The other day a Democratic congressman accused President Bush of being amused by the death of U.S. troops. One right-wing talk-show host suggested women should never have been allowed to vote. Another condemned as phony soldiers Iraq war veterans who are critical of it. Exposure to the vitriol of American politics these days is like too much radiation. It takes a while but the cumulative buildup ultimately gets you.
I was struck by this recently when I inadvertently tuned in one of those ubiquitous radio ranters, most of whom would turn the nation’s clock back to at least the mid-19th century. Only America affords a commercial platform for the most preposterous propositions propounded by someone obviously loving the sound of his own voice. The inanity of it was mesmerizing.
What made it even more amazing was that the station to which I was listening was owned and operated by one of America’s great liberal publications and that it was giving voice to ideas that it would no more think of supporting on its editorial pages than endorsing a Republican for president. In the interest of not being the object of one of this nationally syndicated “commentator’s” diatribes should he perchance read this, my inclination is to withhold his name. But I’m not going to do that, particularly because there may be a dozen or more like him on radio and I don’t want to indict them in this instance.
The person to whom I refer is one Neal Boortz, whose monologues and conversations with callers range from sublimely ridiculous to just plain silly.
As a demonstration of the disconnect between his brain and his mouth, Boortz spent the 20 minutes I listened to him trying to legitimize as economic science a study that links the growth of government and spiraling expenditures in this country, and the world over, to female voters. Beneath his “this is just plain science” statements, of course, was the not-too-subtle suggestion that women’s suffrage was a bad idea and beneath that was his implication that to vote for a woman for president would be to invite disaster, particularly if she is Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Boortz, in his 60s and presumably born of a woman, is old enough to understand the implications of allowing one’s alligator mouth to overload his circuits. If he had made the issue women of color and not just women generally, he would be off the air, probably permanently. He is at least smart enough not to do that.
Then there is Rush Limbaugh, whose rich baritone pervades the midday airwaves from coast to coast. Limbaugh’s latest attempt to satisfy his addiction to irrational knee-jerking and to the cadre of those who hang on his every word and smother him with fatuous compliments has libeled a great chunk of America’s Iraq veterans by contending they are really not soldiers if they now question the war in Iraq. This has produced an angry letter from Senate Democrats who believe the bellicose Limbaugh has finally crossed the line.
But it is necessary to remind the Democrats that this is America and that only those foolish enough to broach the subject of race or yell fire in a crowded theater are likely to pay for their temerity. So Limbaugh and Boortz and the like are here to stay and most of us would defend to the death their right to say what they please no matter how in bad taste or hypocritical. The only cure for their poison is not to listen.
As for the Democrats, they should also remember that their boots are as muddy as everyone else’s.
Rep. Pete Stark, a San Francisco Democrat and unreconstructed big mouth, just slandered the president of the United States in the most horrific maliciously unwarranted manner without general condemnation from his own party. He said Republicans were too busy diverting money from causes like child health care to the war in Iraq so that American soldiers could get their heads blown off for the amusement of Bush. His disturbing remarks make Stark — whose reputation as a provocateur is exceeded only by his penchant for nastiness — a candidate for the Congressional Incivility Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, all the intemperate language and false pronouncements offered as intelligent discourse have dropped the political debate to its lowest level in modern history. One yearns for the days when arguments could be passionate without the slanderous vilification of those who might disagree.