It's outrageous that President Obama gets driven around in a limo! It's outrageous that John McCain wore expensive shoes! It's outrageous that Michael Phelps smoked some weed! Welcome, as I say in my newest newspaper column, to a nation now addicted to fake outrage -- a nation that feeds on made-up controversies about total non-issues. And if we don't break our dependency, we're really not going to solve the huge challenges we desperately need to solve.
I tied the column to the Phelps story because it was such a great example of the Fake Outrage Machine that warps our political discourse and ultimately our public policy. In a country where about half the population has smoked pot and most people believe it should be legal in some form, we're expected to be ragingly angry that Phelps went to a party and hit his friend's bong. What a sad joke on so many levels.
At the public policy level, it's a joke that we can deify drinking in the way we do, but that marijuana is illegal -- even for cancer patients. And it's not just illegal -- there's a crackdown going on all over the country. Indeed, as public opinion becomes more tolerant of marijuana, arrests for marijuana possession are increasing in many parts of the country.
But the even bigger joke is that a story like Phelps' is considered "big news" and worthy of "outrage" in a nation dealing with an economic, health care and national security crisis. That this passes for a "major controversy" at a time like this really shows how sick our political and media system is. And the first step toward healing that system is to recognize that we're addicted to something - fake outrage - that is hurting us.
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ADDENDUM: Though my column delves into what a joke the Phelps "controversy" really is, nobody does it better than Saturday Night Live, whose Seth Meyers (a guy who I used to watch do improv as a fellow student at Northwestern) had related - though slightly different - point on the matter. Watch it here for a good laugh.