Saturday, May 05, 2007

Love in a Time of Cruelty

“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.”
- 2 Timothy 3:1-3 (New Living Translation)

I read last night that Don Imus is filing a hundred and twenty million dollar lawsuit against CBS, his former employer. According to his attorney a clause in the contract he signed with CBS gave him full contractual permission to say many of the outrageous things he’s said over the years.

Legal experts seem to think he has a pretty fair chance of winning at least the forty million dollars in contracted salary in some sort of a settlement with CBS.

I guess that enjoying the pain and distress of others pays, and it pays handsomely. CBS knew this, as did MSNBC when they brought Don Imus on board. ABC was aware of this twisted business adage when they hired Rosie O’Donnell. Everyone involved, from the on screen purveyors to the honchos in the boardrooms, were part of a marriage of convenience. The net result was that the airwaves have been crackling with cruelty and the profits have been skyrocketing.

I’d like to think that the recent sackings will end the mayhem, but I’m not that naïve. You see, Rosie and Imus were but two in a fraternity/sorority of malice for money. Someone else will replace them. There will be one for the right wing and another for the left to ensure balance. However it plays out, one thing is certain - an updated iteration will follow as surely as the hurricane’s winds only changes direction once the eye passes.

It’s not like this is all new to us. These recent episodes are just links in a long chain of smut storms that have plagued us for as long as I can remember. There were the Dixiecrats in the late forties, followed by the Klu Klux Klan in the fifties. In the sixties it was the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, followed by Stokely Carmichael in the seventies. In the eighties, Democrats expressed their contempt for Ronald Reagan; in the nineties, Republicans, the Moral Majority, journalists, and right wingers savaged Bill Clinton. The page turned again at the dawning of the new millennium with Democrats, environmentalists, feminists, leftists, and journalists vilifying George Bush.

Each episode comes under the rubric of free speech. “It’s the price we must pay for the right to free speech,” we’re told. And who am I to argue, especially when it pays so well. Cruelty wins elections. Cruelty has the magical power to turn ledgers from red to black. Cruelty gets its practitioners noticed. Sometimes it even makes them famous.

To make matters worse, things are heating up rather than cooling down. People seem to hate more than they used to. Perhaps it’s an illusion, brought on by the mechanisms of free expression we’ve invented. Perhaps we’ve invented new and wondrous ways to express the venoms that infect us. Nowadays we’re wired like never before and we’re letting people know what we think.

What is it about this cruelty that makes it so successful? I don’t know. About as close as I can come is that Harvey Cox’s observation of media preachers like Jimmy Swaggart is eerily accurate. It describes our current climate all too well. The names and philosophies of the players change, but the hate emanating from the root is all too familiar:

“I think that Wright is correct that Swaggart was in touch with something fearsome but real in all of us. But Swaggart was also an unprincipled megalomaniac, a cruel and mean-tempered man whose rambling sermons attacked “faggots” and Catholics and the leadership of his own denomination with equal ferocity. I do not believe, however, that in saying no to Swaggart’s version of Pentecostal Christianity, as many Pentecostals do, one can deny the spiritual forces he was able to conjure. Denying them does not make them go away. Nor does exploiting them for sordid purposes mean that they cannot also inspire generosity and compassion. I think that Swaggart is a warning signal to the tired mainline churches, pointing to genuine spiritual energies most of them have forgotten. But to Pentecostals he is also a warning signal, a reminder that the fire from heaven can burn and destroy as well as purify and inspire.”

There’s a real temptation here. We can tune in. We can also enter the fray and pile on along with Imus, Rosie, Swaggart, and others like them. It’s fun; it’s entertaining. But I think it’s a temptation we must resist. We need to tune in to Someone else. Living by the precepts of I Corinthians 13 may not increase our earthly wealth, but it certainly will enrich us in ways we can only imagine now. It will also shift the poles of power in our lives from negative to positive. In the light of recent events, that would be a welcome change indeed!


Rob in L.A. said...

"In the eighties, Democrats expressed their contempt for Ronald Reagan; in the nineties, Republicans, the Moral Majority, journalists, and right wingers savaged Bill Clinton. The page turned again at the dawning of the new millennium with Democrats, environmentalists, feminists, leftists, and journalists vilifying George Bush."

I think that the "savaging" of Bill Clinton when he was in office was of a different character than political criticisms of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. To say that conservatives treated Clinton the same way that Democrats treated Reagan or are now treating Bush is to overlook the differences.

Contrary to what Phil says, I don’t remember the Democrats during the 1980s as expressing "contempt" for Reagan. Then as now, Reagan was a very popular president (not with me, but with much of the rest of the country), and no Democratic politician dared criticize him too harshly for fear of alienating the Democratic voters who liked him.

To me, the political rhetoric in the mainstream heated up when Clinton became president. Maybe it was because Clinton won the White House by pluralities, and not by majorities, but mainstream voices critical of Clinton sounded much harsher, to my ears, than mainstream criticism of Reagan or George H.W. Bush did. For example, Rush Limbaugh, syndicated on hundreds of radio stations (and for a while, on TV), was especially blistering in his oral attacks on Clinton. For the life of me, I can’t think of a 1980s mainstream equivalent of Limbaugh that poured such caustic verbal venom on Reagan.

Hostility toward Clinton became especially fierce after the Republicans re-took both houses of Congress in the 1994 election. It seems clear to me that the entire Whitewater investigation, and its various spin-offs, was undertaken for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to dig up something on Clinton that could be used to impeach him. Why else would Republicans replace the original independent counsel in the Whitewater case, Robert B. Fiske, with the relentless Kenneth Starr at a time when the first attorney was ready to wrap up his investigation? Why else would conservatives leak the name of Monica Lewinsky to Matt Drudge just at the time when Clinton’s lawyers and Paula Jones’s lawyers were about to reach a settlement?

As for what the Republicans did to Clinton during the Lewinsky affair, what did the Democrats do to Reagan in the 1980s that would be its equivalent? Iran-Contra? I don’t think so: before their investigations into the scandal began, congressional Democrats took impeachment off the table. And Iran-Contra was a much more serious issue than an extramarital affair with a consenting adult — or even lying about such an affair under oath. Reagan was criticized by Democrats with kid gloves; when Clinton became president, the Republicans’ gloves came off.

I think that Clinton’s greatest sin, to Republicans, was not lying under oath. No, I think it was being a Democrat who had the temerity to get elected president, an office that many Republicans thought of as rightfully theirs. Otherwise, I’m at a loss to explain the Republicans’ vehement dislike of this rather centrist Democrat, a Democrat who pursued some policies that Republicans ought to have admired.

By contrast, you can’t accuse George W. Bush of being a centrist, despite his middle-of-the-road masquerade during the 2000 election. He has spent most of his presidency doing his best to alienate those who disagree with him. As other commentators have said, Bush would rather be President of the Republican Party than President of the United States. Also, the misleading way that he took this country to war with Iraq and his current stubbornness in regards to that conflict don’t help his divisive image. Is it really so surprising that so many non-conservatives dislike him so intensely?

So, I don’t see the anger against Bush Jr. as a balanced inversion of the anger against Clinton. Where I believe that Bush has done much to earn the bitterness against him (what his defenders call "hate" in order to make it sound irrational), I don’t see what Clinton did to deserve such animosity from conservatives — especially when you compare the efficient, centrist way that Clinton ran his administration to the highly partisan, botched job that Bush is doing.

Finally, I don’t think that any meditation on today’s political hate speech is complete without mentioning Ann Coulter. Whether she is saying that some 9/11 widows are enjoying their husbands’ deaths, calling for the poisoning of Justice John Paul Stevens, or suggesting that Timothy McVeigh should have bombed the New York Times building instead, Coulter has taken political discourse in this country to a new low. She got her start in the media by lobbing her invectives at Clinton. I find it interesting that the media tastemakers at the time would consider her mean-spirited, ad hominem, anti-Clinton, anti-Democrat, anti-liberal jeremiads acceptable. Where is her high-profile equivalent on the left calling for the murder of conservatives?

Anonymous said...

Hi. My name is Eugene Gershin. I'd like to welcome you to Obadiah Shoher's blog, Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict.

Obadiah is a pen name of a politician. He writes extremely controversial articles about Israel, the Middle East politics, and terrorism.

Obadiah advocates political rationalism instead of moralizing. He is economic liberal and political conservative.

Google refused advertising our site and Amazon deleted reviews of Obadiah's book. Nevertheless, Obadiah’s is the largest Jewish personal blog, read by more than 100,000 people monthly. 210,000 people from 81 countries downloaded Obadiah’s book. The blog was voted the best overall in People’s Choice: Jewish and Israeli blogs Awards, received Webby Honoree and other awards.

Please help us spread Obadiah's message, and mention the blog in one of your posts, or link to us. We would greatly appreciate your comments at

Best wishes,

Eugene Gershin – Israeli Uncensored News