To re-paraphrase an old Donovan song, it “must be the season of the gaffe,” and it’s growing as old as the song itself locally and nationally.
I’m not the first to point this out. Matthew Pulver recently wrote about the media’s obsession with gaffes in Salon.com. But the reporting of so-called verbal gaffes committed by politicians often misses the point. Are they miscommunications corrected by a simple apology or, more likely, are they statements of belief and value systems?
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican Party, all have made the news recently for supposedly miscommunicating ideas, and the local and national media has seized on them voraciously.
Here’s how it works: A politician says something controversial. The media reports it. The politician’s opponents demand an apology or ridicule what the politician said. The media reports it. The initial politician then issues some type of clarification or apology. The politician’s opponents claim that it isn’t enough. The media reports it. Then another politician gaffes it up, and the cycle repeats itself.
The next presidential election doesn’t happen until 2016 so I will go out on a limb and forecast a lot of gaffe reporting awaits us in the future. Must be the season of the gaffe.
On the local level recently, Fallin made news when she appeared in front of reporters to not know the three branches of government. That was followed by an Oklahoma Republican Party Facebook post that compared people on food stamps to animals, which created a tremendous amount of controversy. Both made national news. Fallin, to my knowledge never clarified her statement. The chair of the Oklahoma GOP, Randy Brogdon, apologized after a storm of criticism.
In each case, however, the main issue seemed to get lost in the reporting.
As I argued earlier, Fallin most likely knows the three branches of government include the executive, judicial and legislative. Here’s what she said that caused the media firestorm:
You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.
The media, of course, focused on how she clumsily described the branches of government. But it was her main point that deserved more discussion. Her point basically was that Oklahoma voters, not a court, should be allowed to decide the fate of the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. As you know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 2 the monument must be removed from the Capitol because it violates the state’s constitution.
But the very purpose of the judicial branch of government is to uphold laws and constitutions while protecting those people with minority viewpoints from tyranny and mob rule. Fallin is expressing a deep-seated philosophical viewpoint about the rule of law, and her refusal to remove the monument and her basis for it should be the focus of scrutiny.
The media also seized on a cruel Facebook post by the Oklahoma Republican Party. Here’s the text of that post, which has since been removed:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."
Thus ends today's lesson in irony ?#OKGOP
Another gaffe? Well, Brogdon sort of apologized and the post was removed, but the point is that there are many, many people in Oklahoma that possess misinformation about people who receive food stamps. They close their minds to studies and basic financial information that prove the vast majority of people who receive assistance are actually in dire need of help.
Should we let voters decide every issue, even if it’s discriminatory against another group of people? Should we allow children to go hungry or even starve to death in this country because they “will grow dependent on handouts . . .”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Who cares if Fallin knows the three branches of government or whether Brogdon is truly apologetic? What matters is the substance (or lack thereof) of their narrow viewpoints.
Progressives and liberals here in conservative Oklahoma need to take a day or two to emotionally recover from the conservative landslide in Tuesday’s state election and then get right back to pushing for their values in the political scene.
That’s my advice after the carnage Tuesday, which included lopsided votes in favor of Republicans for the entire ballot’s statewide and Congressional and Senate offices, including the governor’s seat. Here’s another bit of bad news: Republicans picked up four seats in the state Senate and will now have a 40-8 advantage. Republicans continue to hold a huge majority in the House.
The national election results didn’t bring good news either as Republicans took control of the Senate. This will create even more gridlock and standoffs between the White House administration and the national House and Senate. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s infamous global warming denier who is about to turn 80, is even poised to become chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The planet is definitely in more danger now because of Inhofe’s intractable position on climate change, and that’s not hyperbole.
The political atmosphere over the next two years on both the state and federal level will definitely be frustrating and ugly for progressives. That’s why it’s important to keep fighting rather than give up. I believe there is hope for a massive correction on the national level in the 2016 election. It’s also possible the Oklahoma electorate will grow tired of the conservative extremism in state government by then but, frankly, a significant shift might be ten or more years away, and even that is uncertain to me.
The reasons for the demise of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma are myriad, some of which are outside its control. The party faces a hostile and blatantly unfair corporate media, which is not above distorting facts or omitting crucial information about political issues. There is the insidious paranoid anti-President Barack Obama hysteria anchored in racism and fueled subtly by many state media outlets. This racism then affects how voters perceive Democrats in general here. There are too many, dare I say arrogant, “leaders” and “activists” and “experts” who think they know the magic solution or want people to adopt their ideas or political approaches solely and not enough people who want to unite around some common causes despite differences in opinions. There are too many supposed progressives who sit scared on the sidelines and won’t speak up because of some exaggerated fear of reprisal.
Here’s how I view the political reality: There’s no one answer or one candidate here that can bring about change. Some of what we’re experiencing politically here is beyond our control. It might take a major crisis for change to occur or we might be slowly but surely heading to a statewide abyss. What happens after even more tax cuts here when the Oklahoma oil and gas boom goes bust, which it surely will?
But, today, the main worry for progressives here should be battle fatigue. How do we get back up after getting knocked down over and over again? How do we continue to support candidates when we know they are the better person for the office but also know they will lose by landslide margins and leave us open to mocking and ridicule by our opponents?
The only answer I have to these questions is for progressives to keep fighting. It may well be that you might not even live to see the change you fought for, but you would have lived a life based on reality and inclusive principles that include believing in equality and social justice for everyone. Change is sometimes extremely slow and incremental. Don’t give up.
The question is not so much whether GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is the incarnation of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels as it is why approximately half the voting electorate in the country doesn’t apparently care a prominent politician is telling obvious lie after obvious lie in a crass bid to get elected.
The other question is whether Ryan remains intentionally deceitful because he knows he can get away with it because his supporters and the media don’t care or whether he’s simply a pathological liar, who can’t help himself because of a psychological disorder. Perhaps, it’s a combination of both.
Make no mistake. I’m not playing the Nazi card on Ryan, though I do think his nomination acceptance speech was filled with, as one pundit put it, “brazen lies.” The Goebbels charge became part of the political stew after the leader of the California Democratic Party, John Burton, compared Ryan to Hitler’s minister of propaganda in a newspaper interview. His comments have been widely criticized by Republicans, of course, and even the Obama camp has disavowed the comparison.
But, in the end, doesn’t Ryan’s speech just become part of the static of politicospeak? Isn’t all politicospeak some form of embellishment, hyperbole, rhetoric, distortion, exaggeration, twisted symbolism, faulty metaphors, intentional omissions, etc.? I believe this is what the Republicans hope voters think this year and what the media accepts, with a cynical shrug, as politics as usual. That’s just the way it is, right?
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today, and with polls showing President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney virtually tied in the polls, the issue of Ryan’s lies should be at the forefront of the national political debate.
Ryan’s lies do matter. There is a distinction between arguing the rhetoric of “Obamacare will bankrupt the country” or “Romney likes to fire people” than specifically and openly telling lies about easily verifiable historical events, which is the case with Ryan. If the voting electorate in this country can’t or won’t make the distinction, then these are, indeed, dark days.
I won’t go through each lie in Ryan’s speech last week, which would be a tedious and redundant task. Here’s Factcheck.org’s take on it. One lie I did find extremely reprehensible was Ryan’s claim—delivered in a slow, “can-you-believe-it” diction—that Obama clearly rejected the recommendations of a bipartisan debt reduction commission. In fact, there was never a formal recommendation because Ryan, along with others, who served on the commission, opposed the plan.
So let’s be clear: Ryan helped kill a debt-reduction plan that he now falsely claims the president didn't support, and that makes Obama an awful person. Well, if Ryan didn't support the plan either, then doesn't make him just as much of a bad person?
For me, what’s most reprehensible about this lie is in its delivery. The handsome Ryan gazed into the camera with his sad blue eyes, slowed his speech considerably, and said, “He created a new bipartisan debt commission. [Pause] They came back with an urgent report. [Pause] He thanks them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” Only the first line of that is anywhere close to the truth. There never was a formal “urgent report” because certain people on the commission—Ryan was one of them—didn’t support the final report. How can this not be considered an obvious lie? Where’s the embellishment or exaggeration or ambiguity? It’s just a lie.
Another telling lie that surfaced recently is Ryan’s whopper than he once ran a marathon in under three hours, an incredible feat of athleticism. He made the claim in a radio interview. Turns out, he has only participated in one marathon in his life, and he didn’t even break the four-hour mark, according to the magazine Runner’s World.
No one doubts that Ryan isn’t in great physical shape so why the obvious lie? He later claimed he simply forgot his time, but any amateur runner who has completed just one marathon and finished it under three hours is probably going to remember it quite clearly. Again, this brings up the issue of pathology. Everyone lies, but some people repeatedly lie when they simply don’t have to, and this, in my view, can mean the chronic liar may have a mental disorder.
Ryan’s supporters will no doubt take his explanation at face value or just consider the marathon lie as harmless bravado, but I would argue it shows, in the context of his other lies, at the very least a character deficit.
If the Democrats can’t get some traction on the issue of Ryan’s lies, and other GOP-based lies, at their convention this week, then we should wonder if the new political-communication and media paradigm in this country has come to this: The truth is dead. Or, in a more cynical view, has the truth in a political sense been dead and resurrected in cycles throughout history and we’re now in the “dead” zone?
The Goebbels reference might not be helpful, but how the Democrats respond to blatant GOP lying this political season is perhaps more important than whether Obama wins a second term. I know some Democrats won’t like that idea, but I believe—I WANT to believe—there are millions of voters who still seek truth above party affiliation or the achievements of one leader. Play the convention to that crowd, ditch the politicospeech, which will obviously lead to counter-charges of lying, and let’s see what happens.