The Incredibly Short Shelf Life of a Fox News Political Freakout
"Study of a Prussian Household Having Its Morning Hate," from Mr. Punch's History of the Great War
So a short while back Patton Oswalt doppleganger and 5th District representative Mike Quigley had the kind of day that makes me question why anyone would want to be a politician:
Quigley, a Democratic Chicago congressman, had a relatively light Saturday recently. He played ice hockey in the morning, did a beach cleanup with the Sierra Club and hit four block parties in the 32nd, 43rd and 44th Wards. Along the way he surfaced at a conference held by the American Islamic College. It was a quick in-and-out, with remarks to perhaps 100 attendees about the strengths of American pluralism, the sort he makes to many groups.
That's a "light Saturday": a morning game of hockey, a beach cleanup, three constituent meet-and-greets, and a speech. It reminds me of an essay from P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores, in which he profiles a low-level congressman from (IIRC) Indiana, focusing on the extraordinary amount of handshaking and vague-things-saying that makes up not just a pol's time on the campaign trail but his or her entire life. When politicians are acting squirrely, inaccessible, or just talking nonsense, I try to recall that essay and at least have some sympathy for the mentally exhausting nature of the job.
Oh, and then, as James Warren goes on to describe, Quigley's basically SOP remarks to the American Islamic College conference, a small part of a weekend day for a nationally obscure congressman, caused a massive screaming cable-news freakout.
And I missed it completely. It seems that Quigley's remarks were picked up by Rebel Pundit ("a group effort based in Chicago, the belly of the progressive beast"), which crossposted to Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site, was picked up by Glenn Beck's outfit The Blaze (557 terrifying comments, 2k Facebook likes), and was then echoed by a handful of blogs like Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs before washing up on the shores of Fox News.
And then, like that, it was gone. Not every stink turns into a controversy. It's almost encouraging to see one burn out of its own lack of fuel.
It reminds me of the much larger oxygen-sucking panic about the "Ground Zero Mosque" (neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque—discuss), which opened Saturday to a pleasing uneventfulness.
Well, at least we occasionally try to curb school bullies. We clearly don’t when it comes to the bullies who can drive our public dialogue.
For my part I tend to agree with Woodrow Wilson—you might have heard of him, he was a liberal fascist who once ran America—as cited in Robert Jackson's dissent in Terminello v. Chicago, which arose when a screeching yahoo almost caused a riot back in the day when the existential threat du jour was "atheistic, communistic Jewish or Zionist Jews" and the "people of Argentine," among others:
I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking. It cannot be so easily discovered if you allow him to remain silent and look wise, but if you let him speak, the secret is out and the world knows that he is a fool. So it is by the exposure of folly that it is defeated; not by the seclusion of folly, and in this free air of free speech men get into that sort of communication with one another which constitutes the basis of all common achievement.
The Two Minutes' Hate may have seemed like a practical idea before the advent of 24-hour cable news, but two minutes' hate segments with occasional commercials for gold and vitamins seem just as exhausting to the bullies as it does to those who would curb them. Some days we just have to rest on the eternal power of the shrug.