In recent times, on his show Hardball, Chris Matthews has called the Republican member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, a “balloon head”, “pretty close to a nut case”, and has accused her, facetiously I assume, of being hypnotized.
This criticism is not at all helpful.
I admit I have not watched nearly as much Fox News as I have MSNBC. But judging from those admittedly unequal samplings, it appears that the MSNBC approach is to call the other side on the lack of factual underpinnings for their ideologically driven assertions.
The other side fights back less with evidence-based counter-arguments than with moral indignation and insinuating labeling, the “umbrella” accusation being that the president – and, by association, his supporters – is not “one of us.”
That, basically, is the primary distinction. One side fights with factual evidence; the other, with name-calling. (Full disclosure: I’m with the evidence-based crowd.)
Now, however, it’s getting muddy, because here’s Chris Matthews, the, generally, facts-arguing commentator,
Resorting to name-calling.
This is, as mentioned, not helpful. And here’s why.
First of all, those of us who are longstanding residents of the fact-based community are now legitimately vulnerable to the oft-heard schoolyard taunt:
“They do it too.”
It is easily provable – by counting – that one side “does it” considerably more often than the other. But even so, it’s
Goodbye moral high ground.
Secondly, notwithstanding the fact that Bachmann’s questionable assertions – for example, that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery when they didn’t – earned her the epithet “balloon head”, Matthews ignores the fact that Bachmann’s calculated pronouncements make perfect, persuasive and energizing sense to the audience she was speaking to.
Third – and this one’s tied to “second” – Matthews – representing “the enemy” – allotting considerable airtime for his, arguably, unhinged and, inarguably, disrespectful assault on Bachmann, increases Bachmann’s legitimacy and stature. Nobody attacks a “nobody.” Which, by definition, validates Representative Bachmann as a powerfully emerging “somebody.”
Fourthly, it’s not real classy attacking a woman. And for a liberal, doing so in terms, to which men who make similar assertions to Bachmann’s are generally immune, Matthews’ remarks seem embarrassingly hypocritical.
I suppose it can be statistically determined whether name-calling works as a strategy for energizing support from your political base. I suspect that it does. Emotion stirs up the blood. And propels the stirred-up to the polls.
But personal attacks also broaden and deepen the political divide, making it even harder – it’s already crazy hard due to the way our political system is structured – for the men and women sent to Washington to work together to find answers to our most urgent and difficult national concerns. Their stirred-up constituents will simply not permit it.
I know using intemperate language is about ratings. I know it’s about gamesmanship. I know it’s about gaining the strategic upper hand any way you can.
The thing is, beyond show business and the “down and dirty” of political combat, there’s something real going on here. Real people in this country need actual help. Real problems need thoughtfully considered solutions. Real injustices need to be reversed. And real changes need to be considered, so that government can do what it was meant to do creatively, productively, responsibly and efficiently.
For these essential things to happen, the least helpful approach I can imagine is name-calling.
My “facts based” team used to understand that.
But apparently they’ve forgotten.