10 January 2011

Sad Days

Of course I am speaking of the Tucson assassination, but also of the private sadness of eulogizing a friend this weekend. And of the loss of a church member, and the third sadness of a member who lost her romantic partner.

We're not good at sadness in America. This is the land of opportunity, optimism, freedom and other happy things. We have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, as it says in the Declaration of Independence. But when sadness does come, and it must as night follows the day, we Americans have no vessel for holding it, no confidence in its meaning. That's why when there is a Tucson and a Twin Towers and an Oklahoma City, and a Waco, we look for the quick fix that will end our confusion and sadness.

For example. We are hearing that wing rhetoric caused it. Sorry. It did not. The assassin (I hate the word 'shooter,' something plucked from police dramas) was clearly unstable. Ted Kascinski and David Koresh were also unstable, and their crimes did not flow from the sewer of hate radio. Does that mean right wing rhetoric is innocent? No. It may not be the cause or the inspiration of particular crimes, but it clearly intends to influence people or it would not be on the air and in the papers.

The sin of right wing rhetoric (and I limit myself to the right because left wing rhetoric is a vastly smaller voice in the national media and thus far less audible) is demonizing. It is a worldview that is itself unstable, or rather, seeks to address the sense of instability it sees in the world by sorting goats and sheep, labelling people and parties and religions as wholly good or wholly evil.

By labelling political ideas it does not share as evil, and those who hold them as evil, it legitimates a Manichean world in which my ideas are right and good. I am right and good. Those who differ are wrong and bad.

Why this stark dualism is prospering has many reasons, including the sense of a world far more turbulent and unfamiliar than one remembers, but another one that no one mentions is that it pays.

The media industry reaps money by attracting listeners and viewers and readers. Manichean rhetoric works, which is why the pundit industry reacted to Tucson just as it did. Its dean, Rush Limbaugh, has declared "seeking to connect the shooting with radio talk shows — which are dominated by conservatives — was part of a Democratic strategy. 'It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,' Mr. Limbaugh said. (Everything fits in the Manichean worldview, and even when something challenges that world it is taken as proof that there it isdemonic and conspiratorial.) That Mr. Limbaugh and others like him are lavishly paid is never considered as a motive for their opinions.

He and his Manichean friends are political prostitutes. They say what they do because it pays them (in money or influence or both).

Jesus never earned a shekel for his work. Nor Moses. Muhammed had a day job. So did St. Paul. As I remember, Mr. Limbaugh promised to leave the country if health care legislation passed. It did. He didn't. So much for principle when it has a cost.

7 comments:

Jane said...

May I say "amen"?

Paul Krugman's column in today's NYTimes is spot on.

Revwilly said...

A little disappointed in your post. Yes, the right wing has a loud voice through radio and internet, but the left wing still dominates broadcast TV and many cable channels. I wonder if you ever read the blog Newbusters.org? You might be surprised at what members of the left wing are saying. And when did Limbaugh say he would leave the country if healthcare passed? Did you hear him say it? Did he put it in print some place where it can be read? How said he said it? Just curious, because it does not sound like something he would say. I could be wrong, but I would be surprised.

I have confronted many friends/former friends on Facebook and other places about using any kind of language which in away sounds childish, attacks character or is just generally trash talk. I have also written Senator Stabinow about how disgusted I was as she stood by a fellow senator who essentially made crass/mean and derogatory statements about Republicans. Don't they realize what they(any elected leader no matter what party)are doing? I think it much more important to get our elected officials acting like educated, grown ups who can be polite, civil, congenial than the Limbaughs of the world.

WFW said...

Will,

I was only commenting on the punditocracy, the professional commentators. Not that politicians do not do it, but honestly I think the media voices are more audible than the political ones.

As Peter Parker's uncle told him so many years ago, "with great power comes great responsibility," and I think those who have passionate followers have a responsibility to use it wisely. This is not a place where market share is the only measure of value.

From where I stand, which is hardly a heavenly vantage point, the conservative voices in the media are larger and louder and more influential right now. That gives them greater power, and in the algebra of Spider Man, greater responsibility.

I do not think they themselves think so. But then again, I am an old boy scout, who quite literally tries to keep himself "physically strong, mentally aware and morally stright." Those values seem to me absent from too many of those in power officially and effectively. Maybe I am the fool, though.

WFW said...

Will,

I found a reference, one of many, to Rush's planned trip to Cost Rica. I chose a newspaper over a political blog, but some of them had embedded video of RL himself saying it. This one is from the Guardian in the UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/richard-adams-blog/2010/mar/10/rush-limbaugh-costa-rica

Revwilly said...

For the sake of clarity, here is what Limbaugh actual said:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/limbaugh-ill-leave-us-if_n_491536.html

Revwilly said...

And, you and I can have little impacts on the Limbaughs of the world, but we can have an impact on our elected officials who are supposed to listen to us...or not.

Revwilly said...

Did you not receive the link to what Limbaugh actually said? He said if the health care legislation passed and was fully implemented in the next five years, he would go to Costa Rica. His remarks were taken out of context and only used in part. Funny how people can do that, don't you think? That is something frequently done with Limbaugh. Please understand, I'm no great Limbaugh fan. I do listen to him occasionally for short periods of time. I wonder, have you ever listened to him long enough to hear what he actually says and believes and why he says and believes those things?

And as to his motives....do you know for fact that he says what he does because he is motivated by making a profit, or are you projecting your own motives on to Rush?

Back to media influence. You state that right media seeks to influence people. Of course it does. Does not left wing media seek to do the same? Are there not voices in the left wing media that is just as Manichean?

Then there are the elected officials such as Senator Reid who said that those opposed to the health care bill were "evil mongers". As you very well know, the liberal media sympathizes with Senator Reid. They have never been critical of him using phrases like that, at least to my knowledge.

I don't know if you have read my responses from last evening. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and think you haven't, but will at some point in time. I don't want to believe you just don't want the facts out there regarding Limbaugh.

Without wax,
Will