Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Has Conservative Talk Radio Gone Too Far

My favorite liberal, Camille Pagli is asking that very question:
In a harried, fragmented, media-addled time, there is an invigorating simplicity to this political fundamentalism. It is comforting to hold fast to hallowed values, to defend tradition against the slackness of relativism and hedonism. But when the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation, there is reason for alarm. Two days after watching 'Seven Days in May,' I was utterly horrified to hear Dallas-based talk show host Mark Davis, subbing for Rush Limbaugh, laughingly and approvingly read a passage from a Dallas magazine article by CBS sportscaster David Feherty claiming that 'any U.S. soldier,' given a gun with two bullets and stuck in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, would use both bullets on Pelosi and strangle the other two.

How have we come to this pass in America where the assassination of top government officials is fodder for snide jokes on national radio? Davis (who is obviously a glib horse's ass) did this stunt very emphatically at a news break at the top of the first hour. It was from there that the Dallas magazine story was evidently picked up by liberal Web sites and disseminated, pressuring CBS to denounce Feherty, who made a public apology. The gravity of this case was unfortunately overshadowed by feisty comedian Wanda Sykes' clumsy jibes at Rush Limbaugh the next night at the Washington Correspondents Dinner. Sykes (who is usually hilarious) was rushed and inept, embarrassing herself and her hosts. But what Mark Davis did, in irresponsibly broadcasting Feherty's vile fantasy, was an inflammatory political act that could goad susceptible minds down the dark road toward "Seven Days in May."
I don't think Davis was particularly funny with that bit and I think Wanda Sykes was even less funny. But Davis is not the first, nor will he be the last radio show host (on either side of the political spectrum) to make dumb assassination jokes. The number of time that Air America hosts routinely bashed and threatened with bodily harm top Republican leaders is beyond count.

But Paglia does make a good implicit point, not just about conservative talk radio, which has been in full fledged panic mode since Obama's election, but about the general polarization of American politics in general.

Gone are the days of teh moderates of each party running the show. We have swung from the hard right of Newt Gingrich in 1994 to the extreme left of Nancy Pelosi in less than 20 years. Iconic speakers who got things done have been replaced by ideologues more in love with their own press and position than being in love with a Country with real problems needing real solutions. Missing from all this is the average Joe and Jane Smith who are just trying to get by and find no solace in either party and thus tune out of politics--leaving the playing field to the extremists.

Politics in America is no longer about solutions, but about positions and winning. I believe that most people in America want four things from their government:

1. A strong national defense. At the height of the Roman Empire, a Roman citizen could walk the breadth of the Empire and never fear being attacked. Why? Because everyone in the world new that if you attacked a Roman citizen, the full weight of the mightiest army in the world would come crashing about your home and head. America wants that security. We don't necessarily seek out war and probably don't want the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we also want to be secure in the knowledge that if the world screws with us, we are the biggest, baddest, meanest, most effective mother f-----s around and you don't mess with America.

2. Low taxes. Ours is a nation born, in part, out of a tax revolt. This is a country that abhors paying large taxes. It is not so much a desire to not have govnerment do things for us, since there is ample evidence that we do want something from the government, but when it comes to a situation of lower taxes or more government help, I think most people would rather have lower taxes.

3. Privacy. Most Americans want to live their lives free of government oversight, free to follow their own path. But, a funny (tragic) thing has happened over the past couple of decades, we have become a society in which surveillance, by others and the government, is cheap, easy and difficult to defeat. As a result, people have become more and more insular. This is the "Bowling Alone" phenomenon writ large. With the ability to communicate quickly and easily along with the many benefits of technology, we are becoming less a society and more a collection of individuals who live in a given place. Why? Because out there in the world, nothing is private, nothing is sacred, and everyone can know everything about you. We fear public opinion, we worry over what our neighbors and others think about us because we are sure it is the worst thing possible. So we retreat to our homes, to ever shriking circle of friends to control what happens. If Americans could once again feel secure that not everything about them is collected, stored and poured over by someone, then we will likely see more public engagement.

4. Basic Social Safety Net. Americans know that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I think most Americans like the idea of a basic social safety net, things like unemployment insurance, short term welfare assistance and basic medical care for everyone. But I don't think Americans embrace the idea of long-term welfare for the able, and certainly don't like the idea of corporate welfare. Bailouts are become the norm, not the exception, and most Americans in the middle see themselves footing the bill for not only the basic social safety net, which most Americans accept and support, but also footing the bill for bad business decision making and that galls them. Help for the individual faced with difficult circumstances has a place in our heart, help for the idiot CEO holding out his hand saying "we are too big to fail" is not well received.

I think that for most of modern America, these were the basic principles that united this nation. Moderate politicans of both parties operated on these principles, perhaps not explictily, but certainly as part of an underlying platform. But where are those people today? The polarization of politics, helped along by the polarizing entertainement of talk radio and other media outlets, has driven these four fundamental concers to the fringe so that our political leaders don't find solutions based on these ideas, but take positions at the extreme ends.

But with extremism comes the missing middle of America--Joe and Jane Smith who is assiduously courted by both parties at election time and then systematically ignored during governing time.

No comments: