Yelling at the television

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
THE DEMOCRATIC convention forced me to an unpleasant realization: I’ve become one of those crotchety old guys who yell at the television in helpless frustration: “Lies! How can they say such things? How can anyone sit still for this stuff?”
    And this week, I’m in for more of the same with the Republicans.
    What sets me off? Oh, take your pick — the hyperbole, the self-importance, the us-against-them talk, the stuff that Huck Finn called “tears and flapdoodle.”
    Take, for instance, this typical bit from Hillary Clinton’s speech:

    My friends, it is time to take back the country we love. And whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team. And none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future. And it’s a fight we must win together. I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches… to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise…

    Let’s deconstruct that a bit.
    Take back the country? From whom? Did I miss something? Did the Russians roll right on through Gori and into Washington? No? You say Americans are still in charge, just the “wrong” Americans, of the wrong party? But your party controls Congress! Take it back from whom?
    … a single party with a single purpose. Now there you’ve hit on the biggest lie propagated by each of the major parties, the conceit that there is something coherent and consistent about such loose confederations of often-incompatible interest groups. Did you not just spend the last few months playing with all the force you could muster upon those very differences, those very tensions — between feminists and black voters, between the working class and the wine and cheese set? What single purpose, aside from winning an election?
    This is a fight… No, it isn’t, however much you love to say that. Again, I refer you to what the Russians are doing in Georgia — that’s a fight, albeit a one-sided one.
    … that we must win together. Actually, that raises a particularly pertinent point, which is that the only “fights” that “must” be won are the ones in which “together” is defined as all Americans, or all freedom-loving peoples, whereas such divisive factions as your party and that other one that will meet in St. Paul militate against our being able to win such fights together.
    I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches… You’re absolutely right; you haven’t. So spare us the war metaphors.
    … to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise… Like that’s what matters, the stupid party label. Like there isn’t more difference between you and Barack Obama in terms of philosophy and goals and experience and what you would bring to office than there is between John McCain and Joe Biden. Come on! Please!…
    Sigh. Fume. Mutter.
    This stuff wouldn’t upset me quite so much if not for the fact that this was to be the year that we rose above this stuff. That’s why I so happily supported both John McCain and Barack Obama in their parallel bids for the White House. Both men offered themselves as alternatives from the incessant, bitter, destructive partisan warfare of the Clinton-Bush years.
    John McCain is the man the GOP’s partisans love to hate, the guy they call a “Republican In Name Only,” the man they stooped to new lows to destroy in 2000, the senator who’d just as soon work with Democrats as Republicans, the candidate who, coincidentally, has been giving Sen. Clinton a lot of love in his latest campaign ads.
    Barack Obama was the Democrat who made it abundantly, eloquently clear that he was not running in order to “fight” against his fellow Americans. So all week, I looked forward to his acceptance speech, and when it came I was… disappointed.
    Maybe I had built it up too much in my mind, depended too much on it to wash away the bad taste of all those boilerplate party speeches I had heard. He said many of the right things. He said “Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past,” but as for most of it — well, read David Broder’s column on the facing page.
    When he said “part of what has been lost these past eight years… is our sense of common purpose,” I thought, yes, but it’s been happening a lot more than eight years, and you know that. But he said it that way because of his audience. That’s what made the speech flat, by Obama standards. He had to avoid offending the kind of people who love the bitter politics that he had been running against.
    What I had wanted to hear was the kind of thing that caused me, while blogging on live TV the night of his South Carolina primary victory, to write “What a TREMENDOUS victory speech!” A sample of what impressed me so that night:

    “We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House…. We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents… That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.”

    That sort of anti-partisan vehemence would not have played well in Mile-High Stadium. Maybe, as he escapes the gravitational pull of Denver, the Obama of January will come out to inspire us again. I hope so. In the meantime, on to the Republicans….
    Just moments ago as I write this, as he announced he’d chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, Sen. McCain promised the GOP crowd that he’d “fight for you.”
    Lord help us.

Go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.

35 thoughts on “Yelling at the television

  1. Ralph Hightower

    Brad,
    I am in total agreement with you. It is time to end partisanship and work together to govern. Instead Washington is acting like spoiled brats.
    Nancy Pelosi said at the start of her term as Speaker of the House that she would let the Republicans participate in the House.
    What I see instead are the Democrats doing to the Republicans what the Republicans did to the Democrats. Nothing has changed!
    Unfortunately, hate and division are a part of the two party system. SC GOP chairman, Katon Dawson, and SC Democratic chairman, Carol Fowler are the “pit bulls” for their party; their job is to maim and destroy the opposing party.
    Talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, also spews venom and vile on his radio program creating division among us.

    Reply
  2. Lee Muller

    Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are holding up all legislation until 2009, because they do no want discussion and debate.
    They are hoping to gain a majority which can squash all filibusters and overturn all vetoes, so they can just ram through the really radical legislation they have sitting in committees, like more bans on oil production, more disarming of honest Americans, censorship and silencing of their critics on radio and television, higher taxes on working people (already passed, takes effect in 2009)..etc, etc.

    Reply
  3. george32

    I guess Dittohead forgot when
    Gingrich thought it was a great idea to shut down the government. Now that was a radical idea, especially if you were a government contractor, vendor, employee,etc. who expected to get paid. I believe Oxycontin was still available however, through one means or another.

    Reply
  4. Lee Muller

    Government shut itself down by outgrowing the tax base. No contractor or employee had any reasonable expectation to be paid by a government which had outspent its budget allocations for the fiscal year.
    Clinton wanted to print more fiat currency and run higher deficits. Gingrich stood in his way and forced him to cut the deficits in half, roll back some of the 1993 tax increases on the middle class.
    Then, after two vetoes of welfare reform, Gingrich overpowered Clinton and passed that legislation.

    Reply
  5. Bud

    I made it through about half of Brad’s editorial today and just quit. It was simply awful. David Broder’s wasn’t much better. The Obama speech was magnificent. Hillary was terrific. All the other Dems were spot on. I’m afraid Brad and Broder have become obsessed with this whole partisan nonsense to the point that they completely don’t get the big picture. And that’s this: The GOP has been in control of our government and the results have been a disaster. And it’s not coincidence, it’s due to their counterproductive policies.
    So Obama and the rest finally, at long last called them on it. He was so eloquent and spot-on. McCain is not maverick. He’s supports Bush 90+ percent of the time. He’s switched on torture and taxes to get in line with Bush. He’s pandered to the right wing lunatics. If telling the truth is somehow partisan then I’m a proud partisan. The GOP has been a disaster. McCain and his hawkish bluster, support of more economic failure and awful stand on social issues are all wrong for America and it was so refreshing to see Obama tell it like it is. It gives me goose bumps to recall the eloquence and grandure of the occassion. Indeed it IS time to take back the country from the horrors of Bush.

    Reply
  6. Phillip

    Your point is taken, Brad, but here you swung way wide of the mark:
    “….Like there isn’t more difference between you and Barack Obama in terms of philosophy and goals and experience and what you would bring to office than there is between John McCain and Joe Biden. Come on! Please!…”
    Other than the fact that Biden and McCain are friendly, and have been in the Senate a long time together, and have worked together where they could find common ground, one cannot seriously say that their political philosophies are closer than Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s are. I’m sure that an examination of their voting records in the Senate would show that Hillary and Obama’s votes would have been in sync at a vastly higher percentage than Biden and McCain’s.

    Reply
  7. Phillip

    Just to follow up on my last comment with some data, the Americans for Democratic Action ratings on Senators’ voting records gave Obama and Clinton both 100% rating in 2005, both a 95% rating in 2006, and both a 75% rating in 2007.
    For the same three years, McCain got 10%, 15%, and again 10% while Biden’s rating for those same years was 100%, 100% and 75%. Brad, you’ll no doubt come back with something about McCain and Biden’s governing philosophy being about more than the content of their votes, but in the end one does have to craft laws or eliminate laws in ways that do affect people’s lives. And the difference in outlook between Clinton and Obama on the issues is minuscule, while (friendly though they may be) a massive ocean separates the McCain view of the world from the Biden view. I’m sure that conservative ratings systems would come up with the same data, just inverted.
    Interesting in looking at the ADA voting records…notice how Biden’s, Obama’s, and Clinton’s “liberal” rating dipped significantly in 2007, the year they each began their run for the Presidency.

    Reply
  8. Ralph Hightower

    For clarification to Lee:
    Since you have labeled me, either a communist and/or/ a socialist because I disagreed with your Limbaugh “Dittoheads” point of view, you misunderstood my original post.
    I blasted both the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties are guilty of congressional gridlock! This has not been a recent trend; this has happened during the Bush Jr., Clinton, Bush Sr., and Reagan presidencies.
    Both political parties do their best to make the other side look like the “Dark Side”. It is the “Us versus Them” mentality that Warthen complained about.
    I am not a communist! I am not a socialist! Failing to make sense, you resort to name calling.
    I am an American!
    To quote Walter Kelley, cartoonist of Pogo, “We have met the enemy … and he is us.”

    Reply
  9. bud

    I’m open to the possibility that gridlock is a good thing. After all congress did nothing at all about the high gasoline prices we had in Julay and they have been coming down significantly while both sides pointed fingers. If gridlock had prevailed in the leadup to the Iraq war and eventual endless occupation we never would have gone in. Sadly, gridlock didn’t prevail and over a million people are dead because of it.

    Reply
  10. Jeff

    Its amazing how closed minded people that they can’t see left just alittle for being so so far to the right. Why is it that Republicans think they are so right on everything that they can’t see or agree with anyone else except for their base. I listen to talk radio so I can get a view from both sides of the floor. Thats being Fair and Equal. Everyone can be blindsided at times and just don’t want to hear what somelse has to say.
    That speech was right one point. I would like for you to take a look at that speech and look in the crowd and see the many eithic cultures there were in the crowd and after next week I want you to post what the difference was. Thats how you bring people together.. Myself and many many others are smart enough to know what the truth is and what to read as gospel and what to read as BS. But the speech hit home to the root of people. Next week I want everyone to hear how many time you hear CONSERVATIVE. Not the people but CONSERVATIVE. Repulicans for the longest think only about themselves and the party. NOT ABOUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. I would love to debate that with anyone. I’m not politically correct and can point out all the numbers that get thrown around but I can hold my own. I tell you Mr Warthen, OPEN YOUR EARS AND MIND. Your GOP canidate just did something that you guys have been saying about Barrack. Too young, No experience etc. Well, I ask how you like him now with his young new super model. Think about it, if for some reason the president of the United States cannot fulfil the office due to illness or whatever then are you 100% that his VP pick is ready.

    Reply
  11. Herb Brasher

    Brad,
    I think you have a point, but I wonder if your reaction to the “battle” imagery is not a little overdone. In the world of evangelical preaching, we get this as well, with perhaps a tendency to too glibly use images of warfare. Still–they are there in the New Testament, subdued–but there. The fact that some preachers overdo it would not necessarily be reason to abandon the metaphor entirely.
    I wouldn’t necessarily castigate a candidate, for example Clinton, for using the “trenches” metaphor, though I’m sure you are correct that there is too much of this in general.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Just ran across this from eight years ago, and wanted to respond…

      I think it’s fine for preachers to talk about “doing battle” with Satan, whom a former pastor of mine always referred to as “the Enemy.” It can be overdone, but it’s virtuous.

      I see no virtue, nothing but harm, in Democrats speaking of Republicans that way, or vice versa. I see no way for the deliberative process that representative democracy depends on to work with those kinds of attitudes…

      Reply
  12. Karen McLeod

    At least neither Sens. Clinton or Biden, or Obama for that matter, have not found it necessary to launch a “Crusade.” I do wish that we could go back to talking about the issues rather than sniping at each other, but it looks to me like the Republican side of this contest is determined to keep this campaign as far in the gutter as they can get it (“Obama was born in Kenya”). Two can make a peace, or even a good competition, but it takes only one to start a fight. At least the democrats were, while using battle terminology, primarily talking about the differences between them and the republicans. Unless Gustav outshouts them, count on the Republican Convention to be less conservative in that department.

    Reply
  13. Lee Muller

    The Obama divorce papers state that their son, Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Barack Obama’s grandmother said he was born in Kenya.
    It is evidence in the lawsuit to remove Obama from the ballot.

    Reply
    1. Claus

      Where did he go to college and law school? We haven’t seen any proof as far as transcripts, other than the picture of Barack in the fedora smoking a joint I haven’t seen a picture of him at that age. You’d think there’d be at least one college photo of him.

      Reply
          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Yeah, me neither. Makes you wonder…..why were there so many photos taken or Obama? What sort of plot was already in the works? Seems like they were going overboard to establish something….

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I know!

              If I were to believe there were something fishy going on, I’d ask, Why are there so many professional-looking photographs of this guy posing for picture that shout, “Look at me; I’m a student!”?

              Seriously — do you have any photos of yourself at that age posing against a stack of books while clutching one to your chest? It’s a bit weird. Of course, it’s most likely because someone was doing a feature about Obama for the school paper or something, because he was always a bit of a standout.

              But it’s weird.

              Speaking of which, what sort of conspiracy would be implied by there not being photos of Obama in college? That he just arrived from another planet? That, like Capt. Miller in “Saving Private Ryan,” he was assembled from parts of the bodies of dead GIs?

              Surely, surely the theorists don’t doubt that this is a college-educated man! Have they ever heard him speak? He’s the anti-Trump. Trump talks like a rather slow and confused 5th-grader, his simple words tripping over each other in nonsense piles that could never be diagrammed… while Obama talks like he’s reading a particularly well-crafted graduate thesis aloud.

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Of course, where this tends it toward my theory about why the folks who would vote for Trump tend to have such a DEEP distrust of Obama.

                As I’ve said in the past, it’s not so much that he’s black (which he arguably is not), but that he’s simply different. He’s exotic. He’s not a regular guy. As Garth said of Rob Lowe’s character in “Wayne’s World,” “Uh, Wayne?… Do you ever get the feeling Benjamin’s not one of us?”

                One, he’s obviously, ostentatiously more intelligent than most people, and he in no way tries to hide it.

                You take that and his exotic background — growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, with a foreign father he never saw… the fact that even if you do say he’s “black,” he’s exotic black by American standards, with roots in East Africa rather than the West (and maybe it’s just me, but his features seem to announce that rather clearly.)

                He comes across as someone people made a fuss over since he was a kid — which would explain all those posing-with-books photos.

                Add it up, and you’ve got somebody who is extremely off-putting to a certain sort of person…

                Which causes me to flash on a personal experience from junior high. I was one of those inducted into the National Junior Honor Society at an assembly in front of the whole school, and I had worn a suit to school because that was required for the assembly. I experienced one of the most embarrassing moments of my life that day. When my name was called, I extremely self-consciously (remember, this is junior high) got up, walked to the front of the auditorium and climbed the steps at the side of the stage to receive my pin and certificate, and I TRIPPED on the top step and fell completely flat-out onto the stage. I’d thought that SRO crowd would NEVER stop roaring with laughter.

                So the rest of the day, I had to put up with strangers noticing the skinny little guy in a suit and pointing me out and laughing again, which was bad enough (I had stage fright for a LONG time after this).

                But I was unprepared for one encounter with a girl at lunch, who addressed me with all the scorn she could put into her voice, saying “Look at you — you think you’re better than us because you’re in the stupid honor society.”

                I was totally shocked. Considering how I had suffered over this experience, the idea that someone would think I was somehow privileged, much less that I was looking down on others, because of this business, seemed like the most unjust thing I’d heard that miserable day…

                Reply
                1. Norm Ivey

                  I feel for you. As a teacher, there’s little that causes me greater pain than to see a child being laughed at or sitting alone.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Hey, don’t worry about me, teach.

                  Those two years of junior high in New Orleans were probably the happiest of all my school years. I just had that one bad day…

                  Actually, though, the stage-fright thing was reinforced just a couple of weeks later, at church.

                  We used to attend the little Navy chapel on that tiny, largely abandoned base in Algiers. The protestant chaplain’s son, Tim, was my best friend. They lived across the street from the ratty old converted barracks we lived in, in a mansion with a servant’s wing, on account of Tim’s dad being a captain. Tim had two or three sisters who lived in the main part of the house with the parents, and Tim lived in the former servant’s quarters, which were on the second floor and he had his own private staircase from outside the house. A very cool place to hang out, like a clubhouse.

                  Anyway, Tim and I were acolytes for the chapel. We wore the little surplice things and lit and extinguished candles, and the rest of the time sat on a pew against the wall and spent the hour cracking each other up.

                  Tim always handled communion, which involved going up and closing the little rail gate to the altar area before communion, so people could kneel at it, and opening it back up after. After communion on this one occasion shortly after the honor society debacle, I said, “Hey, let me do it this time.” I felt I’d watched him enough, from the back of the room. He said OK, but I needed to know one thing: There was this little latch at the back of the little swinging gate thing.

                  OK, I said — sure. So when communion was over, I walked alone up to the altar, and felt behind the double gate so I could undo the latch holding it closed. For maybe a minute I felt behind there and couldn’t find where it was latched. So I bent WAY over to try to get my head behind the gate and SEE it, but I couldn’t. I straightened up, and thought. Then, in a gesture of complete surrender and dejection, I put one hand on each of the gates and slumped my weight down onto them. And the gates, which were not latched at all, FLEW open left and right, and I fell on my face between them, right in front of the altar. I jumped up, and pushed both gates back all the way, thinking Finally, my job is done… let them go and started to turn to head back to the back of the room — and the gates, being on springs, swung sharply back closed, and sort of flapped back and forth like saloon doors.

                  At this point, I was about ready to start slapping myself in the face repeatedly like Curly of the Three Stooges. So I slowly pushed one of the gates back slowly, and looked down, and saw that there WAS a latch. They had to be latched to stay OPEN, not to stay CLOSED. So I latched them both in place, turned and headed back to our pew.

                  Memory plays tricks on us, but I seem to recall that all my long way back, Tim was actually, literally, rolling on the carpet in absolute paroxysms of silent laughter.

                  For awhile there, I thought I must be the clumsiest screw-up on the planet. I kept wondering what I was going to do next, and how large the audience would be. But I got over it…

              2. Claus

                You’re saying Obama isn’t a slow talker? He pauses between each sentence, but that’s typical when being fed lines.

                Reply
  14. Lee Muller

    “Chicago thugs”, is what Bill Clinton called the Obama campaign managers last week at the convention. That wasn’t a metaphor, either.

    Reply

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