Thursday, January 26, 2012

Voters look for meanness

"I want somebody who's mean."
— S.C. voter explaining his support for New Gingrich

This is what we've come to — that a significant number of Americans want a president who's mean? Should we be electing an Adolf Hitler or a Josef Stalin? They were plenty mean. They didn't let other countries push them around. They didn't mind starting a war or turning the government upside down or eliminating a few million enemies.

Fifty years after America elected a president who inspired young people to engage in public service and who strove to make politics an honorable career option, we have presidential candidates who try to impress voters with how belligerent and ill-mannered they are. President Kennedy jousted with the press by disarming reporters with his quick wit and self-deprecating humor. Asked about how the news media were treating him, he mimicked the current cigarette commercial, replying that "I've been reading more now and enjoying it less." He said it with a smile because he genuinely enjoyed matching wits with reporters, maybe because he was wittier than the best of them.

Now we have Newt Gingrich attacking the media for daring to ask about the recent allegation of his ex-wife, castigating the media for their "despicable" question. This from a man who led a congressional effort to impeach President Clinton over his extra-marital affair even as, it turns out, Gingrich was having an affair himself. Now candidates address the press with a scowl and bitter words and interrupt those who disagree with them.

But "mean" goes beyond attacking the media. A segment of the electorate seems to want a president who will launch wars around the world over whatever disrespectful comment any foreign leader might make. They're ready to go to war over Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and on and on, as if wars have no consequence except to teach those foreigners a lesson. That same segment is prepared to round up more than 10 million illegal immigrants, load them onto buses and drive them back where they belong, even if it means leaving their dependent children to fend for themselves on American streets. And, while they're at it, they would cut off food stamps to the hungry, housing to those who don't have rent money, heat to those without fuel for the winter and public assistance for those who have no jobs.

They want a "mean" president because they're tired of seeing America get pushed around, and they're tired of paying taxes that go to programs supporting those who pay no taxes. They want the United States to be mean, but they can't mean it, can they?

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