Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some further thoughts on Bill Clinton's visit

I truly was surprised by the lack of traffic in and around Nanticoke the day of Bill Clinton's visit.  I expected the situation would be more like when I went to see Hillary Clinton's appearance at Scranton High School in March of 2008.  But the turnout was just a fraction of what she had.  I'm wondering if some people were discouraged by the recommendation that they line up three hours ahead of time.

I was also disappointed by the general behavior of many people in the crowd.  Some kids spent the whole time texting - at least I think they were texting, they might have been playing video games.  Many people spent a good amount of the time the President was speaking talking on their cell phones.*  What about?

Also, it seems pretty obvious, but...dozens of people didn't turn off their cell phones during the presentations.  Phones rang throughout the evening, and people took calls while the President was speaking.  Is such rudeness standard, or something peculiar to Nanticoke?

I don't know if Bill Clinton composed his own speech or has speechwriters to do that for him.  But his speech wasn't one that I would have composed if I were trying to deliver a persuasive speech to a bunch of blue-collar folks and retirees from a hardscrabble coal town like Nanticoke.  It focused on policies and issues, not on short, punchy, easily-digested exhortations.  And it didn't end with a final rallying of the troops, a final stirring call to get out and vote for Paul Kanjorski next Tuesday (which was the point, after all) and for everyone to encourage their friends and neighbors to go out and vote.  Unfortunately, I think President Clinton lost a significant portion of the crowd by the end of his speech.

And then there were the hecklers.

It's a free country, yes, despite the best efforts of Bush and Cheney.  We have Freedom of Speech.  It's a wonderful thing.

But we also live in a civil society, where if someone doesn't like your behavior in public they cannot simply seek a Second Amendment solution to the problem of your continued existence.  There are rules of behavior and conduct in public.  Protests are important and necessary things, and the expression of political dissent is certainly protected speech.

But acting like a complete asshole towards a public figure whom the vast majority of the people around you have come to hear speak is not a good way to win friends and influence people.

Once upon a time I would have blamed Professional Wrestling, where screaming matches with opponents during press conferences became standard fare at least as far back as the 1970's.  But this behavior came to characterize the standard approach to political discourse taken by the opponents of Health Care Reform in the summer of 2009.  Procedural delays by Republicans and certain lily-livered Democrats had postponed the vote on Health Care Reform until after the Congressional summer recess, when members of Congress would return to their home districts and address important issues with their constituents.  This was the outcome the opponents of Health Care Reform had been trying to bring about the whole while, and it gave them the opportunity to release their forces to express outrage (some real, some feigned, depending on whether the person expressing the outrage was a dupe or a plant) that anyone would dare try to bring about health care reform.  Hadn't the Republicans put a stop to such nonsense once already, during the Clinton administration?  Hadn't they steadfastly refused to let any such reform to creep through in the intervening years, no matter how badly and obviously it was needed?  Treason!  TYRANNY!!!

And the same day that President Clinton was appearing in Nanticoke, some Rand Paul supporters stomped on the head of a woman in Kentucky who didn't share their political views.

If you've engaged in political discussions in the last year or so, if you've followed the comments even on some of the posts on this site, you may have noticed that the tone from some parts of the "Right" has gotten more extreme.   More threatening, more belligerent.  Crazier, really.

But that's what passes for political discourse these days, at least from one end of the spectrum, and I fear it will only get worse.  I don't know if these hecklers were locals or if they were professional belligerents who had made a pilgrimage to Nanticoke with the express purpose of shouting down President Clinton.  But it was annoying and embarrassing.  And if the folks on the other end of the political spectrum ever choose to adopt these same tactics - well, President G.W. Bush would be well advised to continue to maintain a low profile.  There are tens of millions of people who would like to share a piece of their minds with him.

Further reading:
Dems’ go-to guy makes pitch The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA

*I was at an REM concert some years back where many people spent the entire concert talking on the phone - not recording the concert onto their phones, or holding up their phones so the person on the other end could hear. Just having conversations. I guess they considered it the height of coolness to be able to say that they went to an REM concert but spent the entire time talking on the phone.

1 comment:

hedera said...

The speech you describe sounds like classic Clinton, so he probably wrote it himself - remember, at heart he's a policy wonk. I remember watching a speech in one of his early campaigns and thinking how boring he was. He loves this stuff.

The phones? Oh, that's everywhere now. I agree it's rude and stupid. My gym has signs all over, no cell phone use beyond the front desk; it's never enforced and it's constantly violated. If you want to be malicious you can consider there's some evidence that holding a phone against your person for extended periods may actually cause cancer (some babe used to keep it in her bra and now she has breast cancer right where the phone sat, I saw this the other day).