So apparently the biggest political news of the day had to do with a bird pooping on someone’s shoulder on a website. Canadian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, our climate is becoming unstable, and our housing market is in trouble, but all of that is unimportant compared to analysis of whether a bird should be pooping on someone online.
Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party website showed the pooping puffin, apologized for it after his handlers calculated that the bad joke went too far and was too personal (actually, it wasn’t personal at all, it was just pointlessly insulting). Stéphane Dion, the poopee, countered that this showed more about the Conservatives than about him, again following the politically appropriate route as instructed by his handlers and political strategists.
And the media, desperate for a scandal/process/horse-race story because they’re too lazy to research platform points and analyze actual policy issues, sucks it all up.
The excuses that the Conservatives give for this gaffe are the usual barely-believable stuff (a cursor was hiding it when it was approved? Give me a break). But there’s a reason why this was done, a reason why the person who came up with the idea crossed the line, and it’s a problem at the very heart of partisan politics.
Remember all those bad jokes during the Democratic and Republican conventions? Remember how the delegates found them much funnier than we did? In the partisan bubble that these politicians and their staff inhabit, the opposition is dehumanized. Instead of respected colleagues who challenge us to develop our positions on important issues, they’re seen as evil enemies bent on world destruction who must be mercilessly defeated.
That mindset leads to cruel, immature jokes and inevitable comparisons to Hitler. Nobody is there to stop them, because everyone in the bubble is part of the same partisan clique. But once those jokes leave the bubble and reach the reasonable, non-partisan outside world, it finally dawns on them that they were inappropriate.
I watched MSNBC during prime-time tonight, mainly because there was nothing better on TV. (It was mostly in the background as I caught up on some online reading.) The lineup consisted of liberal hero Keith Olbermann, followed by Air America talk show host Rachel Maddow, followed by a repeat of the Keith Olbermann show at 10pm. Listening to the two hosts, they sound identical (though one is much prettier than the other). They both use the same sarcastic points to bring down their enemies (in this case, John McCain, George W. Bush and the Republicans).
Even though I agree with them on their positions, I can’t help but cringe sometimes when I watch these shows. There’s that same immaturity, the same mean jokes, the same anoying smiles when they point out some flaw in the other side. And in Olbermann’s case, an ego the size of Alaska as he goes on with his boring feuds with the Fox News Channel and its pundits.
Olbermann and Maddow are, sadly, part of the problem. They have like-minded staff who won’t tell them that they’re becoming too biased toward the left. Those who do criticize are seen as the enemy or ignored.
The worst part is, some of these activists may be fully aware that they’re crossing over the line, but they accept their actions because they believe the ends justify the means.
Partisan hacks and political pundits need to learn what the politicians are already keenly aware of: cruel insults and immature jokes may get a good response from hard-core supporters who are drinking your Kool-Aid, but they turn off the rest of us, making us ashamed of both you and the political process.
Considering how much ink has been spilled over this issue over the past decades (remember when the PCs made fun of Jean Chrétien’s face?), it’s astonishing there are people who still haven’t learned to attack the issues and not the person.