I don’t want to put myself above anyone else here, so let me begin by saying that yes, I hate you. And wipe that feigned look of shock from your face. You hate me too.
There was a scene in the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David was about to get together with an actress who he had been courting for the several months since his wife gave him (as a tenth anniversary gift) the greenlight for one extramarital interlude. But somewhere between canoodling on the couch and the real deal, Larry noticed that the other woman had a framed photo of President Bush on her dressing room table. And that was it. Larry couldn’t do it. Defeated and deflated, he left the room.
Let’s face it. This is an extremely understated version of the way members of the two parties currently feel about one another. We live in different communities. We react to the same events and announcements in completely different ways. And we shout at each other. The current state of interparty relations could be best described as The Hate.
So how did it happen? How did we go from disagreeing with one another to hating each other with such fervent passion (aside from the obvious answer that it is all fill-in-the-blank’s fault)?
Part of the answer has to do with the insane amount of media coverage now given, not to the issues themselves but to the inside-baseball strategies employed by both parties to discredit, soil and ultimately destroy one another.
The sports analogy is probably worth exploring – although most people know a whole lot more details about their favorite sport teams than they do about the political issues of the day. Any sports fan has experienced the rivalry. We go on hating the opposing team and sort of hating the opposing fans long after the games end. Meanwhile, the actual participants in the sport take their showers, put on their street clothes, go home and get on with their lives. Many players are best friends with someone from an opposing team.
The same is, or at least was, true when it comes to political pundits. The coverage of politics as a sport is entertaining and it sells. So the pundits rip into one another for an hour or so and then get up, shake hands, tell a few jokes and head off to lunch. The viewers are left with the hate. That’s why most political show audience members could never believe that James Carville and Mary Matalin actually touched each other intimately (even though on the perversion scale she is so clearly an S and he is so obviously an M).
Right Wing radio exists to blast away at those evil liberals. And Left Wing radio just launched what they hope will be their biggest show, the title of which (The O’Franken Factor) is a clear indication of its chief goals. We have gone from doing the debate to doing the dozens. And we get it twenty-four hours a day. The pundits go off the air. The haters just move on to the next show (often times, we don’t even need to touch the dial). The coverage never stops. The game is never over. The hate becomes institutionalized.
And now the hate that has been marketed into the very fabric of the American public consciousness is working its way back up (or down) to the pundits and the politicians. If hate sells, how do you (why would you) ever turn it off? There is less hand-shaking at the end of the political shows and less respect among colleagues in the Senate and the House. We don’t want compromises or solutions. If someone offered Red Sox fans a salve that would make them feel better about Yankee successes, think anyone would use it?
Would you want something wonderful to happen in America even if it meant that the opposing party got all the credit and was, in fact, right all along? Ever sort of hope that Osama gets caught at a moment that is most beneficial to your man in the presidential race? We are in fact addicted to the hate. What gets your juices flowing more: A great, new policy idea from the guy you’re supporting or an offensive gaffe by the guy you hate? We thought 9-11 would bring us together. Instead we use it to attack the other party. And that gets to the heart of the problem. This isn’t a game. Somewhere along the way the contempt will become too extreme (if it isn’t already). Carville and Matalin may stay married, but the creative intimacy will disappear and the metal trunk filled with whips, chains, handcuffs and an industrial-grade buffer will remain un-opened at the foot of their two twin beds.
Again, I don’t want to put myself in some kind of a category of higher thought or meaning. I hate you even more now that I’ve written several paragraphs worth of content without letting off some steam and attacking you. I sort of hate myself for hating you so much but I mostly hate you for making me feel this way. I am as much a victim of this disease as anyone and I don’t see a cure for any of us anytime soon.
If it gets much worse, I may have to hump a Republican.