Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Copyright © 2011 Sun-Sentinel
I never had a stomach for blood sports, not even as a kid when Muhammad Ali was a brand name and Rocky Balboa was the heavyweight champion of the cinematic world.
Graphic, educational videos deemed acceptable to show a 12-year-old seeking his hunting license took care of any need I may have had to wield a gun. The gruesome idea of dog fighting and cockfighting only served to reinforce my idea that not all humans are human after all.
Now, as an adult, it appears I have no choice but to watch blood sports, daily, if I choose to stay engaged in politics. As the presidential primary debate season drags on and gets nastier, I have started to doubt there are any political rules of engagement anymore, and that all shots are fair – even those below the belt. The current political environment is so offensive that debates should be rated NC-17, patently for adults, and warnings should caution observers that content might not be appropriate for all viewers.
Worse, bloodthirsty audiences encourage silly sucker punches, while angry citizens occupy Wall Street – and Main Streets across the world – with such concern they don’t mind being arrested. Meanwhile, the only triumphs we celebrate together are deaths of people like Osama bin Laden, al-Awlaki and now Moammar Gadhafi. I can’t tell if we are sliding backward on the spectrum of civility, or if the Internet and our ability to broadcast everything in high-definition and in real time are to blame for uncovering this horrifying show of political reality.
I can, however, tell that the people playing these games, and playing them up, seem to love the roar of the crowd – and they are playing to the crowd any chance they can. Like shooting skeet, any question thrown in the air will be shot out of the sky with a bazooka – not a shotgun – just so shattered clay pieces will rain across each exhilarated audience.
Like a dog and pony show, Rick Santorum travels the country and broadcasts his anti-gay rhetoric, collecting names and addresses of loyal groupies as he goes from state to state. Rick Perry spouts off about abortion and his death penalty assertions, creating a constituent and donor base hungry for the red meat he serves his indulgent crowds. And of course, Mitt Romney sidesteps discussions about universal health care and eternal existence, conscious that any argument tying him to ideals he held earlier in life, or beliefs of what the afterlife holds, may end his future political life. The other candidates, no one really cares about.
If it all seems strategically orchestrated, as if the candidates are not running against each other at all, it’s because it is and they aren’t. Each candidate’s persona is a caricature of an angry citizen. As each “hopeful” waves hot-button issues above his or her head like a litmus strip – hoping to see what turns observers blue and what turns them red – each motivated marionette sees an inevitable future where he or she will be forced to combine forces behind the one person nominated to represent the party.
Unfortunately for Republicans, like Democrats four years ago, that person will be a Frankenstein of rhetoric, a melted pot of meanness, fit to take on the opposition.
Like a strip of sticky tape meant to catch the support of the electorate, the person you see tomorrow will be made of parts and pieces of the people you saw yesterday in these ugly debates. You might be left with vague memories of something someone once said that was stupid, or remember a particularly memorable zinger but all the other silliness will be as Joe Scarborough recently asserted: the banter of “idiots.”
But I don’t think these people are idiots. I think they are opportunists.
They are not so much a manifestation of our discontent as they are the cause of it. When you use a political stage to enrage and divide, it doesn’t matter what the public ultimately decides; it only matters that those in the ring may not actually be interested in seeing all of us as one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all, at all.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.