Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Hand Stayed

I sat down this afternoon to write a long and vitriolic post about the latest Teabaggery regarding the Constitution.

People don’t use the word “vitriolic” anymore, which is a shame, I think. It’s a surprisingly delicate word for the kind of brutally elegant rhetorical evisceration of the stupid that describes exactly what needs to be written in far too many cases these days. It was very popular during the early days of the American republic – both the word and the practice. Eighteenth-century writers generally did not suffer fools gladly.

I say we bring it back.

The root cause of my intended vitriol was the right wing’s current favorite head case, Mr. Glenn Beck – former radio DJ and alleged Constitutional autodidact – who made the rather bizarre claim the other day that the “three-fifths clause” of the Constitution, which declared that slaves would be counted as just that percentage of a person for purposes of representation and taxation and which was mysteriously left out of last week’s farcical reading on the House floor, was actually an abolitionist device designed to get rid of slavery in the long run.

No, really. He said that.

And presumably while sober, too, although to my knowledge that has not been tested. So it’s an open question, I suppose. It would certainly make me feel better if he weren’t.

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, people – where does a responsible mind even begin to grapple with something that flat out wrong? There’s just no there there. I don’t know how far into his colon Mr. Beck had to force his head in order to read that written on the walls, but I can say with complete certainty that it was not in James Madison’s handwriting.

So I had a good bit of righteous anger worked up over the ravings of this talking head who would degrade the Constitution as it was written and understood by the Revolutionary Generation and substitute a mockery of his own.

But here’s the thing, though.

That’s exactly what he wants me to do.

He does not care whether he is right or wrong. He does not care what he says or who he says it to, so long as people react to it. I find that pathetic.

But not surprising, if you think about the mechanics of it.

The pestilential fools who set the right-wing agenda these days are not political leaders who might conceivably be restrained into responsibility by the thought that they may have to govern the nation some day – they haven’t been for over a decade now. They are media people, driven only by the next sensationalistic outburst and ratings number, and the less responsible they are and the more brazen their lies, provocations and outbursts, the more they are rewarded in the only currency they care about – notoriety and commercial success.

Mr. Beck is a lot of things, but uninformed about where his bread is buttered is not one of them. The rubes who listen to him might buy into his message, might even believe the twaddle that falls from his lips and takes up the spaces in their minds where useful information such as a sense of their own social and economic interests would otherwise go. I doubt he does. Mr. Beck is concerned only with being known. With getting a rise out of people. With the next rating stunt, the next provocative falsehood, the next ratings sweep that will confirm that he is someone who cannot be ignored, for being ignored would be the worst thing in his world.

Worse than being wrong.

Worse than making the United States of America just that much poorer, unstable and backward every time he opens his mouth.

Worse, even, than using the lives of the innocent as a stepladder for his peevish ambitions.

He has a great deal of company in this. Does anyone out there know of a leading “conservative” figure in America today who actually holds an elected office right now? I can’t think of one. I mean, I know the names of a great many right-wing elected officials, but none of them are setting any agendas. None of them are in charge of their own movement. They’re all minions.

The leaders are all media people, people without responsibilities, free to say and do whatever damned-fool thing they have to say or do in order to get a rise out of the rest of us poor souls who are just trying to keep the place running despite their best efforts.

So I put my vitriol away.

Perhaps another day I will return to it. Perhaps another day I will break out my Big Can O’ Vitriol and open it up all over a deserving target. Who knows – it might even be tomorrow, the way things are going. It’s certainly a target-rich environment for that sort of thing these days.

But today I will leave it alone, and move on.

Some days I feel like I'm living in the old joke: What did the sadist do to the masochist?



Unknown said...

If I were you, I'd send this to the local op-Ed page.

I'm sorry to hear that the climate is worse than I thought!!!

JudyF said...

Thanks for this posting. I thought I was the only one getting angry at the ignorance. I have come to doubt that I lived during the Sixties. Maybe what I believed in was a sham and the people who stood up for what they believed in didn't exist. I find it hard to accept that the hatred I see being flaunted today is worse than I ever saw when I was helping people register to vote in 1968. At least Sheriff 'Bull' Connor was an honest bigot.

David said...

@Bea - the climate is what people have made it. Consider that someone recently tried to assassinate a US Representative and the response from the right wing has been to blame the Congresswoman for getting in the way of the bullets.

@JudyF - Welcome to 4Q10D! There are a lot of people who are tired of the aggressive ignorance that passes for rhetoric these days. Whether anything will come of it will be interesting to see.

And you're right - there was a straight-forwardness to Connor that seems almost charming compared to the weasel words one hears today. Connor was what he was, he had nearly a century of (admittedly shameful) US history to back him up, and his challenge to you was to change that, not correct his misperceptions.

Some of the hatred you see today is there, I think, in part because you were helping people to register to vote in 1968. That kind of justice rankles the folks who don't like their unearned privileges taken away, and they still resent it. And for that I thank you.