I’ve been wanting to write the following for a few weeks now, but have hesitated each time because of the great possibility of being misunderstood. But to hell with that.
Former MSNBC political pundit Martin Bashir recently resigned his position because of off-color, inappropriate comments he had made about Sarah Palin. She had compared to slavery, both for us today and for our descendants, our ongoing and rising debt to China. Finding such a comparison outrageous, he made an outrageous statement of his own: that, in addition to calling her an idiot, she should suffer the same indignities that slaves had had to suffer. After making a complete apology to Palin a few days after his unfortunate comments, an apology that Palin has accepted, he resigned from MSNBC a few weeks later.
It should go without saying that my political views and Bashir’s are opposites. My views are limited-government, capitalism; his are big-government, socialism. In addition, I find his on-camera presentation techniques annoying. Furthermore, I am a natural supporter of Sarah Palin. Other than when she’s spouting religious bromides, I generally agree with her matter-of-fact, down-home economic conservatism and strong military views. I consider her a welcome addition to the sometimes drab American political landscape.
No one would say that Bashir was nice to Sarah Palin. In fact, he was pretty nasty. But did he deserve ultimately to lose his job? I say no.
Palin’s comments (totally appropriate, in my opinion) comparing debt to slavery set Bashir off. In Bashir’s mind, the contrast between owing money to China and actual human slavery as suffered by African-Americans is beyond any possible comparison–even metaphorically in the manner Palin had made hers. He had found her comparison fully insensitive, very much in the same fashion that Jewish groups find Holocaust comparisons insensitive. On reflection, and considering his mindset, I can understand Bashir’s anger at Palin’s comparison, even while not agreeing his anger is justified.
So to make his point Bashir picked an actual extreme example from history, describing how American slaves were routinely dehumanized and punished by defecating and urinating into their mouths, as just one example of the kinds of capricious, inhumane treatments inflicted upon them. And he obviously couldn’t resist driving his point home by stating that Palin herself should be forced to suffer such a treatment. Maybe then, he argued, she would no longer make such outrageous comparisons if she finally knew–firsthand–what slavery was truly like.
I do not agree with how personal his attacks were, and he should not have made them in the way he did. Still I do not believe he meant anything more than strong, vivid political hyperbole. He certainly meant no personal harm to Ms. Palin. But in our highly polarized society, where more and more of our speech is controlled and sanitized, what he said surely left himself wide open for well-deserved attacks by his political opponents, who have used his error in judgement to gain political points for themselves.
Although conservatives “won” this one, Bashir is gone, we would all be much better if we tried more to understand our political opponents instead of routinely driving stakes into them when they leave themselves vulnerable in the way Mr. Bashir did. But we live in such a “got-cha” culture now, where one’s slightest indiscreet words are wrapped around one’s neck forever, that such political graciousness today is nearly impossible. The attack dogs are always ready for their next meal.