If I had to utter one rule for adjudicating disputes over bad political behavior — and if "shut the hell up, I'm trying to drink and watch The Walking Dead here" is off the table — then that rule would be "douchebaggery is not a zero-sum game." Or, put in language you can say in front of Grandma, "responsibility is not a zero sum game."
Put another way, "sometimes — maybe usually — there are no good guys in a fight."
We're conditioned by culture, both popular and political, to frame everything as white hats vs. black hats. This leads us into embarrassing contortions, hypocrisies, and violations of previously closely-held principles when we are called upon to defend Our Guy (or gal). He/she was provoked! The other side did much worse! Yes, he/she kicked a puppy, but nobody said anything when the other guy/girl killed a kitten!
And yet we know, on some level, that this is a foolish way to look at life. We know it when we deal with our children — an apt comparison, as politicians and people who care about them are usually childish in a charming-sociopath-with-questionable-personal-hygiene sense. When one of the kids runs howling into my room at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday about what his/her brother/sister did, it is almost always the case that the howler did not have clean hands in the dispute.
But somehow we go about acting as if One Guy Is In The Right, and that ifs, buts, nuances, and shared responsibility are signs of weakness, apostasy, and "concern trolling."
Case in point: former Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge.
You remember Bob. Last summer Bob lost his shit and physically confronted two snot-nosed kids who asked him questions on camera. "I have a right to know who you are," he said, displaying the sort of entitlement that is typical of members of Congress. Breitbart and friends near soiled themselves with glee. Dems were outraged that callow youths are disrespecting our elderly North Carolinians, hence promoting the Vast Right Wing Agenda.
Last week, the other shoe dropped. Etheridge lost his seat, in part because advertisements featuring him losing his shit were very helpful to his opponent. Now some on the Left are outraged, OUTRAGED, that the two snot-nosed kids turned out to be Republican operatives after all.
To which I say . . . .
Look, there are crawling hordes of annoying kids from every bit of the political spectrum out there. Part of being a grown-up — let alone part of being a successful politician — has to be keeping your wits about you when one of them tries to punk you on video. If Etheridge had such a tenuous grasp on his ego and his temper that he got all red-faced and pawed a mouthy kid even when he knew he was being videotaped, then he is simply too stupid and/or unbalanced even for government. That's the Gary Hart rule. This rule is true even if the kids provoking you and the people who sent them are mendacious assholes, and recognizing the rule does not change one iota the character of the people successfully provoking you. There's plenty of asshole to go around; we're not using it all up by pointing out that you're an asshole to let Hewlington Fipps D'Inbred III from the Campus Republicans For A More Conservative Jesus agitate you on camera. There's still an infinite supply left to apply to Hewlington and his pals.
Political discourse would improve if everybody recognized this. It might even serve to diminish our dull, feckless Coke vs. Pepsi political dialogue. Yes, it is possible for both Sarah Palin (who is complaining about her privacy whilst starring in her own reality show) and Joe McGinnis (who is complaining about his privacy after moving in next door to Palin in order to write about her) to be assholes at the same time. It is possible for a curb-stomper to be a brutal ignorant thug and for a curb-stompee to be a shrill aggressive provocateuse. It's possible for the Tea Party to have racists and idiots and for the media covering the Tea Party to be arrogant, clueless snobs both at the same time. "My candidate, right or wrong" is not an approach entitled to any respect. Spinning every dumb comment, every character flaw, every hypocrisy of your favored candidate or party as merely a trick by the other side is a piss-poor way to run a country.
So good riddance to Bob Etheridge. Some people are too stupid, or mean, or arrogant to win. George Allen didn't deserve our sympathy when he lost, even though Democratic operatives outrageously provoked him by sending a visibly brown person to his rally. Harry Reid deserved to lose for being so easily provoked into saying things that would make even Joe Biden blush, and he would have lost, had he not had the blind-stupid luck to be up against Sharon "girls raped by their Dads have an opportunity to make lemonade, you Asian kids!" Angle.
If everyone stopped issuing apologias for idiocy, just because it's our idiocy, the world would be a marginally less annoying place.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Shock, Dismay In Academia At Scorpion Acting Like Scorpion - June 28th, 2017
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017