The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, November 22, 2004

IN ANGER VERITAS? :Well, reading the paper, especially the op-ed pages, has certainly been interesting these past few weeks. It isn’t everyday when you see ordinarily sensible press people either go off the deep end with a traumatic case of the vapors or engage in titanic hissy fits that would embarrass a teenaged girl whose boy friend just dumped her to go to the prom with her best friend simply because someone they didn’t like won an election. One must wonder who holds the smelling salts in cases like these. It seems to me that the reaction has already started and a general cooling down in tone is now the order of things in many papers. There does appear to be a kind of embarrassment creeping in about the rhetorical excesses committed in the immediate aftermath of the election, the same sort of embarrassment one generally feels after a New Year’s or St. Patrick’s Day party in which you got stony faced drunk and now you can’t remember what you said or did the whole night. All you know now is that your boss is giving you the gimlet eye and the nice girl down in acquisitions that you were thinking of asking out to a movie and maybe dinner afterwards turns beet red and heads for the ladies’ room at full speed whenever she sees you coming down the hall.

The same sort of thing happens to kids as well at these things, which is why Irish kids, and maybe kids of other ethnic persuasions as well; I can only speak from my own experience here; are reminded by our parents before we go into a party where the other grown-ups might get absolutely hammered and start telling us things we would just as soon not know about in the first place that come the morning we will forget everything they told us and if they ask if they said anything stupid that we are to say no, nothing at all: you talked about baseball the whole night. You don’t really need to know, for example, that your cousin’s best friend’s Aunt Gracie, a bulwark of the parish and a very nice lady who always has a piece of candy for any kid who wants one, spent an inordinate amount of time up in Hudson, New York during World War II for reasons no one really wants to ascertain at this point, and if your Uncle Harry brings that whole period of her life up after his fifth or sixth whiskey sour in under an hour then just smile and say, is that so? Remember, whatever you heard from anyone in their cups, forget it.

This is a sensible rule, I think; civilized life is only possible if we are willing to forgive and forget most of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; but I don’t think anyone will disagree with my contention in recent years the political culture of this country has gotten more than a little nasty. Negative advertising depends on what I think is called opposition research these days, which is a polite way of saying digging up the dirt on your opponent and smearing it all over the airwaves in ads designed to make your opponent look like a knave, a bounder, and a poltroon, often all three at the same time. How one responds to such ads is often a good barometer of the candidate’s character. Americans like a guy who can take a punch and then keep on plugging, no matter what. Above all, one must not get angry. There’s an old saying in politics that you never, ever, give a speech while you’re angry about something, especially an opponent’s personal attacks, or you will give the best speech you’ll ever live to regret. In anger, like vino, veritas, as the Romans didn’t say. Telling someone what you really think of them may make you feel better for a while but it’s no way to win elections or to have people take your opinion seriously.

Which is why, I suspect, the commentariat is starting to cool down the tenor of their attacks on President Bush and the people who elected him. It is one thing to attack a politician you don’t like; if politicians wanted a government job and be popular at the same time they should have joined the fire department; it is quite another to launch personal attacks on the people who elected the politician to office in the first place. Such attacks can only smack of condescension, which, in a republic such as ours, is the political kiss of death. The problem with the commentariat coming to its senses at this point is this: it’s too late. We now live in the world of Lexis-Nexis and other computer databases that archive the nation’s journalistic output so that anyone with access to a computer can find out just what did this pundit say about evangelical Christians back in 2004. Yesterday’s newspaper is no longer something to drop into the recycling bin or use to wrap fish in; what you wrote yesterday or two weeks ago or thirty years ago is now easily available and can, and will, come back to haunt you. What I mean is this: does anyone seriously suppose that the Republicans will not use what the Maureen Dowds and Paul Krugmans of the American press said about the voters in the red states in political ads in 2006 and 2008, letting all those voters know that these pundits support the Democratic Party’s candidate in this race and here, in black and white, is what these pundits think of you, your family, your faith, and your values? I’m not much for predictions, but somehow or other I get the feeling that in the next election cycle a good many Democratic candidates will run from the New York Times and its endorsement of their candidacy faster than customers jumping out the cathouse windows in the middle of a police raid. I hope all that foaming at the mouth made the commentariat feel better now; I’m sure their collective gorge will rise again when they see their words played back on Republican attack ads in the next presidential campaign.



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