On Thursday I was scooped by John Dickerson in a Slate article. He beat me to the punch with an article about the overuse of umbrage in today’s political world and its relationship to the inappropriate acceleration of the use of the term war by political organizations. If you’re going to be scooped, it isn’t half bad for it to be John Dickerson who does it. I find him to be one of the most balanced, skilled journalists in the herd of commentators and journalists these days.*
The point I was going to make (which I clearly am continuing to make) is that there is altogether too much faux sensitivity being demonstrated by public officials these days. Every few days someone is accused of having bruised the feelings of some public figure, requiring either an apology or a resignation.* The taking of umbrage over a slip of the tongue, an unwise illustration, or an intentional criticism becomes a cause celebre and tweaks the interest of the reading/listening public for 24 hours. Then it is relegated to a reference capable of being recalled in a later campaign speech. There are times that it is repeated or referred to constantly, long after the public has chosen to ignore it or bury it.
John Dickerson’s piece in Thursday’s Slate makes the point in a single, powerful sentence:
“Now the bar for umbrage-taking has dropped and the outrage is constant.” (Slate, April 12)
The feigned affront is, to me, a sign of a weak personality on the part of a candidate who is incapable of taking a shot in a political campaign. There is altogether too much over-sensitivity, whether real or pretend, which distracts from the real issues of an election campaign. Words are the weapons of a campaign, and they are a heck of lot safer than the alternatives such as those used in a less open society where assassinations and physical bruising are much more popular. One of the tests of the character of a candidate is (her) capability to receive criticism without it damaging her permanently.
This confrontation with words is too frequently allowed to morph into what journalists and political campaign personalities seem to enjoy calling a “war.” The so-called “gender war” or “class war” seem to be the favorites of this season. They join the ranks of the “war on drugs” and “war on terrorism” of past campaigns and eras. I struggle to include them in my vocabulary, as the use of the term “war” is far too brutal to allow it to be used so casually. Having been a nation at war for over a decade now, you would think that it would be a distasteful term to banter about so easily. There are hundreds of thousands of families in this country who know intimately the ravages of war, and it bears no resemblance to language confrontations over social issues.
That is not to say that the abuse of women or the conflict among classes of society are not important. They are horrific in their own way. But the labeling of social conflict as a war is a stretch which is unwarranted.
Dickerson makes this point:
“Democracies in the middle of multiple real wars cannot continue to manufacture fake wars about things that aren’t wars and hope to survive. What makes these fake fights burn like a summer rash is that they look like real debates about real issues, but they aren’t, which is ultimately deflating. It’s like getting one of those “You Have Won” sweepstakes mailing three times a day.” (Slate, April 12)
So … enough all ready. Let’s cut the uber-sensational language in this campaign and get back to the real issues that confront the American people. It’s hard enough to quell the anger when you lose a job and can’t find a replacement for it. Who needs a journalistic exaggeration to fire up the anger?
It would appear that I have overcome my sense of being scooped by John Dickerson.
Photo credit: bgsu.edu
*(You might want to check out my blog posting “Fired” which I published on April 11.)