Spite over substance

dem.jpgThis week I received review copies of a pair of new novelty books — y’know, the little square things you find near the bookstore checkout counter — entitled “185 Stupid Things Republicans Have Said” and “185 Stupid Things Democrats Have Said.”

“Perfect for a laugh during what is sure to be a politically charged year, and alphabetized by category for easy perusal, ‘185 Stupid Things ——– Have Said’ is the perfect gift for your favorite light-hearted Republican or Democrat seeking revenge,” says a news release from Andrews McMeel Publishing, appropriately printed with the Democratic release and the Republican release on two sides of the same sheet of paper.

“I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but now I recognize that I did not fully accomplish that goal.” — former president Bill Clinton

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” — President George W. Bush

You get the idea.

rueter.jpgAuthor Ted Rueter “earned a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, both in political science,” the release says, also noting his experience as an aide to a mayor, a Congressman, state lawmakers and several campaigns. “He is also the director of Noise Free America, a national citizens group opposed to noise pollution.”

Well, then, why is he polluting the political landscape with this noise?

Hey, I love a good laugh too. And I admire books that give equal time to thoughtful, opposing political viewpoints on issues of importance.

But what does anyone gain from books like this, which only to confirm people’s already-formed and often all-too-shallow political allegiances? Ha ha, look how the funny Republican stumbled over his words — what a gas! Watch the Democrat play verbal Twister — how entertaining! I always knew the people on the other side were cretins, and now this book proves it!

gop.jpgThis only accelerates the extremely dangerous dumbing-down of American politics and policy; it only cements the partisan rhetoric which has ground real American progress to a halt in recent decades, only deepens the divide. What happens in the halls of government isn’t supposed to be “Us Weekly” fodder; it often involves life-or-death decisions. And, with all due respect to Professor Rueter, you’d think someone with an advanced degree in political science would know that.

Look around — there’s a war on, the economy is in a tailspin, millions lack healthcare insurance, schools are struggling, a presidential election is nigh. But, hey, didja hear that corker from Ann Coulter? Who cares?

There’s no substance in books like these, only a celebration of spite — the kind of spite that eclipses truly important things that are or aren’t happening in the halls of power. These books are a distraction, an anesthetic actively seeking to prevent us from truly listening to each other and finding our way out of the colossal messes we’re in.

And there’s nothing funny about that.

UPDATE @ 4:33 P.M. FRIDAY: Sure, I know — pretty high and mighty from a guy who posts the “Schwarzenegger video of the week.” But not every political journalist is lucky enough to have a bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor, and hopefully this blog is more than just that.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Andrew Alden

    Since you’re against dumbing things down, I hope you have spoken up to the front-page editor who allowed the substance-free slander from Nedra Pickler to take up the main page 1 headline in the Sunday Tribune. “Barack Obama doesn’t put his hand over his heart for the Pedge of Allegiance!” (It was the national anthem) “Michelle Obama hates America!” Pickler even managed to talk about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth without bothering to mention that everything they accused Senator Kerry about in 2004 was a lie. The Trib had no business printing that story, and they seem to be too ashamed to put it on this website. But there it is, black and white, in my paper. I am dismayed.