Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Death of Civil Discourse

It's difficult, here in a swing state, to watch TV without seeing at least one political commercial. And both sides are busy going negative - there's no mistaking that. But on the Democrat side, that's only reasonable. If the Republicans have proved anything in the last decade or so, it's that "going negative" works.

When I talk about this to anyone, they say that the attack ads make them want to vote for the other side, just out of spite. But people who work in a hospital (like I do) aren't the demographic being targeted by the negative ads. It's the average, uneducated, non-reading public they're trying to sway.

I know this because, unlike most of America, I volunteer for our Democratic Congressional candidate (there's a story there, but I don't feel like going over it right now). And one of the most soul-crushing things you can do when you're volunteering is phone-banking. You're cold-calling people you've never met, trying to pass along your candidate's viewpoint, and they usually don't want to hear it. Most people have already made up their minds - you're just trying to randomly hit one of the ones who haven't.

But some of the winners you get to talk to are proud of their stupidity and ignorance. You have dedicated Republicans, who will vote along party lines and refuse to listen to anything you have to say. You have one-issue voters, who will ignore every other factor, as long as their candidate is willing to (for example) make the abortion punishable by the death penalty. And you have a lot of hang-ups.

But some of the worst calls you get to suffer through are the enthusiastically blind. I've talked about Heather Wilson's ads that try to paint Patricia Madrid as being easily bribed. And I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who'd bought the whole story - "I couldn't vote for her. Not after she took all that money from the casino owners."

Once the idiots make up their minds, it isn't easy to crowbar any facts into there.

And it's only going to get worse, too. David Brooks points out that many of the vulnerable Republicans during this upcoming midterm election are moderates. And once we eliminate the moderates, the GOP will have nobody left but the loonies. The people who have abandoned every principle of conservatism and given themselves over to the Far Right. The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will have become the middle of the GOP road.

Darth Cheney lives.

President Bush and his advisors certainly have no reason to make peace between the two sides of the political coin. They've advanced as far as they have by widening partisan rifts, and declaring anyone who disagrees with them a traitor.

Keith Olberman, the Edward R. Murrow of the current news choices, said it best a few weeks ago.
While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.' "

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution. Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn’t be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too. And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin. Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us."

Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to 'put aside differences and work together' is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies. They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.
You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is — why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?
I can't see that how the political scene is likely to be anything but ugly for the next few years.

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