Different kinds of ‘freak shows’

DIFFERENT KINDS OF ‘FREAK SHOWS’…. There’s a lengthy item in Politico today about the “new era of accusation and innuendo,” and the fact that yesterday’s developments at the White House suggest we’ve officially entered a time in which we have “no referee … and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.”

This is a worthwhile point, certainly deserving of a larger discussion. Indeed, the Politico article raises some legitimate observations.

But little things like this are really irksome.

Much as they bemoan the “freak show” for inserting once-fringe players a central role in the debate, most successful national figures also use this phenomenon to their advantage.

Republican operatives in Washington, for instance, commonly roll their eyes or groan in discomfort at the most florid rhetoric of conservative commentators like Glenn Beck, fearing it paints the party broadly as less than serious or responsible. But they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010. Democratic professionals, meanwhile, may not have publicly embraced the controversy over alleged gaps in George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard, but they enjoyed it when liberal commentators waved that flag.

I’m well aware of the unwritten media rules, and the need to blame “both sides” for everything, in all instances. But false equivalencies are still annoying.

The “florid rhetoric of conservative commentators,” which includes all kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories, most recently the birther garbage, rests solely on nonsense. Any serious evaluation of their bizarre allegations quickly shows they have no basis in reality.

But at the risk of beating a horse that died years ago, the allegations about Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard weren’t “alleged,” they were proven. When liberal commentators waved that flag, they were pointing out the truth: that the president, who clearly lied about having served in the Air Force, also failed to complete his duties to the Texas Air National Guard.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether that had any relevance. Reasonable people shouldn’t disagree over what’s plainly factual. This is just what happened. The history is unambiguous.

So when it comes to bemoaning the “freak show,” you’ll get no arguments from me. But let’s not equate birthers and Beck acolytes on the one hand, and those who drew attention to Bush’s TANG controversy on the other. There’s just no equivalency there.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation