OR the dangers of Schandenfreude in the Internet Age
A few weeks ago I thought Christine O'Donnell was Chris O'Donnell's new persona. "Good for him." I thought. Turns out it was a young Delaware Senatorial candidate. You all know her by now, her stance on masturbation, which actually does flow logically if one is to consider themselves a staunch conservative Christian, how she dabbled in witchcraft, etc. etc.
And of course the press is having a field day. MSNBC is loving it, Fox News is putting on its righteous indignation face, and CNN is reading twitter feeds.
But if there's one thing I've learned from my father who's been working in Washington for over 20 years now: if something's news, that just means there's an even bigger story that isn't being reported. And in this case the story is actually quite obvious. Both parties have become so focused on the bizarre that we forget banal things like, well let's say what a candidate thinks about important things.
You could say this fallout from the tabloidization of the news media post the Lewinsky scandal, or politics after Karl Rove's destruction of John McCain in 2000. Either way, people are getting elected or defeated on things that don't entirely matter, and in many cases mask their ideas.
But you may be saying, but Jacob you criticize people all the time for things they say. That's true, and yes, I have said things. Everyone has, and in the internet age it's all up for grabs. Everything is on video, audio, cellphone tape. Can anyone imagine what Nixon would have been like had he lived today? But there are three types of things people say that get noticed, in order of exposure:
1) insensitive things. These are racially, sexually, gender-related, sexual preference related comments that get a lot of coverage in that order, more or less. The media really doesn't have a rubric, nor the sociological understanding necessary to place these into context, and the dialogue usually devolves into "Why can't I, a white person, say the "n-word?"" In short, this is the fault of neo-liberal mythology and revisionist history, and I'd probably do best to point you toward Charles Mill's work, The Racial Contract perhaps his best.
2)Wacky things: These are the odd soundbites that make something insignificant and then make them define a person: Al Gore's comment on the internet, Dennis Kucinich seeing a UFO (and as if that makes one unqualified for the presidency, we forget that President Ford saw one while in office). These make for diversions away from things like issues, which are usually too complex to put into easily digestible soundbites, and turn our candidates into caricatures. This is what's going on now, and I'll get to that shortly.
3) Contradictions and hypocrisy. This is the least reported and the most common. Obama's changing promises about Gitmo, health care, etc. The many faces of Mitt Romney, John McCain 3.0. These are the only one of these "things people say" that really matters because they deal with issues. BUT there is a difference between a contradictions and flip-flops. The latter seem to be the things we get pre-occupied with. When an elected official has different sets of values depending on which political party they are aligned with, that is hypocrisy. That is an important thing. We should stop caring about flip-flops. People should be allowed to change their minds. In fact, I would rather our elected officials change their minds based on facts rather than charge hell or highwater into policies that are based on their own views, facts be damned. Did Obama change is policy on Afghanistan? Yes, but I would hope that the president would focus on the reality instead of the politics. Though his Bush-ian semantic game of "ending" the Iraq war while we still have troops there sort of shows he wants to have his cake and eat it too.
The problem is we are electing people based on image. Images made up of the aggregate of the wacky things they say, not the issues they believe in or want to implement. The biggest failing of the democrats this election cycle has been their willingness to toss the Tea Party into the fringe, to make light of their candidates as oddballs, and that is what disqualifies them from office. Instead the Dems should point out that the Tea Party is actually just the Republican party with some new theatrics. At first I thought that the Tea Party was the GOP trying to exorcise the Neo-Liberal elements which were adopted by the Reagan and Bush('s) administrations. And this is the GOP's biggest mistake with the Tea Party. They've rushed to embrace it and make it part of their strategy. The problem is, is that the GOP still refuses to recognize the fact that their constituents, not the pundits which claim to be populists, are calling for a return to a libertarian philosophy, while the GOP establishment and its pundits are afraid to let go of the whole War on Terror philosophy with patriot acts and a more intrusive government. So, despite what the media says, or forces into their narrative, or what silly and wacky things, even at times crazy things candidates may say, the fact is that we have two parties, both of which are far closer to each other than they'd like to admit, and which nobody in America is happy with. If anyone has reason for dissatisfaction it's the American left, which has been ignored yet again by a democratic president. Obama has done something I never thought possible which was make Bill Clinton look liberal. Ignore all the disinformation on both sides regarding the health care reform act and basically Obama is President Bush who takes a bit more time and advice into consideration. The disaffected right has the Tea Party. It's time the Left stops being content with being amused by the right and take their own supposed leaders to task.