On Political Conversation, Or The Lack Thereof: A Provocation To Debate

June 13, 2011, 2:13 pm

“Balogna?”  Really?  Photo Credit.

On the op-ed page of today’s Grey Lady, liberal Paul Krugman explains why expanding Medicare will save money.  On the other side of the page, Ross Douthat explains why text messaging pictures of your muscle-y male chest and your d*ck to women who don’t want them should disqualify you from sitting in Congress.  Want to know why without reading the article?  Not because it is sexual harassment, but because it is evidence of narcissism.  Whoa, male politicians!  No reason to resign en masse!

My point is not that Ross Douthat is a faux intellectual (which he is), or that the importance of Weiner’s behavior does not extend beyond the playground sausage jokes of which otherwise sentient adults do not seem to tire.  My point is:  why didn’t Ross Douthat write about the conservative argument behind cutting Medicare and explain to us why making Medicare less available is good for the economy and good for the health of the nation’s citizens?  And why does the New York Times encourage this “You say po-TAY-to and I say po-TAH-to” form of political journalism?

See, if I were a real journalist (and not just a blogger who was super-popular with people who either agree with me or want to see me on fire in the streets so that they can decide whether to urinate on me or not) I would insist on having a discussion with newspaper folks around the following points:

Anthony Weiner

What we do talk about:  the many slang words that signify the phallus, whether men who do dumb things are also incapable of making political decisions, hypocrisy.

What we ought to talk about:  whether men who are sexual harassers should be fired from whatever job they are doing, including Supreme Court Justice; that Anthony Weiner has consistently supported women’s right to choose abortion, ending the war in Iraq, expanding federal health care dollars, and  environmental legislation; and why women politicians are never involved in sex scandals and seem not to send Twitter pics of their vaginas to strangers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

What we do talk about: How Maria could have not known; how terrible his children must feel; that all those rumors about sexual harassment and groping were true after all (surprise!); and that he supports gay marriage (which is nice, but solves not a single pressing problem except how the party-planning industry will survive the economic crisis.)

What we ought to talk about: How, under the Governator’s leadership, a struggling public education system in California that used to be the finest in the country has been reduced to ashes; how he worked to end bilingual education in a state of multilingual tax payers most of whom have legal residency if not citizenship; his continuing support for private prisons, the three strikes law, and expanding incarceration at the same time as he was shrinking education dollars; his support for school prayer; his claim that he is incorruptible because he is wealthy; that, despite his wealth, he apparently owes $80K in back taxes; and why women politicians are almost never involved in sex scandals or have love children stashed away in the guest house.

Newt Gingrich

What we talk about:  That a man who wants to be President, and has repeatedly compared a sane federal budget to a sane household budget owes Tiffany’s around half a million dollars; and that in a party of “family values” he seems to change out wives like other men change out cars.

What we ought to talk about: Newt Gingrich called for the expulsion of Gerry Studds from Congress after Studds admitted to being a homosexual; he was involved in the 1992 check kiting scandal in Congress (he used one of those checks to pay the IRS nearly $10K he owed in taxes); he is on record favoring the United States withdrawal from the United Nations; he led the charge against the Clinton national health plan; he designed and successfully passed a welfare “reform” bill that took welfare mothers out of college and put them in sub-minimum wage manual labor; that he has vowed to put God back in public life; AND why women politicians don’t seem to be changing out their husbands like cars (sometimes owning two at the same time!) while at the same time claiming to be very religious people who believe that Family is the building block of the Nation.

I offer these remarks as a design for what a real conversation about politics might look like.  But I would also like to suggest that, unless the news media is willing to make the Ross Douthats and the Paul Krugmans have the same conversation, politics will continue to be incoherent, and citizens will continue to cast their votes (or not) on the basis of no information whatsoever.

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