Let's Attack the Argument, Not the Person
The race for the White House has begun to gear up as more candidates enter the fray and make their positions clear.
This is good, because most Americans have not yet really made up their minds. However, how we are exposed to the candidates can either be off-putting or educationally revealing depending on how honest the portrayals are and how dirty our favorites are made to look.
Watch a few TV news debates, and some of the techniques become obvious. One side uses the smirk and the shake of the head to suggest the opposition is dead wrong. As one side outlines a point of view, the camera switches to a close-up of the opposition, who smiles patronizingly and slowly shakes his head in wonderment or denial. There is no need to come back with facts or rebut with another position. The grinning headshake says it all.
Another ploy to discredit your opponent is the personal attack. This one has been around since the year one.
When I was reviewing theater, most of the critics did their best to remain objective. There was one, however, who would attack an actor’s performance by zeroing in on the size of the actor’s nose or perhaps the thinness of the actress’s lips. None of the rest of us could see what those supposed defects had to do with the play — we suspected it was this critic’s way of hiding behind his inability to see what was taking place on the stage. In other words, it was strictly an ego thing.
This personal attack is seldom seen in theater reviews but is a standard tactic commonly used against people running for office. Admittedly, Donald Trump’s hairdo seems like fair game. But does it really have anything to do with his ability or lack thereof?
Sarah Palin has been a target from her entrance into the national political scene. Her hair, her dress, her daughter, her “gee willikins” and “reload” comments have inspired attacks, and I suspect they have succeeded in reducing her chances for election to a pinpoint.
The latest to be on the receiving end of jokes is Michele Bachmann, who has been accused of having “crazy eyes” and a bad hairdo. What about her stands on issues? These so-called commentators could not care less. They would rather concentrate on her eyes and teeth.
Personally, I think Michele Bachmann is a beautiful lady, but that is not the reason I consider her qualified to be president. Appearance counts, of course, but only up to a point. And it should never be the target of ridicule.
Writers frequently try to excuse ridicule by calling it satire. But unless you are an Oscar Wilde about to create “The Importance of Being Earnest” or a budding Shakespeare, true satire may be the most difficult of all types of writing. A couple of missteps and wit descends into slapstick. Even some of our best writers have often fallen into this pit. The theater, for the most part, avoids it because it seldom succeeds. As the saying goes: Satire is what closes in Philadelphia on a Tuesday.
All politicians follow coach Vince Lombardi’s creed: “Winning isn’t the only thing. It’s everything.” Only the techniques vary. Debates don’t count. Positions don’t count. Ideologies don’t count. All that counts is winning.
The big hazard with these non-issue putdowns is not the harm they cause the candidate but the harm they do those of us trying to seek the best person to vote for. The head-shaking smirks blur our vision in a smokescreen of scorn that can cause us to pass up on the perfect candidate.
So let us hammer away at stands and issues and true character flaws and ignore physiognomy. Let’s park the ridicule rebuttal where it belongs: in a high school sophomore class.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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