Friday, July 27, 2012

Noise Pollution from Manufactured Outrage

Yet again, I am amazed by the marvelous, extraordinary, collective dumbassitude of both sides of the political debate.  In the past week, both candidates have been slammed for committing terrible gaffes.  One small problem.  There were no gaffes.  Both made bland, reasonable statements.  Then nutty reporters and political operatives (frequently the same people) turned them into earth shattering scandals.

First, the president stated that nobody is successful on their own.  “Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business you didn’t build that.”  Meaning, you didn’t build the roads and bridges.  No business exists in a vacuum.  Nobody makes it entirely on their own.  No kidding.  All true.  So true it’s boring and obvious. 

He was (yet again) accused of socialism.  This is not a socialist remark.  It’s purely capitalist.  It’s Adam Smith capitalist.  Division of labor.  Because someone else does things like generate power, provide water, collect garbage, deliver mail, and build roads and bridges, you have more time to do what you do best.  That's old school, retro, roots capitalism.

The right seized on the “If you’ve got a business you didn’t build that,” part, and ignored the rest.  Fox and Friends even went so far as to play the lead up to the quote, then edit out the part that puts everything in context, and then play the “gaffe” line.  Nice edit, geniuses.  Do you know what happens when reporters do a hatchet job like that?  Let me refresh your memory.

Not too terribly long ago, someone at NBC chopped up a piece of a phone call between George Zimmerman and a 911 operator.  In the full call, the 911 operator asks for the race of the man Zimmerman is following.  NBC edited that part out, making it sound like Zimmerman mentioned that the Trayvon Martin was black without any prompting.  This made him look like a racist.  When the edit came to light, people at NBC got fired over it.  Who are you firing, Fox and Friends?

And now, on to a similar non-gaffe by Mitt Romney. Apparently, he insulted the London Olympics. One minor problem. He did not even remotely say anything offensive.  Here are his exact words.

Brian Williams: In the short time you’ve been here in London, do they look ready to your experienced eye? 
Mitt Romney: You know it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out, there are a few things that were disconcerting, stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.
So far, he mentioned that he can’t see the future (like about seven billion other people) and that not having security and customs people show up to work so that they can help protect the athletes is “disconcerting” and “not encouraging”.  Okay, maybe the Brits don’t feel great about that, but that’s because they screwed that part up.  That’s valid criticism.  They don’t get to blame Mitt Romney because they dropped the ball.  Words like “Disconcerting” and “not encouraging” are actually fairly mild language for a couple of impressive breakdowns. But he continues:
Mitt Romney: Because in the games…there are three parts that make games successful. Number One, of course, are the athletes, that’s what overwhelmingly the games are about.
This is a boring statement of the obvious. But I guess Obama gets in trouble for those too.  Next, he says:
Mitt Romney: Number Two are the volunteers, and they’ll have great volunteers here.
Actually, sort of a compliment. I know compliments make Irish people uncomfortable, but not English, Scots, and Welsh. Sorry, you can’t take offense at that. But he’s not quite done:
Mitt Romney: But number three are the people of the … of the country do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment, that’s something which we only find out once the actually games begin.
In other words, the games only work if the people make it happen.  Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.  Another bland and obvious statement.  The only thing bad you can say about that is it’s a little noncommittal.

Apparently, that last bit was very quickly interpreted by everyone involved as a presumption that the United Kingdom is incapable of pulling off the Olympics.  I actually find this a bit heartening.  It is trendy for people to claim that Americans are dumb.  I’m glad to see that the British are just as capable of stupidity.

This election is increasingly abhorrent.  We focus on gaffes when they happen, and invent them when they don’t.  I guess I won’t hear anything on the news that’s actually relevant.  You know, the kind of stuff that I could make a decision with.  I guess I’ll just get drunk on election day and pull levers at random.  Drunken voting can’t be much worse than uninformed voting, and the press and pundits seem committed to ensuring that I am not at all informed on anything that’s actually useful.

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