There are a dozen or more columns and blogs every day ruefully informing readers that the “silly season” is upon us. Allow me to modify this hoary cliché and say that modern political punditry, that hungry maw demanding ever more outrage, is ensuring that we will be trapped in a permanent stupid season. This, of course, applies to our half-witted representatives in Congress, who at least provide Web sites like Mediaite with a bottomless well of video content.
Today’s most egregious example: Mitt Romney’s speech at the NAACP yesterday has produced a torrent of nonsense conspiracy theory suggesting, according to TPM, that the “whole thing was an elaborate setup.” And what to make of this Michael Tomasky column in the Daily Beast, which accuses Romney of being a “race-baiter” who understands that deliberately angering “black people usually adds value” to a campaign. Not clear enough? Romney, Tomasky sputters, is a “spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac.”
But he wasn’t a race-baiter until yesterday. That speech wasn’t to the NAACP. It was to Rush Limbaugh. It was to the Tea Party Nation. It was to Fox News. Oh, he said some nice things. And sure, let’s give him one point for going there at all. But listen: You don’t go into the NAACP and use the word “Obamacare” and think that you’re not going to hear some boos. It’s a heavily loaded word, and Romney and his people know very well that liberals and the president’s supporters consider it an insult. He and his team had to know those boos were coming, and Romney acknowledged as much a few hours later in an interview with . . . guess which channel (hint: it’s the one whose Web site often has to close articles about race to commenters because of the blatant racism). Romney and team obviously concluded that a little shower of boos was perfectly fine because the story “Romney Booed at NAACP” would jazz up their (very white) base.
Even assuming this is a fair reading of the speech — and it isn’t — how does this make Romney a “race-mongering pyromaniac?” Who knows. Best I can tell, discussing Obamacare — which Tomasky finds an “offensive” and pejorative term — in front of an NAACP audience makes him a Mormon Orval Faubus. I challenged my followers on Twitter, a virtual Bletchley Park ready to decode silly political columns, how Tomasky could possibly have divined racism from Romney’s speech, which was a fairly straight-forward recapitulation of conservative principles. There were no takers (though one Scottish journalist responded: “Jeez, that's mentalism from Tomasky. Also: if ACA is a historic achievement what's wrong with crediting its sponsor?).
And there was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who suggested that members of the NAACP were too sensitive to hear a dissenting opinion on a policy most of its members supported: “I felt terrible when the booing started, but I also believe . . . staff members who vetted that speech or inserted some of the things that I heard, they should be fired. I mean, how in the world would you stand up in front of the NAACP and say that you oppose Obamacare?”
The whole world, it appears, has lost its mind.
I find myself time and again returning to the question, “Whatever happened to the demand for a new ‘tone’ in politics?” To be fair, I am perfectly fine with the current tone — even if it involves sleazy and unsubstantiated charges of racism, which people like Tomasky understand is the most toxic charge one can level against an opponent — because I trust that Americans can sort the wheat from the chaff; they are clever enough to ignore outrageous charges that we are lurching towards communism or that the Republican candidate is a knuckle-dragging racist. Indeed, I wouldn’t expect the Daily Beast to publish speculative articles arguing that Obama was America’s very own Erich Honecker, so why is it okay to publish speculative articles arguing that Romney is a bigot? I am starting to understand that the “new tone” business — which was needed, Tomasky wrote last year, because of Jared Lee Loughner (or something) — only applies to the other guys. And certainly not during an election season.