Monday, July 27, 2009

The party’s getting rough. Elementary manners, let alone civility, are anachronisms on the evening cable talk programs where Larry King is the courteous softball exception.

Gossip is served up as news, whammy as commentary, fiction as fact, biases as straight news reporting. A new journalism of assertion and vilification has displaced the old journalism of verification. Inflammatory verbal images equate their fellow Americans with traitors deserving the ultimate punishment.

The left talking about the right usually conjures up images that range from neo-Nazi sympathizers to dangerous twittering half-morons with a penchant for circular firing squads; the right talking about the left gives us violent enemies of the nation who coddle illegal immigrants, murdering no-accounts from Mexico.

President Obama is now a card-carrying socialist or borderline Marxist. He is the Manchurian Candidate. He was not born in the United States. He never produced a birth certificate. And now this closet neo-Marxist is plotting the revenge of those defeated in the Cold War. Therefore, he should be impeached and removed from office because his plan is to place America in a government-owned straitjacket.

It’s vicious stuff. One of the vociferous voices is that of Dick Morris, who moved from the liberal camp under President Clinton to the hard right with his new book, “Catastrophe,” which is what Mr. Obama has wrought for America.

Between talk radio and talk television, about 30 million Americans are subject to a barrage of invective that goes a long way toward explaining how what columnist David Brooks calls the “dignity code” has been “completely obliterated.” The rules that guided generations since George Washington, Mr. Brooks says, “are simply gone.”

Mr. Obama has already met his Waterloo, according to political analyst Mr. Morris. “He never lost a battle before; now he may never win one,” he says.

And, of course, everything the president says proves he’s desperate and/or a prisoner of his socialist ideology. He wants a complete socialist takeover as he sees his approval numbers drop below 50 percent. His Middle East initiative is going nowhere, and close friends of George Mitchell, the president’s special envoy in charge of finding a Palestinian solution, are advising him to resign after three more months of shuttling between the two sides. At which point, Mr. Obama’s magisterial June 4 message to the Muslim world will have been drained of any significant content. In other words, the president backs down when faced with the Israel lobby on Capitol Hill. Pity the poor listeners and viewers trying to sort fact from fancy.

Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is a nightly spectacle on TV talk shows. Staged rage by wing nuts is a new genre of pontificating. Absurd and offensive viewpoints, punctuated by left/right ravings and left/right rantings, tend to be repeated as facts in real life the next day. Truth is butchered with alacrity on both sides of the political divide.

There are things worth fighting and dying for, one conservative spinmeister told his millions of listeners after November’s elections, and the example he gave was to prevent “Mussolini Nancy Pelosi” from becoming speaker of the House.

No sooner was Mr. Obama through with his one-hour news conference on health care reform than the know-it-alls were on the air saying — fact certain — that the president’s plan will cost more than several trillion dollars over 10 years; life expectancy will drop as it has in Russia since the end of the Cold War; Mr. Obama’s plan “will kill you”; federal boards will decide whether you can have a hip replacement; elders will be deprived of a functional hip in favor of treating younger people; and thousands of doctors and nurses will switch to other professions. Ann Coulter’s suggestion: “Take two aspirin and call me when your cancer is Stage 4.”

Stripped of preposterous claims and of what the culprits regard as mandatory hype, there still is real anger on both left and right.

Nevertheless, to voice strong feelings, even hostility, what’s wrong with the civilized discourse of the Sunday morning network talk shows, Fox, CNN and Fareed Zakaria’s weekly “GPS”?

They have become the equivalent of “Question Time” in Britains House of Commons. They are not boring. In fact, they are far more interesting than the congressional debates they have replaced, which few people watch. PBS’ “Washington Week in Review” and Charlie Rose’s nightly interview set the right tone.

But Fox has the numbers on its side. Nightly mudslinging has rolled over CNN. In one recent 12-month period, Fox was up 24 percent and CNN was down 22 percent. Fox also was up 109,000 viewers year over year; CNN lost 113,000. With Rush Limbaugh’s daily 20 million listeners and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, with record ratings, it becomes clear liberals do not have a lock on the airwaves.

Witness Robert Firth’s “Warning From America” on the World Wide Web: “We in America are watching the final days of a 50-year process to destroy our economy and our country. Obama and his minions will finish the white middle class. They, the libs, lefties, bleeding hearts, dems, commies, socialists and America haters have filled the welfare rolls to over 50 million.” Have we taken leave of our critical faculties?

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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