Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Open Plea to Chris Matthews...

…Lawrence O’Donnell, Rachel Maddow, David Gregory, Gwen Ifill, Wolf Blitzer, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams and just about anybody else who gets the chance to interview political candidates and elected officials over the coming months.
Or, lets call this a Maybe Now? Redux. There’ve been some pixels and ink dedicated lately to the issue of partisan intransigence in the House and even the Senate. Initiated by an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last month by nonpartisan congressional historians Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, a number of writers, pundits and other public figures have alluded to the unwillingness, inability or just plain refusal of Republicans in elected office to compromise with Democrats in order to pass legislation. Some Republican candidates have been outspoken in their belief that their refusal to compromise is one of their strongest virtues.

I’m singling out Matthews in the title because Hardball has long been one of my favorite opinion shows and because he does a better job than most figures in his profession of cutting through an interviewee’s smokescreens and getting to the truth. He does this by refusing to accept answers at face value, and not treating their stated assumptions, prejudices or any unsubstantiated claims as facts. It’s this kind of incisive but even handed journalistic inquiry that is the only real hope of untangling the knot that our current government finds itself tied up in.


Obviously, Democrats will blame the current impasse on Republicans and Republicans will point to examples that put the onus on Democrats. But journalists have the tools and the opportunity to untangle the mess, exposing obfuscation and posturing while identifying genuine efforts at consensus building and problem solving.


The first question that has to be asked particularly of Republicans was suggested in the earlier post on May 4: “Do you believe that Democrats, Liberals and Progressives have a legitimate say – a legitimate right to participate – in governing the country?” The answer to this simple question will have profound implications for everything said afterward in the interview and for that individual’s subsequent words and actions. If the answer is “yes” then the follow-up question will have to be “Well what’s wrong with compromising then?” If the answer is “no,” follow-up questions can go directly to the heart of how they could possibly expect to get anything accomplished in a legislative body populated with people whom they regard as unfit to govern.

As long as our media outlets remain a welcoming platform for Republican legislators to simply excoriate their Democratic counterparts and ideas while repeating their own unchallenged bumper sticker talking points, they remain under no obligation to perform the duty they were sent to Washington for: to govern the country.


This doesn’t have to mean hunting down and harassing only Republicans. By all means, ask Democrats the same questions. But I have to say I got a damn good idea how different the answers will be: One need only read over a certain former Republican Speaker of the House's "memo" to his fellow legislators instructing them in the language they should use when describing their Democratic counterparts to gauge the respect GOP lawmakers have for their colleagues across the aisle. Besides, for thirty years, I’ve been cruising the radio dial, listening for the Liberal Media’s twisting of American ideals and strength of purpose. What I’ve heard is Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and O’Reilly characterizing Liberals and Democrats as perverts and degenerates, nothing less than genuine enemies of America and of decency itself. Now that they run the Republican Party and dictate to their elected officials, how much does anyone think the GOP can actually accomplish as long as there are any Democrats left in government?


And further, how long will it take and -- more importantly -- how much will it cost, for the GOP to get rid of them all?

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