gotcha_logoHarry 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.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

15 thoughts on “Gotcha”

  1. People, including our politicians, do indeed need to grow up.

    Someone like Reid shouldn’t be afraid to say “Yes, I sure as hell meant there are racist voters in this country who can have a significant impact on the outcome of an election.”

    A conservative friend of mine last night said “Well, race shouldn’t matter in America.” Yeah, well it does matter and to pretend it doesn’t does nothing to advance the cause of eradicating it. It’s kind of like when folks go to AA. The first step is admitting there’s a problem.

  2. Thanks for the Smothers Brothers’ moment. Remembering how controversial they were in their few years on television, points to changes. Unfortunately, the Gotcha Trap seems permanently embedded in our political culture. Well, it shows up in other places, too, but it’s a staple of Legacy Party games.

    I’m not hopeful it’s going away.

  3. This is from an email I sent to that conservative friend this morning:

    You can call Senator Reid’s comments “cynical,” but you have yet to tell me what’s incorrect about them. The senator did NOT say that a majority of Americans would vote against someon who is black. Reid is simply and correctly pointing out that race does play a role in our society and therefore in our elections, even though we all wish it did not.

    Also, if race plays no role, then I assume conservatives are going to retract their nearly daily commentaries during the election that Mr. Obama was only getting traction BECAUSE he is black.

    We all speak with different dialects. Hillary Clinton speaks with a Great Lakes dialect that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh routinely call “shrill.” I speak with a Southern dialect that women from the Northeast find sexy but men from the Northeast think sounds ignorant. I can turn up that Southern dialect when I’m at the rodeo, but tone it down when I’m on the radio. (That was a good line, I’ll remember it.) President Obama speaks with a Negro dialect when he speaks at a black church, and he spoke without it in Presidential debates.

    The problem I have with Reid is that he doesn’t forcefully make the argument the way I’m doing here. Instead he allows his clumsy statement to speak for him. We need to have this discussion about race out in the open, not in a backroom somewhere with cigar smoke filling the air.

    1. Well said indeed. We don’t talk enough about race in America, and there are plenty of political science types — especially a fella named Rodney Hero — who tell us race remains a critical determinant of election outcomes. Also, I’ll listen to the Rs on race matters when they stop their long-term efforts at suppressing the votes of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and other non-white Americans. I won’t be lectured on race issues by cynical (an appropriate use of the term) members of a nearly all-white party that maintains power by suppressing the votes of minorities.

  4. Please notify me when a politician in DC acts like an adult. I want to have fireworks and balloons. They would rather talk about nonsense than go about the business of the country because most of them are so dumb they don’t even know why they are there. Yep.
    Fed up and tired of their games.

  5. There is nothing new about all of this. Back in the 1960s I predicted that the first African American to be elected president would be a lot like Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke in skin color, dress and speech. I also thought he would probably be running as a Republican; but of course the Republican Party has changed radically since then (otherwise, General Colin Powell might have made the prediction 100% perfect). I do not claim to be particularly prescient in the matter: it was simply a recognition of the psychology of white America then and now (just as understanding that the first Catholic President would have to be someone who was very secular in outlook, and that the first Jewish President will undoubtedly be someone who doesn’t have a very good command of Yiddish idiom).

  6. “…delight in giving one another wedgies!”

    Thanks, Glenn. That comment alone defines the Pershing Junior High School boy’s locker room mentality that we continue to see in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. I keep hoping for term limits in congress at both Federal and State levels, and elected officials who are responsible to their constituents. Call me naive, but hopeful.

    1. You are so right with the Pershing analogy, Mike. I”m tempted by term limits. I worry about enhancing the power of the lobby and the full-time bureaucrats, though, by leaving inexperienced elected newcomers at their mercy. So term limits needs to be accompanied by serious campaign and lobby reform: public finance of campaigns, lobby spending prohibitions, etc.

  7. Good idea Glenn, but I get a waff of deja vu when anyone suggests, “serious campaign and lobby reform,” since that usually means that the Red Foxes are watching those other darn Gray Foxes to make sure they don’t mess with their agendas. Excuse my barnyard humor, but it seems us poor roosters and chickens end up getting “‘et” in the “end.”

  8. The Kinky Friedman political canvass isn’t going anywhere. It’s still a riddle where it started. Citizens ought to conduct analogous pit. The plight is, conviction is a spectral doohickey. Exploiting infatuated yet unclear memories or contracts of the former in a command for the top position in the situation is affordable.

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