I had an interesting debate with someone over the weekend regarding rhetoric. It started from a completely different topic, that of some Republicans in Congress creating “watch lists” of citizens who ask them tough questions at town hall meetings. One person said that it was about time they used the same tactic as Democrats – his belief, not mine – and used as examples Maxine Waters telling the Tea Party to “go to Hell”, VP Biden’s calling the Tea Party “terrorists”, and the media’s outing of Joe the Plumber. And he accused me of not calling out these people for their actions.
I have posted many times about the rhetoric and how it is not helping the climate, and is why many Americans just don’t want to think about politics. I even pointed to my most recent post where I called out Biden for his use of “terrorists”. He read the post, and didn’t think I did, and to be fair, when I re-read the post, I could see it from his side. I wasn’t clear.
So this is me, making it clear: Cut the crap – the rhetoric is stupid and serves no purpose.
Let’s go with some examples:
First off, VP Biden should not have used “terrorists”. Period. Tea Party followers and politicians are not “terrorists”. I may believe they are misguided and have a goal of opposition rather than working toward a common goal of improving the state of the nation. But this does not make them “terrorists”. Calling them “terrorists” does not elevate the conversation nor improve the situation.
Also note, I do not and will not call Tea Party believers “teabaggers”. Yes, I know they were the first to use the term, before someone pointed out that it has a much different and less complimentary definition. But again, continuing to use the term doesn’t elevate the conversation. It’s childish and unnecessary. If you truly want to demonstrate the folly of their beliefs, point to their beliefs, not an ill-advised sound bite.
I did not, will not, and don’t condone calling former President Bush a chimp, the “Chimperor”, or any other reference to a simian. I didn’t like him as President – I disagreed with the vast majority of his policies and believe firmly that his policies are what got this country into the sorry state of economy in which we find ourselves. But that does not excuse the sophomoric attempt to paint him into the image of an ape. Again, it’s unnecessary.
The President is not a socialist (look it up in any unbiased reference book). He’s not from Kenya, he was born in the US, he’s not trying to gut Social Security, and he did not “pal around with terrorists”. See, when Biden used it, he wasn’t even original. The ‘terrorist” theme was used on the campaign trail by good ol’ Sarah Palin to smear then-candidate Obama. But all of these smears are used to do one thing – paint the President as an outsider, a “danger” to the American Way. And none of them are based in fact. Calling the President by his full name, emphasizing that his middle name is “Hussein” is simply an effort to demonize him and perpetuate the myths.
The “Tea Party” is not a racist organization. There are individuals within the Tea Party organization that have shown themselves to be racist, some in positions of leadership. Rallies regularly feature speech and signs that are decidedly racist, and are tolerated. If the Tea Party wants to eliminate the racist label, they need to loudly denounce those views. They haven’t to date, and that earns them the label. However, calling the “Tea Party” racist doesn’t make them so.
None of the rhetoric above is designed to move the conversation forward. Instead, it is designed to paint the people it focuses on in an unflattering light, to question their motives, without ever addressing the realities of their actions.
But there is a corresponding behavior that is more infuriating than the rhetoric: Faux outrage.
This is the the way it works: Someone says something less than “artfully”, and people get “offended” by it. I’m not talking about political correctness, nor about taking offense to truly offensive statements. No, I’m talking about outrage directed at simple speech.
For example, Maxine Waters told the “Tea Party” to go to Hell. She didn’t point out individuals, she wasn’t directing it at anyone person in particular. She used a phrase that many of us would not think twice about, directing it toward a political movement. She doesn’t actually have the power to send people to Hell. But sure enough, it was “news”.
Go back a few years, and then-VP Dick Cheney famously dropped the F-bomb on the floor of the House or President Bush calling a reporter an a-hole over an open mic (with Cheney’s “big time” agreement”), and there was plenty of outrage then too.
My response to all of these? Get over it kiddies. Adults often speak in “adult” language. If the best you can do is complain about salty language, then you have a much bigger problem. But no, plenty of folks got all up in arms about “offensive” language. Was the language appropriate or necessary? Nope. But it also has nothing to do with political discourse.
The real problem with this faux outrage, on both sides, is that it blurs the line between what’s important, what’s truly offensive and unacceptable, and what is simply posturing. It creates equivalencies where there are none. There is absolutely no equivalence between telling a group to go to hell and distributing personal information on private citizens to the media because they asked you a tough question. No correlation whatsoever. But in this atmosphere of ”insult then cover”, they’re given the same weight.
Then comes the second stage of faux outrage – when the “offended” individual or group then adopts the very analogy they complain about. Republicans got up in arms about Biden’s “terrorist” statement. Yet, within 24 hours, Mitch McConnell referred to the debt ceiling negotiations as a “hostage taking” situation, where they weren’t sure if it would be better to shoot the hostage. This is just dishonest, disingenuous blathering. If you’re going to complain about someone calling you a “terrorist”, don’t come right back and speak about doing things like a terrorist. It doesn’t make what Biden said right in any way. It’s just highly hypocritical.
Another example of the “insult and cover” is Sarah Palin’s “defense” of the crosshairs maps that were heavily covered after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. The crosshairs were a stupid thing to defend, brutally stupid. Putting a “target” on an individual and then acting surprised that a nutjob actually opened fire in one of those locations. The appropriate move would have been to say that although the crosshairs were not intended to conjure images of shooting, perhaps another symbol would have been a better choice. Instead, she doubled down and called the complaints a “blood libel”. Blood libel has its own offensive meaning to those in the Jewish community, and so Palin’s defense in the face of scrutiny was to insult another group – and to make herself the victim. And yet, Republicans did not call her out on either of these issues. Instead, they came to her support.
One last thing to address is the “they do it” mentality. That is a key element to this false equivalency routine. Somehow, these folks who want to make this argument have forgotten the lesson that my 8-year-old has learned: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Doing something that you know is wrong just because you think the other side did it first isn’t just wrong – it’s worse than the first offense. You knew it was wrong, complained about the other guy, then did the very same thing. It’s something we all know is wrong, and yet, it seems more and more people are finding it acceptable.
So, in here’s where I stand on these things:
- Rhetoric that is based on falsehoods, lies and myths – designed to paint a picture of a person or group by assoicating them with something heinous or scary – is unacceptable.
- Name-calling is pointless and serves no real purpose. There’s plenty of things to be snarky about without having to act like a third-grader.
- Be offended by things that are truly offensive. Adults speak with rougher language than we’d like sometimes, but if the language on network TV is worse, you probably are overdoing it.
- Can the faux outrage. When everything causes an uproar, then nothing does. Be angry about what’s important, and quit crying wolf.
- Quit adopting the very things you were outraged about. Don’t complain about being branded with an image then proceed to reinforce that image.
- Stop giving things the same level of importance. See above for faux outrage.
- “They did it first” isn’t an acceptable excuse for my 8-year-old. It really isn’t for adults, either.
Note: this isn’t about limiting free speech. I’m not advocating action against individuals to stop them from doing all of the above. They are free to do so. But I won’t partake in it. And those that do weaken their positions, not strengthen them. If we all held these people to those standards, we might actually see things getting done in Washington instead of the endless posturing and the chase for the next sound bite.