Monday, July 18, 2005

Political blogs suck

In one of the earliest M*A*S*H episodes, the dentist with a guitar -- who never quite made it as a recurring character -- explains to Hawkeye and Trapper how to deal with Frank Burns. The Frank Burnses of the world are indestructible, says our singing dentist friend. You can't change him; therefore, you must change the environment. In this case, it means getting rid of an ammo dump that drew the attention of incompetent bomber pilot Five O'Clock Charlie and led to the unit getting an anti-aircraft gun. (Inexact quote follows ...)

"Take away the dump, and you take away the gun. Take away the gun, you take away Frank's motivation and the menace is gone."

These days, thanks to the blogosphere and certain misjudgments by my colleagues in the media, we're handing out anti-aircraft guns to the Burnses of the world. Case in point: This Washington Post Magazine piece that takes the interesting premise of getting a far-left blogger and a far-right blogger to tour Washington together.

David Von Drehle is one of the Post's better writers, and his follow-up chat today was the lively yet reasonable read I expected. I don't blame him for taking such an interest in the sociology of today's partisan divide (see his previous work). From an academic perspective, it's fascinating. But from a real-world perspective, it's irritating.

Picture it this way -- I love the History of Britain series. I could watch it over and over again. But would I want to go back in time and be an archbishop who crossed the king? Probably not. It's great from an academic perspective, but it's also nice to shut off the DVD player and know that going to church on Sunday without being beheaded on Monday is my choice.

Von Drehle makes some good points. I happened to read a book on the Aurora in grad school, and it is indeed compelling proof that mud-slinging irrational argument is part of American history. Fair enough.

But it's still a generalization that Americans love to argue. Americans also like to be left the hell alone, and I'd argue that tendency outweighs the whole "argument" thing.

What's especially sad about the people involved in this is that they think they're doing something noble. This isn't rational debate. This is pure hate. Getting kids to "debate" along those lines isn't teaching them to think, it's teaching them the verbal equivalent of kickboxing.
And we in the media are ascribing a political extreme to everyone and everything, whether it fits or not.

One example: There's a media-bashing book out these days on "South Park conservatives." But South Park isn't so much a right-wing show as it is a deft skewering of ALL political extremes. As Randy Marsh says, "Please, for your own sake, fart in moderation."

From what I've read of the book, the author goes beyond the sensationalistic title and admits as much. I doubt his fans will give the same admission -- see the sadly predictable discussion at Amazon.

This is why South Park is frankly a superior form of communication than blogs and books. South Park conveys a message that couldn't be conveyed in any popular blog -- don't take yourself so damned seriously. ALL of you. On both sides -- ALL sides. Of ALL arguments. That means those of us in the media and those of you making millions bashing us with specious arguments.

And that means ALL of you writing political blogs, especially those of you drinking the red or blue Kool-Aid. Seriously, get a life. And fart in moderation.

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