Know what the big disconnect in America is? It’s not red state-blue state. It’s not liberal-conservative. It’s not any manner of racial or technological divide, or wage gap, or urban-rural split, or married people vs. single people, or soccer moms vs. NASCAR dads, or anything like that.
It’s this: Some people are obsessively driven to do the same thing again and again, and other people — most people — just couldn’t care less.
The obsessives include the media, the entertainment industry, the leaders of business and finance, politicians, and all their assorted flacks and hangers-on. The rest include everybody else. There are a lot more of the rest of us.
Throw the press a juicy bone, like a kidnapped child, a celebrity in trouble, whatever. Then watch the whole pack turn like a school of feeding fish, like a single organism, chewing and chewing and chewing until the rest of the country says, “Enough, already!” It’s not just the tabloid stuff. Political journalism does the same thing. There’s the designated rave of the day, and everybody has to weigh in on it.
The obsessives, whether consciously or not, know that the way to win is to tire out the other side. That’s how the student rebellions of the 1960s succeeded. School administrators then belonged to the non-obsessive class, and, what’s more, were generally inclined to peacemaking and placating. You can’t placate an obsessive. He just keeps coming. The Clintonites won the impeachment fight that way. They knew if they made the same noises over and over again, the public would mostly turn away.
This split does have liberal-conservative overtones, but not the in the modern, ideological sense — more in the historic sense of conservatives being inclined to preserve an existing order. Peter Hannaford, writing in The American Prowler last week, quoted President Calvin Coolidge speaking in 1926 on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence:
“If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.”
That is, of course, exactly the way most ordinary people think. But there rings from Coolidge’s wonderful words something faintly exasperated and parental: “How many times do I have to tell you…?” And on the willful childish side, you can almost hear the wails of the social justice obsessives demanding the latest “right”: universal health care, universal furniture, whatever.
Almost nobody has written or spoken for the vast majority of the ordinary, the non-obsessed. Ronald Reagan tapped into that audience, to the befuddlement of the obsessed media, who couldn’t understand what people saw in him. Grover Norquist has tried to make a coalition out of the “leave us alones,” a paradox if there ever was one. Richard Nixon reached out to the silent majority. But by the very nature of things, no one in the obsessed crowd can truly speak for all the rest of us.
So I will.
Most people like it that we can turn on CNN or CNBC once every couple of months, when the bombs fall on Iraq, or when an election blows up, and watch Christiane Amanpour bravely bouncing on her toes against some night sky on the other side of the world, or see Chris Matthews interview Howard Fineman. Most people accept that we might have to put up with Senator Robert Byrd bloviating about some Dixie-fried outrage, or with Al Sharpton whipping up some frenzy or other — once in a while. Most folks like to be able to check in with Ann Coulter for a good laugh here and there. Many of us periodically enjoy the nonsense of the likes of Rosie O’Donnell or Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart or Steven Spielberg.
But any of us ordinary folks would be horrified actually to have to be Steven Spielberg or Rosie O’Donnell or Howard Fineman or Christiane Amanpour twenty-fours a day, seven days a week. And most of the time, what most of us want to say to the whole sodding bunch of them, politicians, celebrities, commentators, newsies, and all, is this:
Shut up. Go away. Take a hike. Give it a rest.
My friend Jeff Jacoby writes at least once a year, advocating that governments at all levels follow the example of states like New Hampshire or Montana, where the legislatures meet for something like 16 weeks every other year.
This is a good idea, a very good idea. One only wishes that the whole yakkety culture would take it to heart.
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