Harry Reid is the latest hapless officeholder to fall into the trapdoor of Gotchaville as Republicans turn suddenly anti-racist and demand he resign because of his remarks about Barack Obama’s light skin and speaking style.
Will this adolescent game of Gotcha ever end? Are America’s political elite so juvenile they can’t think of anything more productive to do than hop in a circle of ridicule around their victims, pointing fingers, sticking out tongues and shreiking, “Na na, na na na?” It probably won’t end, because it’s a game that requires zero intelligence, zero moral insight, no courage and little chance of bad consequences.
This reminds again of the old Smothers Brothers joke.
Tommy: It’s just that you can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear.
Dick: Running the country?
Tommy: You can tell it by how much clothes people wear…
Dick: You mean like some people can afford more clothes on and other people less clothes on?
Tommy: That’s right. Exactly. See, the ordinary people are the less-ons. See?
Dick: Uh-huh. They’re the less-ons. Then who’s runing the country?
Tommy: The morons.
I was interviewed on the Scott Braddock KRLD Dallas radio show yesterday. The topic was the flap over Reid’s remarks. I said I was sick of Gotcha politics. The Republican on the show, Bryan Preston of the Texas GOP, took the old low road that looks like a high road and said Reid shouldn’t resign as majority leader because the GOP wanted someone that dumb to stay on.
Republicans are busy saying Trent Lott was forced to resign by Democrats after Lott defended Strom Thurmand’s segregation party in public comments. The truth is, embarrassed Republicans, then in charge of the Senate (obviously — Lott was Majority Leader), forced Lott out.
Sure, plenty of Democrats called out Lott for his remarks. He said, after all, that “the country wouldn’t have all these problems” if Thurmand’s segregationist campaign for president back in the ’40s had been successful.
Now, there is a clear moral difference between backing segregation as Lott did and pointing out that racism still exists in America, as Reid did, awkwardly, when he said Obama’s light skin color and polished speaking style would help him get elected president.
Americans are smart enough to note the distinction. I am truly weary of endless, meaningless Gotcha. America is embroiled in two foreign conflicts. The icecaps are melting. The economy remains troubled. Millions of Americans are out of work. The health care crisis continues. Public education is a shambles. Cities and states are going broke. Bridges are falling down. Meanwhile, the political elite delight in giving one another wedgies.
One consequence of this stupid game is the chilling effect it has on the national political conversation. Politicians and officeholders are always on the lookout for the old Gotcha Trap Door. Consequently, they tend to stay on the safe ground: No new taxes, support education, fight for health care, get the job done, blah blah blah blah blah.
Criticizing the comments of one’s political opponents is fair game. Controversial statements, even boneheaded statements and mistakes, can open the way toward important political conversations and even insights. Jumping immediately to Gotcha turns it all into a question of “will he or won’t he/she resign.”
It’s one reason racism has been allowed to fester beneath the thin skin of our public life. We can’t talk about it because as soon as someone does the trapdoor opens, the Gotcha victim disappears, and the opportunity for new insight or just further conversation is lost.
We gotta grow up. Here’s the clip of the Smothers Brothers, showed during their 2008 appearance on Craig Ferguson.