomous and lacking any effort at accuracy or fairness. I blame this problem first on the rise of political food-fight shows on cable television, on radio talk shows, and most recently on the Internet, where political discourse has become the Wild West.

Although televised left-right sparring matches go way back — at least to the 60 Minutes segment of the 1970s pitting conservative James Kilpatrick against liberal Shana Alexander — the bounds of decency were respected as the other side’s views were attacked. But talk radio erased those boundaries. Talk radio is tailored for like-minded people, and the host’s goal is to promote outrage among listeners. The clear purpose is to inflame, not inform.

Fans of talk radio are quick to argue that its growth is due to a liberal and pro-Democratic bias among the mainstream media, a charge that is not completely without merit. It is certainly a plausible theory that the Newt Gingrich-led Republican sweep of the House and Senate in 1994 was powered largely by conservative talk-show hosts, most notably Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh and others tapped into a stream of outrage among alienated conservatives, and whipped their audiences into a frenzy that helped lead to the first Republican-controlled Congress in 40 years.

The Internet has simply taken the hostilities to new heights. Despite being one of the most amazing technological developments of the past 100 years, it is also an electronic version of the inside door of a public bathroom stall. Libelous accusations can be posted anonymously. And information that is inaccurate or taken totally out of context can get widely disseminated instantaneously.

What makes all of this so corrosive is that fewer people are reading, watching, or listening to political coverage that is balanced and fair. This results in hair-trigger reactions to any perceived misdeed by anyone in the opposite party, while partisans ignore comparable mistakes in their own party.

It all makes me nostalgic for my days as a high school debater. For one hour, we would have to argue the affirmative side of a proposal. During the next hour, we would have to make the case in opposition just as strenuously. Before long, most of us reached the conclusion that the truth was rarely found exclusively on a single side and that there are very legitimate arguments on each side of just about every important policy question. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer Americans share that view.

If there is a solution to the degeneration of our political debate, I haven’t found it. But I certainly hope someone finds it soon.

☞ The only nit I would pick with this is the other unfortunate tendency of the media, to lean over backwards to give both sides of the story as if they always have equal validity. Some say the Holocaust occurred, others say it didn’t, let’s give each side four minutes to make its case and then let the viewer decide. (I exaggerate to make the point, but you know what I mean.)

If you have a minute, read this (excerpted below). With Democrats shut out of the process, the Republicans handed $22 billion of taxpayer money to the health insurance industry. It’s just one example of how the Republican Party runs your government – but it’s a good one.

From the front page of yesterday Washington Post:

The Senate version would have targeted private HMOs participating in Medicare by changing the formula that governs their reimbursement, lowering payments $26 billion over the next decade. But after lobbying by the health insurance industry, the final version made a critical change that had the effect of eliminating all but $4 billion of the projected savings, according to CBO and other health policy experts. . . .

Makes yesterday‘s $700 million giveaway to the natural gas industry seem like small potatoes. It is a grand time to be rich and powerful in America.

(Another example: according to NBC, both Louisiana and Mississippi requested 40,000 FEMA trailers. Thus far, Mississippi, whose governor chaired the Republican Party, has gotten 33,000, while Louisiana, whose governor is a Democrat, has gotten 2,000 or so. These decisions aren’t based on merit, they’re based on power.)

(Oh, and remember the California energy crisis that suddenly appeared, sending billions and billions of dollars from California to Houston – and which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made the conscious decision not to stanch with emergency controls designed for just that purpose? Does anyone seriously think that if the flow of dollars had been from Texas to California, the administration would have failed to act?)

(And how about relaxing the rules on emergency air shafts in coal mines, in place since 1969?)

(Or the billions wasted on botched Iraqi reconstruction? Why didn’t we pay much of that money to Iraqis rather than Halliburton et al?)

(Or the Medicare Part D program designed by K Street lobbyists that Paul Krugman wrote about.)

Even if you’d be less comfortable having a beer with our next Presidential candidate than theirs – and I hope that won’t be the case – please consider voting for competence and a set of priorities that takes into account the well-being of Americans who aren’t rich and powerful.

RELATIVE WORTH

Jim Johnson: ‘You have a CEO friend who makes $150,000,000 per year. If I make $100/hour (I don’t) and work 2000 hours a year for 50 years, I would make $10,000,000. So your friend (working every day of the year) makes my lifetime earnings in just under 25 days. Is three and half weeks of his time really worth a lifetime of mine?’ (And did he really need a big tax cut?)

☞ Well, he’s a very nice guy.

 

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