Friday, May 02, 2008

The Audacity of Dopes: Ask A Stupid Question

This evening, on MSNBC's The Race For The White House host David Gregory took up the question of whether the media has maybe unnecessarily pounded some of the recent scandals of the campaign into the ground to the point that everybody would rather choke up on the business end of a handgun then suffer through another round of questions about the same topic. It was appropriate for Gregory to ask for two reasons, the first being the fact that Barack Obama took a broad shot at the media today, "saying he believes his recent troubles are largely media-driven," the second being that Gregory himself has been in the midst of three-day struggle to even conceive of a topic of conversation other than Jeremiah Wright.

Michael Smerconish gamely took up the issue, and presented a backed-up balanced view. He noted that despite the broad excoriation ABC received for their televised debate, the high ratings demonstrated that voters were engaged on topics such as Wright and flag lapel pins. But Smerconish warned of a backlash.

We're all talking about how this could bite those who raise it in the fall. I think it could continue to bite those who continue to raise it in the next few weeks. Already, I'm seeing a factor of people who are saying 'Hey, I've heard enough of this Jeremiah Wright thing, give the guy a break, it's not what he said, it's what the pastor said, get off his break.'

Joe Scarborough wasn't feeling it:

The issue is not Reverend Wright. The issue is how he responds to Reverend Wright. The issue is not the elitist comments, it's how he responds to the elitist comments. The question is not the dumb question about the flag, the question is how he flusters the dumb question about the flag. He has bobbled these issues around for the past month and he's paid for it. You know, if they're dumb issues, that means dumb issues are easy to brush away. He's finally finding his footing, but this ain't the media's fault. It's his fault.

Count me in the Smerconish camp on this one, if only because I place a higher standard on the way candidates like Obama bobble questions pertaining to Iraq war withdrawal and the housing crisis.

Also, I disagree that "dumb questions" are, by nature, easy to brush off. I don't blame Scarborough for taking that position, but I'd remind him that he has gone from a political career to taking on the duties of a media personality, and the nature of those occupations breed a certain distance to behavioral norms that govern the way actual people receive and respond to inane and insulting questions.

See, most Americans do not, as a matter of course, wear a flag lapel pin. Similarly, most Americans would not respond kindly to the intimation that their sartorial choice belied a secret anti-Americanism. Here's what happens on a physiological level when a normal adult is asked whether or not the absence of a flag lapel pin means that they are traitorous. First, a set of neural synapses fire, sending a message from the brain to the central nervous system that says: "Warning! You have just been insulted by a stupid person." Hormones are released into the bloodstream in rapid response to something similar to the "fight or flight" mechanism that I will colloquially term the "take this nonsense lying down or beat some sense into this poltroon's skull" mechanism. Typically, the person questioned responds with a forceful, vigorous defense of their person. In some cases, duels occur. Always, crowds of right-minded Americans form and jeer loudly at the interlocutor.

When you are a politician, facing the same relentless nonsense, something entirely different happens - those normal autonomic responses that arise when the time comes to choke a bitch get overridden by a politician's trained sense of decorum and politesse. Obama's problem isn't that he lacks the mettle to take on tough questions, it's that he's still too human to completely tamp down what would normally be the proper, instinctual reaction. So when he gets a dumbassed question, all the synaptic activity and glandular secretions kick in at the same time as his political training, and he stammers and stumbles. This is, truly, an area where more experience would be preferred.

But that doesn't change the fact that the "lapel pin" question is stupid and that those questioners are idiots. And if anyone wants an object lesson on just how well Obama answers questions that broadly defame his patriotism would do well to stage a simple comparison. Try asking someone on the street the same question. Better make sure that health insurance is paid in full, though, because I promise, your ass is gonna get beyond beat.

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