Media/Entertainment

Discourse dies. Congress changes. But money wins again.

Intelligent, civil discourse died this political season. It has been slain by a ruling class eager to make us fear what we don’t know, to hate whom or what we do not understand. And that class, consisting of perhaps 400 individuals or families, has succeeded beyond its most selfish dreams.

Come Tuesday, voter turnout will be low. Pundits will offer reasons: mid-terms draw fewer voters; voters are too busy; voters are turned off by “complicated” issues; voters can’t find the truth amid the shouting and naysaying. Or no one really gives a damn.

The House and Senate may switch poles from blue to red; it will not matter. Discourse is dead.

Those elected or re-elected are merely those favored by people whose names we do not know who provided the hundreds of millions of dollars anonymously to persuade you that Candidate A is a worse choice than Candidate B because he or she is 1) gay, 2) straight but hiding gay, 3) truly sorry about that just one time with a madam; 4) regretful that the military experience on his or her résumé has been misrepresented by his or her campaign staff; 5) deeply sorry he inadvertently said (in an ad whose message he approved) that a vote for his opponent “would be a criminal act” and 6) really really sorry he called the president of the United States a liar.

Yep. Nov. 3 begins a lengthy mourning over the death of civil discourse. Lord knows it had been ill in Congress for decades. The funeral notice will observe that “discourse suffered from a lengthy illness hastened by a lack of attention.”

But we are not innocent bystanders at this funeral. We helped kill discourse. We have allowed the erosion of civility by not demanding that those with the largest megaphones — politicians, rock stars, celebrities famous for being famous, CEO’s, union heads, media moguls, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, even the former and current presidents of these disunited states — shut the fuck up when they nothing meaningful or intelligent to say.

We said nothing. In the political arena, our silence is permission for others to pour forth words that sure sound good, that offer hope to the hopeless, but, in the end, are merely venomous codes for lying.

As we slog to the end of this horrid season of mud sculpture masquerading as politics, we are as much to blame for the impending result as the miscreants who have hidden their millions of dollars of campaign spending behind the opaque screens of 501c (3) or (4) or (6) tax vehicles. We saw the ads. We heard the robo-calls. Did any of us pick up the phone and bitch about them to the FEC or the candidates themselves? Naw. That seemed useless, didn’t it?

Oh, don’t tell me that we had no choice. Don’t tell me that the megaphones of the multimillionaires and multibillionaires were just too damn loud to offer a whisper of protest. That’s bullshit. Too many of us said nothing, resigned to letting a process controlled by well-heeled, political elites play out. And I was as silent as anyone. And I am ashamed.

We chose to say nothing. We were too busy — trying to find jobs, trying to get mortgage modifications on our underwater homes, trying to figure out how to pay for our children’s college tuition, trying to find the money to pay for health care.

Let others pick up the fight, we thought. Some one will. And there were some — Project Sunlight, Change Congress, Free Press … they did the heavy lifting with far fewer resources.

As a result, we will have a Congress filled with people who, as individuals, will sound as solid and sincere as the Rock of Gibraltar. But en masse, they represent the interests of the richest of the rich people with millions and billions of dollars invested in getting what they want out of Congress. And they will. Members of Congress owe them.

It will not matter who controls Congress. It will not matter if Republicans or Democrats win the House or the Senate. Because neither will. Money — incredibly big money — will win.

And we have to figure out a way to get that really big money the hell out of Congress. If we don’t, the continued redistribution of income — upward, as it has always been — will continue.

5 replies »

  1. You know that I usually pretty much agree with you on these kinds of issues, and the same is largely true here. But I have a nit to pick.

    Do you really believe that Keith Olbermann = Glenn Beck? I hear this a lot from conservatives who are trying to convince me that they’re fair-minded. They’ll rightfully dismiss gasbags like Beck and Limbaugh and O’Reilly, but then they’ll toss KO in there like he’s part of the same pack.

    The argument I make to them, and I’ll do it here as well, is that this is false equivalence. Is KO strident? You bet. Can he be inflammatory? No doubt. But there’s a fundamental distinction to be drawn in that Olbermann is usually right, whereas the others mentioned are rabble rousers who have a long and distinguished track record of … how to put this civilly? … misstating the facts.

    If the charge is purely about tone, then you’re probably right. And I can point you to others on the “left” who are less civil than Keith is. But in a courtroom the truth is always a defense, and it seems that a similar rule ought to apply in punditry.

    Also, it is true that playing nicely can be a wonderfully sinister tactic, executed properly. It’s like Hunter Thompson’s final rant on Nixon in the epilogue to BETTER THAN SEX, where he explains how Tricky Dick gamed the rules, and in the process came off looking like the ultimate Horatio Alger/All-American boy. You had to get subjective to see the truth of Nixon, HST argues, and we now have a long enough history on the man to understand how accurate that assessment really was.

    Civility is important, so long as it is exercised in good faith. Most of the names you mention have done NOTHING in good faith – they are the very epitome of bad faith, in fact. In lumping Olbermann in with them you’re probably right, so long as the only issue is decorum. But decorum is only one small part of the problem, right?

  2. I share your frustration over the pending changes in Congress, but I also have to protest that the voices on the Left try very hard to present factual evidence when making their cases. Most of the time, sources are attributed so that others can follow up and verify. You will not get the same respect from the Sirens of the Titans. They will make it up as they go along, vomiting verbiage faster than even a stenographer can handle. So it comes down to a choice on the part of the listener: are you going to engage your brain with facts, or your emotions with energized frenzy? Because we are a dumbed-down society, the latter is more likely to have followers. But when the crisis hits, and it will, it will be the thinkers that come to the rescue. Facts will again trump frenzy.