To assert that public discourse in the United States has become increasingly simplistic, focused on minutae, nonfactual and, above all, uncivil, is not exactly pioneering. This downward drift is self-evident, and there is blame enough to go around. Though the Right-Wing Jacobins have been leading the charge away from social decorum and reason-based debate, it is doubtless that plenty on the Left have equally encouraged the exodus of sense and sensibility from the public sphere. This trend has been lamented (with varying degrees of sincerity) by commentators of all political stripes, though no serious effort has been made to curtail it.
While the success of Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and the kudos given others who are essentially saying “Ladies and gentlemen, please!” give hope that the trend is not irreversible, it seems that the problem will likely get worse before it improves.
Good evidence of this was provided Thursday by a person who has come to embody the “new normal” of juvenile argument and acerbic tone: Sarah Palin.
Mrs. Palin is the ultimate culture warrior. She delights in nothing so much as raising the blood pressure of the Left (and center) through her folsky, homespun condescension and shrill sarcasm. The media know it’s smart business to give prime space to each and every one of her brain secretions, as controversy is the currency of the realm, and Palin, whose animal savvy about publicity and politics goes a long way to make up for deficiencies in almost every other aspect of her resume, has worked out quite the symbiotic relationship with the news media: She says nonsensical, ignorant or just downright nasty stuff; they report on her antics; she criticizes them for reporting it; and they report on the criticism. It is a straightforward and profitable dynamic for all concerned. Unfortunately, the casualties of this and other such relationships include: actual issues, sane public officials, and the general public.
(For the record, here is the appropriate response to almost every answer Sarah Palin has ever given in an interview.)
Most times, her snide quips, easy metaphors and red meat pseudo-Reaganisms can be ignored, or even enjoyed from a dispassionate remove. Yesterday, however, was one of those other times.
If there is one day we as Americans can and should set aside our differences and come together as a people, it is Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July may be the prescribed date for collective patriotic expression, but the Thanksgiving tradition, which predates the nation’s founding, transcends the historical, the political, and the martial components of what it means to be an American, and asks us to meditate on the spiritual. It is a time for reflection on our own fortune and to extend prayers for the fortune of others. On Thanksgiving, we are called to rise above our baser natures, hang up our grievances, put away our pettiness, and embrace our fellow Americans as brothers and sisters (except while watching football). It is a holiday to reflect that which is best in the American character.
Or, you can trash people to make yourself feel better about your own mistakes.
Entitled “A Thanksgiving Message to All 57 States,” it is a characteristically sarcastic broadside against the news media for having had the temerity to report what Palin told Glenn Beck in an interview Wednesday: “We’ve gotta stand with our North Korean allies.” Palin’s gaffe was clearly a slip of the lip, but also a particularly funny one, given her past interviews.
The former governor (who seems to be extremely thin-skinned for a Mama Grizzly/Pit Bull/Hockey Mom/Helicopter-Assisted Slayer of Wolves) took umbrage, as is her wont, and went on the offensive. There is no point in quoting the entirety of Palin’s 500-plus-word screed, but the gist of it is that she strung together a number of President Obama’s verbal gaffes age – including the infamous “all 57 states” slip – into a mock Thanksgiving message to make the point that everyone goofs but that the media is out to get her because they report on her goofs.
Here’s the end of it:
The media could even have done due diligence and checked my previous statements on the subject, which have always been consistent, and in fact even ahead of the curve. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story? (And for that matter, why not just make up stories out of thin air – like the totally false hard news story which has run for three days now reporting that I lobbied the producers of “Dancing with the Stars” to cast a former Senate candidate on their show. That lie is further clear proof that the media completely makes things up without doing even rudimentary fact-checking.)
“Hope springs eternal” as the poet says. Let’s hope that perhaps, just maybe, they might get it right next time. When we the people are effective in holding America’s free press accountable for responsible and truthful reporting, then we shall all have even more to be thankful for!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
This sums up the Sarah Palin phenomenon perfectly. Not even on Thanksgiving can she set aside whatever minor grievances she has to embrace the spirit of one of America’s most cherished traditions. It is a sad sign of the times, and a worse comment on Tea Party virtue, which, judging by the actions of its de facto leader, prizes a sense of victimhood and ceaseless attacks on its perceived enemies over unity and brotherhood. (Here is the original Sarah Palin/Christine O’Donnell gossip item, which, by the bye, was reported as being a gossip item by the “lamestream media”.)
Not all is bad, however. Most Thanksgiving messages from our leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, focused on the blessings we enjoy as Americans, the sacrifice of our troops and an appeal to charity, leaving the political battles for another day. With luck and courage, we may yet be able to stamp out the corrosive influence of the Sarah Palins and reclaim civility, decency and substance as the hallmarks of our national debate.
One of the best enunciations of this goal I have seen came yesterday from New York State Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R-Golden’s Bridge) in a Politico forum. Assemblyman Castelli, who was locked in a tight race with his opponent (which is yet unresolved, three weeks after Election Day), recounts in a piece entitled “Civil Discourse and the Body Politic” how students at a candidate forum were shocked and baffled by the level of respect and civility Castelli and his opponent afforded each other, and what a shame it is that expectations are so low.
“While it is true that each candidate’s record in office is always fair game,” he wrote, “a man or woman’s personal life or family is always off-bounds and yes, each candidate will try to define the other, but there are ways of doing that and ways not to. In the end, if we who serve wish to be admired by the public rather then despised, perhaps we should remember this the next time we run, and engage in civil discourse and debate like statesmen, and not politicians.”
From your lips to Sarah Palin’s ears, Assemblyman.