May 09, 2003

Let Me Ask You an Ugly Ques...

Let Me Ask You an Ugly Question: I've heard more and more people lately describe the overall atmosphere of the country, especially as regards political discourse, as "ugly." So, on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being "totally ugly," 4 being "sorta ugly," 3 being "100% ambivalent," 2 being "sorta pretty," and 1 being "what the hell are you talking about, 'ugly'?" ... how ugly do you think things are? Just checking....

Posted by at May 9, 2003 03:49 PM
Comments

2.5

Posted by: Emily at May 9, 2003 04:27 PM

7.5

Posted by: Billy Beck at May 9, 2003 05:50 PM

Not as ugly as 1988.

Uglier than 2000 before Election Day. Not as ugly as 2000 after Election Day.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at May 9, 2003 05:59 PM

It's unchanged. Maybe the people who say things are ugly now are simply moving in better, more aggressive circles. I've been hearing such things since I've had sense to listen (LBJ's 2nd term).

"...there is nothing new under the sun." -(ECC 1:9 RSV)

also-

"An element of conflict in any discussion is a good thing. It means that everybody is taking part[.]" -Elwood P. Dowd

Posted by: Cridland at May 9, 2003 06:00 PM

2

This ain't ugly.

Posted by: Matt Moore at May 9, 2003 06:46 PM

Yeah, no kidding. Anyone who claims political crap is suddenly different has memory problems. Hell, I remember in the early 1970s hearing relatives in Louisiana gleefully talking about their joy when "that sonofabitch Kennedy got killed."

The best way to not worry about this stuff is to ignore it. Tough if you're a politics writer, but easier when you don't live in DC.

Posted by: Ken Layne at May 9, 2003 10:49 PM

I'm forty-seven years old. I've been paying attention to politics since LBJ. The tone of the national debate in general has been getting worse all my life -- even accounting for Vietnam, which I directly recall -- and the pace has always been picking up. It still is.

And there is a reason for it. It's because there really is a fundamental dichotomy between people who hold freedom as a principle political value, and those who don't. The latter, themselves, are divisble into several various factions at war with each other at various angles, and there are reasons for that, too.

Consider the debate over religion in the schools. I directly recall a time -- and people, who're gone now -- that would have been completely mystified over it at the intensity it gets today.

That's just one example, and there are too many to count.

I call this period of history "The Endarkenment". We are living in a time when reversion to savagery -- even finely dressed and smoothly entertained, for the time being -- is as necessary as gravity, because the general run of outright idiocy precludes reason, and when it comes to that, there is only one alternative.

I do not cough up a '7.5' score on this arbitrarily. I've thought about it for well over thirty years.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by: Billy Beck at May 9, 2003 10:50 PM

Let's see ... since LBJ we've seen a "reversion to savagery"? So Billy Beck is saying that l'affaire Trent Lott was more savage and worse in tone than, say, George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, or than some of the speeches in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964? (paging Mr. Byrd, Mr. Robert Byrd ...)

Since, like Matt Welch, I'm a Bill James fan, I'd like to paraphrase James and argue that whenever somebody makes a sweeping generalization that *everything* in some field (political atmosphere, baseball players) has been getting worse and worse for as long as they can remember, they're probably telling you more about the observer than about the observed.

I'd say "4".

Posted by: Nat Justice at May 10, 2003 04:04 AM

5.3

Some contributing factors;
Smaller more transparent and aware world through better technology and communications; increased population; diminishing fixed resources; sophistication in the corruption of the rule of law and the mainstream media (paralells the corruption of religion historically); rampant protectionism caused by the aforementioned corruption which inhibits the technology needed to (and could easily) make things less "ugly" and even moves the technology in a protectionist direction to make things more "ugly" -- towards more military industrial 'empire'.

Given the above, the age old freedom vs. control freak battle is more intense, the pressure IS on, there IS more "ugly" in the country today. There is less room for freedom, fewer places to withdraw and put your head up your ass as Ken Layne suggests. Yes the political crap is the same, however the stage is much smaller. You have an anxiety producing bar code on your ass today that was not there sixty years ago.

Regarding Billy Beck's the "Endarkenment"; I tend to agree with him and suspect you would find a strong correlation with the age of the observer. I was born when Stalin and Hitler divided Poland. Again it is not so much a "reversion to savagery" as Nat Justice states, rather it is the same savagery played out in a now smaller, more controlled, world.

Freedom is the absence of control. Control breeds 'ugly'. The amount of societal controls (laws, devices,etc.) I have seen created in my lifetime have been mind boggling -- F

Posted by: Warren Celli at May 10, 2003 07:53 AM

Thanks, Warren, for adding your own bit of ugliness to the ugly debate. Yeah, we should Impeach Bush! 'cause we don't like him, not because he's done anything which would legally subject him to impeachment.

I saw my first Impeach Clinton! bumper sticker weeks after the '92 election; for those of you who aren't paying attention, that's before he was inaugurated.

While we're at it, we need to retroactively Impeach Reagan! for that whole Iran-Contra thing (which is what I thought at the time, but never mind), Impeach Bush 41! for his role in it, Impeach Carter! for all kinda stuff that's only really come back to bight us hard in the past few years, Impeach Ford! for being Nixon's stooge and falling down a lot, Impeach Nixon!...surely I don't have to explain that...and so forth.

I vote "Not any uglier than it was when Clinton was President." But that was pretty damned ugly.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at May 10, 2003 12:10 PM

3.2 Slightly Ugly But Certainly No Worse Than Any Historical Period

I agree with those who can not believe anyone would compare this era to George Wallace times, McCarthyism, WWII, Depression era political machines, the Red Scare, anarchists shooting the President, TeaPot Dome, etc. etc. etc. Most people outside of Washington do have there head up their asses with respect to politics. Half don't even vote.

-Decnavda

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at May 10, 2003 09:15 PM

"So Billy Beck is saying that l'affaire Trent Lott was more savage and worse in tone than, say, George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, or than some of the speeches in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Actually; no. You said that. Not me.

However, I will point out that the Lott affair raised a lot more hell than it was worth.

And the thing I'm talking about is in the difference between several large explosions here & there, and innumerable fires, burning everywhere, all the time.

Posted by: Billy Beck at May 10, 2003 11:37 PM

I have to break this down a little bit: it's a 3 if you don't (or don't have to) spend your entire day reading newspapers and watching teevee and surfing the web. If, on the other hand, that is your life, vocation or avocation, it's a 5. I don't know how you media guys don't just put on the dress blues and stick your head in the oven.

But then I'm a lucky guy with an optimistic streak a mile wide...there's no cloud so big and dark that I can't see a silver lining. Except for the stupid Rangers, of course...they shall suck for the rest of my years, I'm sure.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin at May 11, 2003 06:39 AM

The process of change is always ugly. The result is never no matter how venal, to get back in. The ugliness of the Right's attacks on Clinton are historical. The mind boggles.

Now they've got all three branches of the gov't and most of the media, so the only places they have to direct their ugliness are France and Hollywood and Carol Mosley-Braun (for chrissake). Oh, and Michael Moore.

If they lose in 2004, as I predict they will, prepare for an onslaught of ugliness the likes of which will make today's climate look like a fucking episode of Barney.

Posted by: Realish at May 12, 2003 02:15 PM

Society at large: 2 (Compare our reaction to German-Americans in WWI and to Japanese-Americans in WWII: were there anti-Arab riots and mass internments? Not quite. There were a few violent incidents and Ashcroft & Co. have been doing some contemptible things, but none were comparable to our conduct sixty or eighty-five years ago. Also note how Ascroft's attempted abridgements of civil liberties are strongly criticized in the media. The general tone of society has improved remarkably.)
Our popular culture: 3.5 (Normally I'd be inclined to say that our pop culture has always been somewhat insipid & indifferent and therefore give it a 100% ambivalent score, but gangsta rap & slasher flicks are a distinctly anti-social development. So it moves half a notch to the ugly side.)
Our political discourse: Compared to when? To 1858? Then we're living in paradise. To 1976? Then about a 3.8.

Posted by: Mongo at May 12, 2003 03:30 PM

Things would be a lot less ugly if everyone agreed with me. Damn all you ugly don't-agree-with-me people!

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at May 12, 2003 05:08 PM

"Many disagree, but face it: the fringe loonies are a larger proportion of the total Right than they are of the Left, and they have a much louder and more prominent voice there."


You've got the be KIDDING me.

The left has hundreds of thousands of not-quite post-pubescent anarchists marching, defecating (in the streets of San Francisco) & vandalizing (does anybody remember Seattle?) in its name. Anti-globalization, militant environmentalism, radical demands for social reparations: these are pet causes of the hard left..

One need only think of Chomsky's popularity in the academia to realize the full extent of this problem.

The only significant fringe groups on the right would be either Waco-style cultists or shotgun fanatics who lock themselves up in a shack & wait for somebody to set foot on their property so they can finally do some live target practice.

I attend U.C. Berkeley. Trust me: dreadlocked members of the I Heart Che Guevara club are much more of a threat to reasonable political discourse than any cult or gun nut.

Posted by: harm d. at May 12, 2003 06:15 PM

harm d., you've got to be kidding.

People getting together to protest policies they consider unjust does not count as "ugliness" in my book. It counts as signs of life in our moribund, apathetic political landscape.

Rush, Coulter, Savage, all of Fox... where is the comparable ugliness in the mainstream left? All you can find is college kids with dreadlocks? Other than Michael Fricking Moore (give me a break), show me the vicious attacks coming from establishment left figures. Show me anything *close* to what was directed at Clinton.

There is ugliness on the far left, I won't deny it. But ugliness has moved farther and farther inside the right until it is now hard to tell the mainstream right from the ugly fringe. Lies and personal attacks are SOP now, all the way up to Rove.

Posted by: Realish at May 13, 2003 04:43 PM

We might be kidding each other because we're dipping two very different yardsticks in the same murky waters. I'm not going to call something I disagree w/ "ugly" because, well, gee-golly-gosh-darn-it, I do acknowledge others' right to dissent & differ. It might not like it & I'll won't call it pretty, but I certainly won't insist that it's "ugly."

I accept differences of opinion & chalk 'em up to natural, even healthy manifestations of what public debate ought to be. I might think Dowd & the editorial co @ the Times are silly & disagree w/ the progressivist nuance they offer, but I'm not going to deem their view point "ugly" just b/c I disagree w/ the general (& even specific) thrust of their arguments.

I reserve "ugly" for people who:

1) break the law
2) articulate view points which can be objectively termed morally as reprehensible--things such as racism, homophobia, anti-americanism, etc.

Look: it's fine if one thinks right-of-center punditry is all about whacking dead equines & so on, but you might be tipping your hand when you term "all of Fox" "ugly." It's a right-of-center media station, but by no measure of means does it break the law or transgress objective moral boundaries.

We can sit here & argue whether it's moral or not to demonize somebody because of his or her promiscuity, or to use invectives when talking about a person whom you've never met (W-bashing is, actually, a lot of fun) or some other equally silly/marginal points, but most of our disagreements could be ascribed to differences of personal opinion. We'd be expressing different, perhaps not equally worthwhile opinions, but both would be perfectly legitimate.

Carrying Molotov cocktails in your backpack, however, is not legitimate. Obstructing traffic & assaulting drivers downtown San Francisco is not legitimate. Vandalizing private property in Seattle is not legitimate. Affiliating yourself w/ an organization like ANSWER is not legitimate. Proclaiming Chomsky an intellectual giant (we're talking about the same dear Noam who is still providing excuses for the Khmer Rouge genocides, of course) is not legitimate. Publically wishing for "a thousand Mogadishus" is not legitimate.

Out of the list you've provided, I can only concur w/ your assessment of Michael Savage, a rampaging xenophobe who, interestingly enough, hails from the hills of Berkeley. Go figure.

Posted by: harm d. at May 13, 2003 05:43 PM

Coulter proposed invading the ent and killing their leaders and converting them to Christianity. She also expressed regret that the terrorists had not driven planes into the New York Times building.

She was, at best, half-kidding about both.

If that's not "ugly," I can't imagine what is. And yet she appears regularly on talk shows as a legitimate right-wing commentator.

Posted by: Realish at May 15, 2003 02:38 PM
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rust of their arguments.

I reserve "ugly" for people who:

1) break the law
2) articulate view points which can be objectively termed morally as reprehensible--things such as racism, homophobia, anti-americanism, etc.

Look: it's fine if one thinks right-of-center punditry is all about whacking dead equines & so on, but you might be tipping your hand when you term "all of Fox" "ugly." It's a right-of-center media station, but by no measure of means does it break the law or transgress objective moral boundaries.

We can sit here & argue whether it's moral or not to demonize somebody because of his or her promiscuity, or to use invectives when talking about a person whom you've never met (W-bashing is, actually, a lot of fun) or some other equally silly/marginal points, but most of our disagreements could be ascribed to differences of personal opinion. We'd be expressing different, perhaps not equally worthwhile opinions, but both would be perfectly legitimate.

Carrying Molotov cocktails in your backpack, however, is not legitimate. Obstructing traffic & assaulting drivers downtown San Francisco is not legitimate. Vandalizing private property in Seattle is not legitimate. Affiliating yourself w/ an organization like ANSWER is not legitimate. Proclaiming Chomsky an intellectual giant (we're talking about the same dear Noam who is still providing excuses for the Khmer Rouge genocides, of course) is not legitimate. Publically wishing for "a thousand Mogadishus" is not legitimate.

Out of the list you've provided, I can only concur w/ your assessment of Michael Savage, a rampaging xenophobe who, interestingly enough, hails from the hills of Berkeley. Go figure.

Posted by: harm d. at May 13, 2003 05:43 PM

Coulter proposed invading the entire Middle East and killing their leaders and converting them to Christianity. She also expressed regret that the terrorists had not driven planes into the New York Times building.

She was, at best, half-kidding about both.

If that's not "ugly," I can't imagine what is. And yet she appears regularly on talk shows as a legitimate right-wing commentator.

Posted by: Realish at May 15, 2003 02:38 PM
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