Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stop! I want to get off!

I remember when I was a kid and I’d go to a playground on a sunny fall day. Now this was in the days before fancy “playscapes” and lawsuits. Every playground featured pretty much the same four pieces of equipment. There were swings on which you could swing so high you thought you might defy gravity and go completely over the top bar, and you wondered if centrifugal force would keep you in your seat. There were rickety teeter-totters, on which you quickly became a fair judge of balance, mass, and fulcrums, after either landing with a spine jarring thud or being stuck up in the air, feet dangling. There was the tall metal slide, surrounded by earth so compacted by years of play that it was hard as concrete; we first went down on a sheet of waxed paper a few times to make it slicker and quicker. And then there was the merry-go-round…

Ahhh, the merry-go-round…an instrument of both delight and torture. Over time I learned that it was better to ride it when I was at the playground with kids I knew and somewhat trusted, like my Girl Scout troop. I came to know who pushed the fastest, but could be trusted to stop the spinning madness either to let a newcomer on or to let someone off before they threw up or fell off. But occasionally I made the mistake of getting on a merry-go-round with kids I didn’t know, and, invariably, there would be some older boy who took over the job of pushing. At first, it was thrilling to be spinning so fast with someone else doing all the work, but within minutes, we realized we were caught in a vortex of madness. The older boy’s face took on a demonic cast. When kids screamed for him to slow down, he only speeded up, laughing. Kids on the edge were hanging on for dear life. One or two might be turning green.

Spin. It’s no wonder the word has come to mean “a heavily biased portrayal in one's own favor of an event or situation.” I’ve been watching a lot of political coverage since January, which of course is becoming even more intense as we enter the phase of the conventions and then the fall campaign. And I’m beginning to feel like I did when I was caught on that merry-go-round as a kid. When you watch a lot of political programming, the spin is dizzying. I suppose the spinners intend that people just watch a snippet, so that they only get a freeze frame, a moment in time, and can’t detect the spinning motion.

One aspect of spin that is really getting on my nerves is the use of “talking points.” I know the campaigns feel that they have to stay “on message,” but this is ridiculous! If you watch a few hours of political coverage, the network might have 4 or 5 spokesmen from the McCain or Obama campaigns or each party, and each will say the same thing, obviously working from the day’s talking points memo. No matter what question is posed by the interviewer, the spokesperson will manage to steer his or her comments right back to the talking points, whether or not it has anything to do with the question. Heaven forbid that a person should actually think about the question and his answer! After the Saddleback forum, Obama was roundly criticized for giving long-winded, thoughtful answers, while McCain was praised for giving direct, snappy answers, which actually were little more than snippets of his stump speeches.

Another thing that is driving me absolutely nuts is the Pot-Kettle Approach. I admit to a certain bias here, but the McCain folks seem to be using this approach much more than the Obama folks. Basically, the McCain people take a fault of McCain’s and accuse Obama of it. Several examples come to mind. The McCain campaign accuses Obama of being elitist, while in fact McCain is the one who owns at least 8 expensive residences and makes condescending jokes about public housing and says that everyone who earns up to $5 million is “middle class.” The McCain folks tried to play upon the bitter feelings of Clinton’s supporters, talking up Hillary as if they were ready to pick her for McCain’s VP and saying that Obama didn‘t give her respect…never mind that McCain has in the past made cruel, crude jokes about Clinton being a lesbian and about how ugly Chelsea was, and that he laughed when a supporter called Hillary the “bitch.“ Yesterday on MSNBC’s coverage of the DNC, a McCain spokesperson had the unmitigated gall to say that Obama has engaged in the nastiest, most negative campaigning. Say WHAT? If that isn’t the pot talking about the kettle…

STOP! I want to get off!