In his New York Times op-ed this week, "Let"s Get Serious," Bob Herbert drew attention to a certain madness that is taking hold in this election that is nothing new to politics. The difference between this election, however, and elections past is, quite simply, the stakes. And because the stakes are so high, we can't give in to the usual insanity.
"There's growing evidence," he writes, "that despite the plethora of important issues, the election may yet be undermined by the usual madness -- fear-mongering, bogus arguments over who really loves America, race-baiting, gay-baiting... and the wholesale trivialization of matters that are not just important, but extremely complex."
Skyrocketing gas prices; families losing their homes at an alarming rate; an endless, expensive, bloody, and deadly war (actually, two of them); the growing gap between rich and poor; wholesale losses of entire industries overseas, and so on and on. Once you start listing the problems, you can spend a whole blogpost at it.
And yet an inordinate amount of time on air, in print, and online is spent analyzing, not how the candidates propose to deal with these harrowing problems, but whether he wears flag lapel pins or whether her pantsuits are the wrong color or whether--well, you get the picture.
Speaking as a loyal Democrat, what amazes me is how this same trend has taken hold within our own electorate during this hotly contested primary season, and the longer it has gone on, and the more each candidate's supporters solidify their loyalties, the crazier and more pronounced this madness.
Recently, I was discussing the election with a friend who is a fellow Marine combat mom, and a fellow anti-war activist. She is an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter, and although I am an Obama supporter, I respect that, as she respects me.
Combat moms--like our children at war--are united by the fact that there are so few people in this country anymore who understand the sheer, raw, unadulterated terror of sending a beloved child away to a place where each and every day could be their last. We cling to one another on days when we can barely breathe.
In this instance, particularly, anti-war activist combat moms are a unique minority in the military establishment, which makes our bonds even more precious and necessary as we struggle daily with our commitment to end the war while at the same time, supporting wholeheartedly the choices our children have made to fight in that war.
Even when our children leave military service--as both my son and my friend's son have done--we remain close.
But a comment this fellow combat-mom made distressed me so badly that the ensuing disagreement almost threatened our friendship. She had said that if Hillary did not get the nomination, she was considering voting for John McCain.
If this was not shocking enough--considering that McCain wants to continue the Iraq war until a completely undefined "victory" that could last years and years longer, and therefore directly affect the lives of our own children--one of the central reasons she listed for so despising Barack Obama was that, "he flipped off Hillary."
First of all, I can only surmise that she was referring to a video of a speech he gave in which, at some point, he reached up and scratched his cheek, and he happened to use the middle finger. Because he had just mentioned Hillary in context of the speech, her supporters rose up in outraged arms at this perceived offense.
I thought Jon Stewart handled it well later that week, by displaying the video and then saying, "That's not flipping the bird. THIS is flipping the bird!" With that, he lunged forward and extended his (pixelated out) middle finger defiantly at the camera.
It got big laughs and made the point that we've reached a point of real madness if we are going to seize on every single moment of every single video of every single candidate and yank up imagined insults to drive our own outrage. And I'm referring to supporters of ALL our candidates, especially in this era of digitalized, doctored, and cherry-clipped YouTube videos.
Bob Herbert says:
The way we are treating the troops belies the pretty words that never get farther than a bumper sticker.
The country that professes to be so proud of its men and women in uniform is playing Russian roulette with their lives by sending them into the war zone for three, four, and even more tours. Stop-loss, the involuntary extension of an individual's term in the military (making them subject to still more combat duty), is another dangerous affront to those who have already given so much.
...Let the candidates talk about these things. Let them talk about the fact that the Bush administration, which has pushed the troops so unmercifully, opposes a bill (sponsored by Senator Jim Webb and widely supported in Congress) that would expand the education benefits of veterans who have served since September 11, 2001.
Both Democratic candidates have co-sponsored this bill. John McCain refuses to vote for it.
And yet a combat Marine mom would consider voting for him because she thinks Obama flipped off Hillary?
Have we all lost our collective minds? (In all fairness to my friend, I've heard similar nuttiness from Obama supporters and Edwards supporters as well.)
Bestselling feminist author Erica Jong has been a powerful Hillary supporter since the beginning of this campaign, and has frequently blogged on her behalf and stingingly against Obama for the Huffington Post. But in a change of tone, this week she posted one called, "Democrats Unite."
The thing that I think all Democrats need to realize is that we're being had by the media. Most of the silly controversies that have generated so much print and comment are being started, stoked, and fed by a competition-driven, ratings-starved, amoral news media. And we're falling for it, just like our electorate as a whole has fallen for it, time and time again. Maybe we're more vulnerable because we've been driven to near-hysteria by the insanity of the Bush years. Perhaps because our candidates are so closely aligned in policy positions, it becomes easier to condemn their opponent over something far less crucial. But we have to know that our own disagreements and divisions are being exploited by the news media as entertainment. Most likely the unfortunate Obama-scratch would never have engendered comment of any kind if it had not been highlighted by a bored CNN commentator who couldn't find anything else to start an argument over. Bob Herbert refers to such commentators as "hypocrites and hacks." Because the bottom line is this: I don't know if Barack Obama flipped off Hillary. What I DO know is that Obama and Hillary agree pretty much down the line, within a few percentage-points of each other, on most of the serious issues facing this country. (Yes, Hillary voted for war-authorization, but she has also outlined a plan to bring the troops home.) And John McCain? He agrees pretty much down the line, within a few percentage-points, of GEORGE W. BUSH. If we get angry that our candidate didn't get the nomination, do we REALLY want to cast a vote for John McCain in some sort of protest? Do we REALLY want to hand the White House over to a third Bush term because our panties are in a twist over media-engendered trivialities? Do we REALLY want to continue this war in Iraq for years and years more, until our army is broken beyond repair and our nation is bankrupt and gasoline costs ten bucks a gallon? Do we REALLY want extremist right-wing justices appointed to the Supreme Court who have vowed to overturn Roe v. Wade? Do we REALLY want to privatize Social Security? Do we REALLY want to provide health care by setting up "private health-care savings accounts" and hand insurance companies massive tax breaks? Do we REALLY want to make permanent George W. Bush's massive government-bankrupting tax cuts to the very rich? Do we REALLY want war profiteers to continue back-door access to the White House? Do we REALLY want a president who thinks it might be a good idea to invade Iran? Because the bottom line, folks, is that these are ALL positions that have been stated, in clear terms, by Senator John McCain. To vote for him out of personal pique because our candidate of choice does not win the nomination is a sheer act of political madness. At the very least, I think most Democrats are too smart to allow themselves to be manipulated by a media obsessed with trivialities when so very much is at stake. I'll give the last word to Herbert: "Forget the foolishness for a change. No Willie Hortons this year. No Swift Boats. No attacks on John McCain like the mugging he endured at the hands of the Bush crowd in South Carolina some years ago. "For once, let the election be serious. Show the hacks and the hypocrites the door. Argue substance. And then let the people decide."
Let's get real. It's time for Democrats to put all personal bias aside and unite behind the things we can believe in: a planet we can live on, reproductive choice, worker's rights, health care for all, education for poor and middle class students, fair taxes, a Constitution made whole, rescuing America from war profiteers--if indeed there is still time.
It's already very late. It's too late for quarrels about whether race or gender is more restricting. It's too late for prognostications about a future presidency we won't know until it has unfolded...A landslide for Democrats will change the direction of this country. So let's join forces to make it happen--and let's start now.
Read More at the athor's blog: Deanie"s Blue Inkblots.