The Triumph of the Crazies

Sarah Palin is maybe not what you’d call the world’s most seasoned statesperson. Lightly experienced, clearly uninterested in the nuances of governance, she sticks to the talking points, and when pressed for more reaches into her gingham sack of catch-phrases, platitudes and one-liners. You may worry about the Obama administration’s attempts to balance gov’t regulation and the power of open markets to confront an int’l economic disaster. Palin wants to know how the “hopey, changey thing” is working out for you.

Her contempt for liberalism and (it seems) government as a whole is clear, but beyond that the lines of logic are hard to track. Her recent masterwork: The seething excoriation of Rahm Emanuel for using “retard” in the worst possible way, followed immediately by a smiling defense of Rush Limbaugh — the sternly anti-drug, law-n-order, law-breaking drug addict — for using the same word in exactly the same way, only multiple times, and with his own rip at “the p.c. types,” like Palin, who criticize anyone free enough to wield the mother tongue not like a complete retard.

So no surprises there, I guess, given what we know about both of those characters. But that’s just a start. Consider the industrial-strength narcissism guiding the soul of Sen. John Edwards, whose stirring concern for the underprivileged is not quite extended to his cancer-stricken wife. Yikes. 

Follow the jump to see the part about Arianna Huffington as Lady MacBeth…

But then, any discussion of hypocritical and/or head-clutchingly self-involved politicians would go on all night. And often it does, when you’re watching cable TV or absorbing other faces of the tabloid culture we’ve created for ourselves these days. Policy is boring, I get it, but when virtiually every episode of Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room” becomes a breathless account of how this awful accusation from the right led to that blistering press conference from the left, the nation begins to feel like a dark and angry place. On the ‘net you’ve got that shadowy weirdo Matt Drudge combing the globe for whatever right-tilting propaganda the ‘net will muster, while the left’s Lady MacBeth, Arianna Huffington cultivates an entire staff of (unpaid) bloggers and linkers to prove how the conservatives are being smashed, destroyed, annhialated, etc. on a daily basis.

And also, did you hear that the American public’s faith in their leaders and system of governance is at an all-time low? Wonder how that happened?

Largely because virtually all mainstream reportage of politics and cultural events has been reduced to tabloid terms. And while that would be bad enough if politics and culture were still capable of consistently serious business, that’s hardly the case. Because the medium becomes the message, as some Canadian once said, and thus the content must be adjusted in order to fit the delivery system.

And as long as the delivery system is hypnotized by conflict, insults and virtually every form of lunatic behavior you can imagine, the news must be lunatic, too. Worse, the pool of lunatics are both attracted to, and thrive within, the no-longer-quite-so-serious poltical/cultural world.

If Sarah Palin and John Edwards didn’t exist, then Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Wolf Blitzer, and co. would have invented them. Only, um, I think they already did.

Assassination Incitations – the cult of the killer story.

So distressing, and yet true: A lot of people want to harm, or kill, the President of the United States.

And maybe that’s always true, no matter who the president is. Maybe it’s natural that the most powerful, famous man in the world will also be the natural target for anger, hatred and the murderous intent of crazy people. We are a flawed species, particularly clever in finding new ways to leverage our imperfections into more efficient ways to harm ourselves, and others.

So why is the American media so intent on goading the hatred?

Not everyone in the media, perhaps. But certainly the political commentariat. And not just the far right, either. Think of the breathless, scandal-rich narrative heard every day on CNN’s “Situation Room.” Fair and balanced, I suppose: any pol with a hot story to tell, or be told upon, gets their moment in the klieg lights.

But the further right you go, the worse it gets. At least, that’s how it been for the last, oh I don’t know, nine and a half months, or so.

You know who we’re talking about. And the vocabulary they use.

I give you Rush Limbaugh:

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates? “He’s a racist,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “He’s an angry racist.”

Sonja Sotomayor? “She’s a bigot. She’s a racist. How can a president nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.”

President Obama? He’s “the biggest reverse racist in history.” On another occasion: “Just as he is ACORN, just as he is Van Jones, he is racism.”On a third: “How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration? By hating white people.” So implicitly Mr. Limbaugh is labeling multiple figures within the administration as racists too.

Democrats generally? “The racism that everybody thinks exists on our side of the aisle has been on full display throughout their primary campaign.”

Liberals? “You know, racism in this country is the exclusive province of the left.”

All that from this Daily Beast analysis on the same guy who proclaimed last week that his failed attempt to buy the NFL’s St. Louis Rams was a result of a high-tech lynching, ala Clarence Thomas.

follow the jump, and the hate, for more…

So incendiary language. What else is new? Not enough. Until you get to the ever-increasing hysteria. And the apocalyptic overtones. And what seems frighteningly like a media-borne incitement to McVeigh-style violence.

Not that anyone on the bright side of the camera is going to admit it. Glenn Beck, by his own assertion, is little more than a “rodeo clown.” When pressed Limbaugh dismisses himself as an entertainer, a broadcaster whose sole mission is to fill airtime and sell ads.

Which would be fine if he (they, and not just the far right) weren’t so obviously playing at leadership. And aiming themselves squarely at the most feverish, and possibly dangerous, segments of society.

It’s all fever talk. Fire and brimstone. Flames and locusts. The world is exploding. The other side is satanic. They are criminal, murderous, evil to the core.

It’s great for ratings. So black-and-white (literally, when the Limbaughs of the world are talking). So visceral and real. Catch me on a bad day and I talk that way about my various antagonists, too. Only I’m not imagining anyone’s death. And as we keep hearing, a lot of people seem to be doing just that.

Every day has its own aspiring John Wilkes Booth. Only the 19th century didn’t have the constant blazing commentary flowing through the media 24/7. Or maybe it did, only a penny newspaper could never pack the punch of the 21st century’s constantly moving pictures, blaring soundtrack, and more.

Nothing new. Except for the obvious, which I hardly ever seem to hear: That an unregulated, profit-starved media operates with the same guiding principle of a great white shark: all appetite, no conscience. You expect the spotlight-dazed, gratification-obsessed, attention whores like Rush, Beck (and Olbermann, to be fair) to say and do whatever it takes to get attention. What you don’t expect, or deserve, is how the corporate sector will serve to amplify them, and juice the craziness as high and hard as it’ll go.

JFK, RFK, MLK, Oklahoma City, the WTC. What they have in common is large-scale craziness. Seething hatred. Sharkish appetite. And damn, they were all great stories, too.

It’s that last part that makes them so, you know, killer.

All The President's Men, 2009: "You're missing the overall! Follow the money!"

Let’s see if we’ve got this straight: Glenn Beck says Barack Obama is a racist. Rush Limbaugh says white kids are now fair game for angry black kids “in Barack Obama’s America.” Keith Olbermann says any number of people are the Worst Person In the World. Rep. Joe Wilson calls the POTUS a liar in the midst of an official presidential address to Congress; health care reform opponents equate proposed changes with socialism, communism, Nazism and worse; Nancy Pelosi says all this outrage over health care is veering dangerously toward political violence.

And the only thing I know for an absolute fact is that most of the major news outlets in America are run by entertainment executives whose MBA-wielding bosses are way more Adam Smith than they are Edward Murrow.

Remember “All The President’s Men,” and those midnight parking garage meetings between Bob Woodward and Deep Throat? “You’re missing the overall! Follow the money!” The super-secret Watergate informant was one Nielsens overnights reference away from nailing the secret to the corruption of the political discourse in the 21st century, too.

Follow the jump (and the money) for more…

Follow the money: Rampant deregulation of the broadcast medium — both in ownership rules and public service guidelines — leads to unrestricted profiteering. The primacy of profits over content steers news programs away from think-y, wonk-y issues like policy and cost/benefit analyses to hot-blooded subjects like lies and the lying liars who tell them. And really now, when you’re flipping through the cable after dinner what catches your eye: a weighty white paper report on the tertiary economic impact of a publicly run health care system, or a heated argument about whether Joe WIlson is, in fact, a secret member of the KKK?

Me, I’m with the Klan conversation.

But I’m a media observer. It’s my professional obligation to watch the stupidest stuff imaginable, and then tell you why you’re such a loser for doing it, too.

Just remember: there’s a reason why PBS’s News Hour isn’t on a for-profit network. There’s a reason why borderline personality cases have come to define the political discourse. Not because some of our forebears were pilgrims in search of righteousness and freedom. But because the rest of them were savvy empire builders who knew why the sun turns the western horizon gold. Go west, young man. Grow with the country. Follow the money. And don’t worry about what it takes to get there.