Feb 022004
 
Authors: Brent Ables

“Instead of actual debate about ideas and issues with real

consequences, the (United States) is trapped in a political

discourse that increasingly resembles professional

wrestling…”

So writes pundit Ann Coulter in her book “Slander.” The quote,

which is accurate and eloquent, gives readers hope that perhaps a

popular media critic is – at last – prepared to rise above the

mud-slinging world of contemporary political commentary and offer

intelligent, unbiased analysis of political problems. What we are

given, instead, is a truly astounding case of hypocrisy and

(unconscious) self-mockery, as Coulter spends most of her career

degrading political dialogue far beyond anything that has come

before her.

She jokes that Timothy McVeigh, instead of bombing the Oklahoma

City federal buildings, should have destroyed the New York Times

and murdered its staff. She describes Bill Clinton as a “horny

hick,” a “lunatic” who “masturbates in the sinks”; naturally, “if

you don’t hate Clinton… you don’t love your country.” American

journalists are “retarded,” of course. As for liberals, not only do

they “hate every religion except Islam” along with America, but in

fact “liberals hate society and want to bring it down to reinforce

their sense of invincibility.”

I give these examples not because I want to demonstrate that Ann

Coulter is somehow an isolated or unusual case, but because

Coulter, as her success indicates, is merely indicative of a larger

trend among those writers/speakers who Americans turn to for

political commentary these days.

Rather than offering rational, intelligent analysis of important

and relevant subjects, those who pass for popular political

commentators are principally concerned with discrediting and

lampooning – by whatever methods – all those who do not subscribe

to the correct political ideology. Books and columns are written

with language that seems designed more for petty children arguing

on the playground than adults who live and die by the decisions

Americans make in the voting booths. The result is that

partisanship is given a boost and instead of resolving issues

dialectically, we build walls around our rigid stances on issues,

vowing never to cooperate or listen to the “other side.”

There is no monopoly on this sort of punditry; conservatives and

liberals have both participated in the exchange. For every Ann

Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Micheal Savage and Bill O’ Reilly that

jousts for the right, the left can claim a Micheal Moore, Al

Franken or Jim Hightower. It’s not that none of these writers have

ever said anything worth listening to, for many of them certainly

have. But on the whole, these writers are more concerned with

calling each other names and exposing irrelevant (or unintended)

shortcomings in the others’ writings than with offering tangible

suggestions for the right direction for policymakers to take.

Democracy, as anyone who has taken a political science course

can attest, draws its strength from the input of a wide range of

thinking individuals, each with their own contribution to make. It

is consensus, and not disagreement, that is the desired goal of

such debate. The Constitutional Convention itself was little more

than a series of drawn-out compromises. Thus, when those who

influence our political opinions are more concerned with fueling

discord than with investigating the best solutions to our problems,

what results is a clash of factions in which opinions become

monochromatic and there is little, if no, common ground.

There are, fortunately, still plenty of careful, rational

political commentators working. Although it is the Michel Moores

and Rush Limbaughs who rule the popular market, those who seek a

different approach can still read the Economist or the New Republic

or watch Jim Lehrer on PBS and get an idea of how popular political

dialogue could, and should, operate. In fact, we should be thankful

that there are still those in the networks and in publishing

willing to uphold respectable standards of debate.

Although such media exists, however, the more books that are

sold under the appeal of “gotcha!” journalism, the more media

corporations are going to search out these authors to publish and

promote; such is the nature of the market. It is, then, up to us to

be intelligent consumers and to demonstrate that there should be

little place in a democratic society for the sort of commentary

that tops the bestseller lists these days.

Brent is a freshman studying philosophy. His column runs every

Tuesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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