We Have Met the Enemy

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” That’s an old line from the comic strip Pogo, but it’s even truer today than it was when first printed.

I’ve been observing the current presidential campaign and trying not to succumb to terminal nausea as I see the media of the left and the right, and the far left and the far right, all working their damnedest… to do what? To create fights where there are none, and to intensify conflicts and differing opinions into class wars.

Why is this happening? Because conflict is “news,” and the greater the conflict, the greater the news “value,” the higher the ratings, the greater the advertising revenue, and the more exorbitant the profits. And we as a people not only accept this, but we encourage it by insisting that greater profit equates to greater good. I’m certainly not against profit, but when Americans come to believe that a company has somehow “failed” if its profit margins don’t increase year after year, there’s something very wrong.

There are two very conspicuous current disasters showing the absolute folly of insisting on ever-increasing profits. The first is the mortgage/housing/securitization meltdown, whose impact continues to spread and worsen and which I’ve discussed earlier, and which resulted from essentially defrauding financial markets in an effort to pad profits even more… with the strong likelihood that we’ll end up in a deep recession, if not worse, as a result. The second is the vicious and polarizing “Let’s you and him fight” attitude that permeates the media. This attitude is most obvious in the incredible growth of violence in television dramas, in the proliferation of “reality TV” shows, and in the almost-instant media focus on any short-coming of any public figure of any political party.

Thomas Jefferson had slaves and affairs with them. Lincoln’s wife was clinically depressed and possibly worse. Franklin Roosevelt had affairs throughout his life and even during his presidency. So did Kennedy and Johnson. Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate child. Even honest Ike had an affair when he was an Army general. In those days, such matters were seldom brought up by the press, and even when they did, most Americans paid little attention. Did such “dirt” bear upon the conduct, policies, and actions in office of such officials? Apparently not, or very little.

So what’s more important — candidates’ personal and family foibles or their legislative and public record and their stand on the issues? Exactly how does the choice of a pastor or a daughter’s romantic exploits bear on the great economic and military challenges facing the next administration? Why is the number of houses a candidate’s wife owns more important than that candidate’s stance on Constitutional rights? Is whether we’d like to have a drink with a candidate more important than how he or she would lead the country?

For that matter, why do so many Americans let the media use these diversions to determine public discussion on the future of our country? The media isn’t employing such diversions for our good, but to boost their bottom line… and that’s something else to consider in the course of the campaign.