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Comments on commentators

Essay by Deric Pamp

Media – April 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

CHAFFEE COUNTY was, in the not-so-distant past, a Republican stronghold, but today, all three county commissioners and most other elected officials are Democrats. I think an official’s party affiliation is his or her least important attribute, but the partisan nature of national and state politics resonates here: to many voters, a candidate’s party registration is of great importance. One of the Democratic county commissioners recently admitted to illegal acts in his leisure time, and I expect that local Republicans may do more than simply complain. How partisan the voters of Chaffee County are, or have become, may be tested.

The tone and content of what passes for political discussion have recently been demonstrated to me very personally. I’ve been having fun as a Denver Post “Colorado Voice” columnist. One of my columns suggested that we should be less tolerant of the wasteful overuse by rich people of the world’s limited natural resources because the extra, needless demand for natural resources puts terrible pressure on another finite resource: our diminishing supply of wilderness.

My column attracted the attention and the ire of Mike Rosen, Denver’s own Right wingnut radio talk show host. I had never heard his radio show, but I learned he’s a sort of Rush Limbaugh lite: he makes his living by stirring up anger among his listeners while relying on a few conservative catch phrases to create resentment. He sees the world as “us” versus “them,” failing to notice that his listeners and most of the people he is talking about are Americans who believe in the basics of free speech, one person one vote, and freedom of the press — even shrill and narrow-minded commentators like Rosen. He is sort of like Larry Flynt, the pornographer: his product is sleazy, but his freedom of expression must be defended

Rosen had a lot to say about my column, but it boiled down to the assertion that I am a Bolshevik who wants to break up Janet Elway’s giant house by force the way the Communists turned Dr. Zhivago’s family home into an apartment house. Hmmmm. I was writing about the cost in wilderness of profligate use of natural resources and Rosen sees Trotsky? Ideologues tend to wander off on their own agendas, of course. Instead of addressing the issue I raised about the loss of wilderness, he did what these guys do: he instructed his audience that I am an enemy and a threat to the Republic. I thought I was suggesting the ways society can benefit if people choose to live more moderately, but it turns out I was endangering the American Way.

IN WHAT SEEMS to exemplify the modern way to discuss political issues, Rosen spent the first half of his harangue attacking me personally — along with Salida (“Boulder west”), lawyers (nonproductive “overhead”), college professors (more “overhead”), and nonprofit consultants (“if he knew anything, he’d advise for-profit producers” ).

He said he knew “some” good people down in Salida, but he thinks the town is turning into a nest of liberals who are, by implication, not good people. In a sad case of intellectual dishonesty, Rosen ignored entirely the central point of my column and instead indulged himself in snarky sound bites, sneers, and sarcasm. Good show, Mike.

Much of what passes for political discourse these days is similar. There is so much noise and heat, so little reason. The tone is angry and ugly and the goal, on TV or in print, is to score points with personal insults. All too often, commentary includes a personal attack on the person who disagrees with the commentator, and some commentators offer very little other than personal attacks and conservative clich├ęs. Will this national tendency play out in Chaffee County?

Rush Limbaugh and his imitators, on the Left and the Right, are really just entertainers, not serious thinkers like George Will or William Kristol, who discuss ideas, not personalities. Rush’s job, in contrast, is to produce red meat for his dittoheads out of sound bites and insults, and this helps his listeners pass the time while avoiding the heavy work of thinking. Is the Democratic agenda really identical to the goals of America’s enemies? No, but the shock value of that assertion is high, and Rush knows that shock is entertaining. Of course, when the Vice President says much the same thing about the Speaker of the House, it is hard to complain, but I am afraid that Rush has a higher credibility rating among his listeners than Cheney does with the country as a whole.

Limbaugh reached a new low last Fall when he pantomimed the palsied actions of Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, because Rush did not like Fox’s political message. Fox’s gyrations were caused by his medication, not the disease, proving that Rush does not bother with silly stuff like research before he pontificates. Being so nasty, so much of the time, seems to have soured Rush’s spirit: spewing hate and ugliness, as he does for so many hours a week, is corrosive to his soul. His job is to give his listeners something to be angry about while he reinforces their beliefs. It’s a living, I guess, but if that were my job, I would lie to my mother and tell her I was playing piano in a cat house.

Observing what George Will calls “the chattering class,” it is clear to me that power corrupts. Limbaugh has been in power for so long that he doesn’t have any concern for truth or balance left. Mike Rosen will evidently say almost anything, as long as it is about evil doers like lawyers, Democrats, liberals, and terrorists — they are all pretty much the same people, anyway, right?

Keith Olbermann, a liberal stalwart, is headed that way, too. Much of what he says is just plain nasty. Why does he have a “Worst People in the World” segment every night? Is the rising level of nastiness on his show a measure of the length of Olbermann’s on-air career? If so, it is clear that Mike Rosen has been on the air a long, long time.

I wonder if the same trend toward ugliness will apply in Chaffee County. Will the Democratic county commissioner now under a cloud (of his own making) be discussed or judged in light of his record of actions as a county commissioner, or will he be hammered with audacious assumptions, nastiness, and innuendo? Stay tuned.

Deric Pamp is a Salida attorney and non-profit consultant.