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The language of oversensitivity

Op-Ed by Sanford D. Horn

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Enough already!

Every word, every thought, every nuanced phrase uttered, has been placed under a microscope to the point that if a candidate doesn’t answer quickly enough he or she isn’t smart enough, but if the same candidate answers too quickly, he or she is too glib and thoughtless.

When confronted with words quoted directly out of someone’s mouth, there’s the accusation that the words have been taken out of context. When a candidate comments on what he or she thought someone else meant, is that candidate a mind reader?

“Sensitivity!,” shouts Joan Rivers in some television commercial, where she parodies herself and her alleged frequent facelifts. In the case of politics, it’s oversensitivity to the nth degree.

Let’s start with the stupid, move to the sublime then tackle the serious. The stupid would have to be the abundance of criticism laden upon Sen. Barrack Obama (D-Ill.) for the use of the word “sweetie” to a reporter on May 14. The claim of sexism couldn’t be uttered fast enough by critics – the same news media who have given Obama free pass after free pass on dealing with the “tough” issues. Quick as a bunny – oops, I am not suggesting that Obama is or should be compared to a bunny – but quick as a bunny nonetheless, Obama left a phone message for the reporter to apologize for the use of the word “sweetie” as well as for not answering her question.

Not answering her question seemed to be completely overlooked, yet was the more egregious of the two “shortcomings.” Sweetie-gate, as every possible misstep by any politician gets the over abused label of “gate” thanks to the true scandal of Watergate, is really much ado about nothing. Who’s kidding who here? Was the reporter damaged beyond the point of being able to work? Should she receive workman’s compensation for mental anguish? At best, this is diaphanous.

The sublime is a bit more serious simply due to the content of the speech given by President George W. Bush before the Knesset in Israel on May 15 in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state.

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,” said Bush to a strong round of applause from the Israeli Knesset audience.

Almost immediately, while the words were still floating in space, the outcry from Obama supporters was cacophonous. Bush accused Obama of being an appeaser, Bush attacked Obama were the claims. This is where that mind reading thing comes into play. Nowhere in Bush’s speech did he mention Obama, or any American at all for that matter. Clearly there is a cross between paranoia and complete and utter guilt on the part of the Obama camp and his supporters.

Quite frankly, Obama should have guilt feelings. Guilt over admitting and apparently taking pride in his willingness to sit down with the leaders of such rogue nations as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. Iran – whose leader called Israel a “stinking corpse,” and wants to wipe the Jewish off the face of the earth. These are state sponsors of terror, sans Venezuela, for now. Even Sen. Clinton referred to Obama’s willingness to meet with such despots as “naive.” I think Obama is such an appeaser is the classic style of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and a man Obama is resembling, politically, more and more – Jimmy Carter, who President Bush may actually have referred to, but I’m not Kreskin.

This sparked a firestorm that, once again, poor Obama is the victim of a right wing cabal – boo hoo. Obama is smart – he never claims to be a victim, but clearly his handlers and supporters have no problem playing the victim card. And this is where the trouble really begins – speaking the truth without the fear of being called a racist, sexist, homophobe or any other –ist or –phobe.

And again, this is attributed to the oversensitivity that plagues our culture today, and seemingly forever more. It seemed all fine and dandy for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) to be a one-time member of the KKK, but when Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) offered remarks of praise for the then centenarian Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Lott was castigated and forced from his committee chairmanships simply because 50 years prior, Thurmond deigned to run for president as a States’ Rights candidate. This was not, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced.

Next up, there was nothing racist about remarks made by former congressman and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) this past March. I have found myself defending the likes of both Ferraro and, gulp-shudder, Hillary Clinton over the past several month for the attacks launched against them. This must tell us something as I have been an active Republican since before I could vote. There was a picture in the local newspaper of me wearing a conventioneer’s hat at age 10 while in the fourth grade casting my ballot for President Gerald Ford in a mock election where Ford emerged victorious.

In the case of Ferraro, she said of Obama’s campaign success, “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.” Ferraro went on to say that if her name had been Jerry, not Geraldine, she would not have been on the ticket in 1984 with former vice president Walter “Fritz” Mondale.

Ferraro made true assertions on all counts. Obama is youthful, energetic, what some might call attractive, intelligent and an articulate speaker. It’s not racist to call someone an articulate speaker, by the way. There are articulate speakers who are black (Condoleezza Rice), and there are inarticulate speakers who are white (Terry Bradshaw). Obama is to the left of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), as hard as that may be to imagine. And just where is Edwards today – on the sidelines having just made the “bold” move to endorse his former colleague. Edwards is youthful, energetic, what some might call attractive, intelligent and an articulate speaker. Hmm – the difference is Obama is black and Edwards is white. Politically, there is but a hairs difference.

Ferraro was also correct in her claim about her position on the Mondale ticket. Clearly Mondale had little to lose by making the then bold choice of a woman for a running mate in 1984 a year when Ronald Reagan’s popularity was second to none. When a Republican candidate for president wins Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island in the same election, that speaks to the candidate’s popularity.

A virtually ignored comment made by Ferraro in 1988 noted that “if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.” Then, but more so now, this was a grand opportunity for a black candidate on the national stage to achieve success. Yet, 20 years removed from the ’88 campaign, the “black candidate” is achieving success across the boards, which was not the case in ’88. But race is still an issue, so much so that Obama, the “black candidate” who has said he is a “candidate who happens to be black,” is garnering the black vote to the tune of 90-plus percent on a primary by primary basis.

So, although race is still a legitimate issue in a campaign, and Ferraro was correct in her assertions about herself and Jackson 20 years ago, and Obama today, the language police have taken to the airwaves playing their game of “gotcha” even when there is no cause. To suggest Ferraro is a racist is absurd, but it makes for good ratings and creates sympathy for the media’s chosen candidate in this era of oversensitivity.

As for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), her turn at the “gotcha” game came recently prior to the West Virginia primary when she repeated an AP report saying that Clinton was enjoying greater success with constituencies that are hard working, white, blue-collar workers. Naturally the media and Obama surrogates clamored that Clinton is a racist for suggesting that if white, blue-collar workers are hard working then conversely, black, blue-collar workers couldn’t possibly be hard working. That is one hell of an interpretation, coming from the mind readers who have been diagnosed with another case of oversensitivity.

The media is the most responsible for the firestorm of “gotcha” journalism – and not just because of the internet or 24-hour cable news networks. The media’s responsibility in the advent of the “gotcha” game dates back to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the infamous Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of former president Richard M. Nixon.

Make no mistake, Woodward and Bernstein are not to blame for Watergate – clearly that falls on the narrow shoulders of Dick Nixon himself, whose paranoia led to his own downfall. The Post reporters were simply doing their jobs, following up on what initially had been the report of a “third rate burglary” at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Quite frankly, this third rate burglary, as it has been labeled throughout its storied history could have instead been a footnote to history had Nixon not been the paranoid he was.

The June 1972 break in at the DNC could have gone away had Nixon admitted that the five “plumbers,” as they were known, who broke into the headquarters were not acting on the orders of the administration, but because of their association with the administration, they would be fired and brought up on charges of burglary. Nixon would have gone on to win the 1972 election in a landslide anyway, and then pardoned the miscreants at Christmas time. End of story.

The point? Since the cover up, the investigation, the reporting that led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace, virtually every reporter wants to be Woodward or Bernstein – cracking that big exposé and making “their bones” regardless of cost and harm to anyone else. That is not responsible journalism, That is hit-and-run yellow journalism.

Technology is also partly to blame, but it stems from the aforementioned “gotcha” mentality. Today anyone with a cell phone camera, digital camera, blog, website or any other form of technology I omitted because I am a confirmed “technotard,” a term I coined some years ago while teaching eighth grade social studies to students better versed on the computer than I, can be a news breaker.

The problem with the term news breaker is that those who break the news also want to make the news, and that is not honest journalism. Instead that is self-absorbed narcissism.

So, enough, already. The media should do its job – reporting the news, not attempting to make the news or cajole the news into its form-fitting design. Candidates, supporters and surrogates need to be able to breathe freely during the campaign. They need to let each other breathe freely. Instead of examining every syllable under a microscope and attempting to discern what everyone might mean, they should say what’s on their minds without the fear of “gotcha” from the next faux Woodward or Bernstein.


Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.



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