I have a new political theory. Maybe the beginning of all this extreme — often lying — criticism exemplified in last week’s election stems from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment on Dec. 19, 1998.
If right wing politicians could get away with that fiasco, perhaps they could get away with anything. They did it because they could. And doesn’t that, uh, freedom, make people do strange things? (I’m all for freedom, but not always for strange things).
I was at a small cocktail party in Northeast Harbor, Maine; it was the summer following Wild Bill’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal on Feb. 12, 1999. One of the state’s two sane Republican senators was standing nearby. We were both sipping white wine.
Sidling up to her, I said, “Thank you for being so civilized during President Clinton’s impeachment trial.”
“Oh, you have no idea what the right wing fanatics wanted to do to him. The public doesn’t even know the half of it,” she replied.
We seem to be hearing the other half these days. The blathering misinformation and xenophobia is hard to take: Obama’s a socialist, commie Muslim. Here in Arizona, the state Department of Education has issued a mandate that teachers with accents would not be allowed to teach in Arizona.
If people believe whatever they hear, politicians can sling any crap to a sound-bite hungry public.
Did Bill Clinton’s impeachment introduce the age of angry cable TV commentators? In part. At least it was a benchmark.
I’ll acknowledge that my own name-calling — loonies, crazies, wackos, nutcases — doesn’t initiate civil dialogue. I’ve been considering this more since Jon Stewart’s fabulous Rally to Restore Sanity.
Tonight MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow interviewed Stewart on her show. He’s a smart guy, and raised points that reminded me of how I taught high school social studies. Keep asking kids why, get them confused about their habitual thinking. That was my goal.
Cable TV highlights the conflict between red and blue states, said Stewart, instead of searching for common ground. “What happens in discourse is not precise, but what matters is the place you’re coming from.”
Then Stewart, who had a stomach flu, made me laugh. He called Maddow the “ginger root of interviewers” by not making him vomit for the first time in 24 hours.