The assassination jokes and "liberal" conspiracy theories on talk radio could be an ominous sign of things to come.
By Camille Paglia
May 13, 2009 | In John Frankenheimer's taut 1964 film, "Seven Days in May," the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appalled at a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, plot a coup d'état to remove the president whom they regard as too soft and naive about the evil of America's enemies. The screenplay by Rod Serling (based on a 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II) is filled with passionate lines that seem right out of today's talk radio -- "intellectual dilettantes" versus patriotism; America's loss of "greatness"; the superiority of military experience to civilian judgment and governance.
Troubled by the increasing rancor of political debate in the U.S., I watched a rented copy of "Seven Days in May" last week. Its paranoid mood, partly created by Jerry Goldsmith's eerie, minimalist score, captured exactly what I have been sensing lately. There is something dangerous afoot -- an alienation that can easily morph into extremism. With the national Republican party in disarray, an argument is solidifying among grass-roots conservatives: Liberals, who are now in power in Washington, hate America and want to dismantle its foundational institutions and liberties, including capitalism and private property. Liberals are rootless internationalists who cravenly appease those who want to kill us. The primary principle of conservatives, on the other hand, is love of country, for which they are willing to sacrifice and die. America's identity was forged by Christian faith and our Founding Fathers, to whose prudent and unerring 18th-century worldview we must return.
In a harried, fragmented, media-addled time, there is an invigorating simplicity to this political fundamentalism. It is comforting to hold fast to hallowed values, to defend tradition against the slackness of relativism and hedonism. But when the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation, there is reason for alarm. Two days after watching "Seven Days in May," I was utterly horrified to hear Dallas-based talk show host Mark Davis, subbing for Rush Limbaugh, laughingly and approvingly read a passage from a Dallas magazine article by CBS sportscaster David Feherty claiming that "any U.S. soldier," given a gun with two bullets and stuck in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, would use both bullets on Pelosi and strangle the other two.
[Listen to Davis below]
How have we come to this pass in America where the assassination of top government officials is fodder for snide jokes on national radio? Davis (who is obviously a glib horse's ass) did this stunt very emphatically at a news break at the top of the first hour. It was from there that the Dallas magazine story was evidently picked up by liberal Web sites and disseminated, pressuring CBS to denounce Feherty, who made a public apology. The gravity of this case was unfortunately overshadowed by feisty comedian Wanda Sykes' clumsy jibes at Rush Limbaugh the next night at the Washington Correspondents Dinner. Sykes (who is usually hilarious) was rushed and inept, embarrassing herself and her hosts. But what Mark Davis did, in irresponsibly broadcasting Feherty's vile fantasy, was an inflammatory political act that could goad susceptible minds down the dark road toward "Seven Days in May."
Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama's first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama's election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there's nowhere to go, and monotony sets in. Lately, I've been doing a lot of tuning in and impatiently tuning out. As a longtime fan of talk radio, I don't think this bodes well for the long-term broad appeal of the medium. I want stimulation and expansion of my thinking -- not shrill, numbing hectoring and partisan undermining of the authority and dignity of the presidency. Rabidly Bush-bashing Democrats shouldn't have done it to the last president either, but that's no excuse for conservatives, who claim to revere our institutions, to play schoolyard tit for tat.
Not that Obama's policies and conduct shouldn't receive sharp scrutiny. Despite my disgust at the grotesquely bloated stimulus package which did severe early damage to this administration, I am generally happy with Obama's eagerness to tackle long-entrenched social problems, although there is sometimes a curious disconnect between what he says and what he does. The degree to which Obama is or is not a stealth socialist remains to be seen. But it's about time an ambitious young leader shook up the stale status quo. The sepulchral, doom-obsessed and megalomaniacal Dick Cheney's self-intrusion into the news last weekend was a nice demonstration of just what a fresh new breeze Obama represents in Washington.~lee.