“Boring” Is a Dangerous Political Tactic

Boring Mark ShieldsOne of the guiding principles of my life if that one of the worst things is to be boring. I would much rather deal with someone with wrong but interesting ideas than someone with right but dull ideas. I’m just not going to spend a pleasant hour about how we all should try to be a bit more understanding of each other. But I’ve always thought of it in a personal way. Now I think there is a political aspect to it. And that is nowhere so true as the Friday episode of The PBS NewsHour when Mark Shields and David Brooks come on to discuss the week’s news in way so boring that you won’t have a clue what they talked about five minutes later.

Part of the reason the segment is always so boring is that Brooks and Shields don’t much disagree. And this is due in large part to the fact that The NewsHour thinks that a well-spoken but extremist right-winger like David Brooks should be countered with a man whose own promotional materials say, “Mark Shields is free of any political tilt.” He’s also one who military giant Lockheed Martin seemed to like to have around to give what were doubtless well-paid speeches.

PBS Wants to Be Boring

But you can’t blame it all on Shields not being a liberal. When E J Dionne fills in for Shields, the segment is almost as boring. The truth is that The PBS NewsHour wants the segment to be boring. They want to portray the Overton window to be so small that it really doesn’t matter if you go out to vote. Because if you don’t you’ll either get one of two people who are pretty much the same. This is an amazing accomplishment, when you consider that while Mark Shields really is a Milquetoast, David Brooks is an extremist.

Boring David BrooksNo reasonable person watching Bill O’Reilly thinks that they are getting the objective truth. They know that it is Bill O’Reilly’s opinion just as they know that he has a major anger management problem. But the calm discussion gives the impression of hearing the objective truth. And that’s really dangerous — especially when you consider the kind of people who watch The NewsHour. Because what you get is a lot of, “I agree, but…” I agree we should bomb Canada, but I think we should drop 20,000 bombs, not 40,000 bombs.

Boring Stops Debate

Listening to the first part of the segment last Friday, I learned that Shields thought that Obama’s comments on the Orlando Massacre were better than Hillary Clinton’s. Brooks thought the opposite because Clinton mentioned terrorism. And in so doing he got to go on for some time with the unquestioned framing that Orlando was a terrorist attack, even though there is nothing to distinguish this from any other mass shooting. Oh, except that the shooter was a Muslim. And there certainly wasn’t someone on the left to — even ever so gently — push back.

If The PBS NewsHour were not so intent on being boring, people might see that there are different opinions on these matters. Indeed: people might see that there are opinions at all and not just the God given Truth. So boring isn’t just a waste of time; it is also a deeply dangerous tactic of the power elite.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

16 thoughts on ““Boring” Is a Dangerous Political Tactic

  1. I think the shooter’s messages during the attack do distinguish it:

    Mateen also vented on Facebook before and during the massacre.
    “America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state,” the gunman wrote, according to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
    “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes … now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”
    Then, in his final post, an ominous warning: ”In the next few days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa.”

    It’s not the only time Mateen invoked ISIS during his rampage early Sunday. In the middle of killing 49 people, Mateen also called 911 to pledge allegiance to the terror group and CNN affiliate News 13 to say, “I did it for ISIS. I did it for the Islamic State.”

    http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/16/us/orlando-shooter-omar-mateen/

    You might argue that he was just pretending those were his reasons and hopes for the reaction, as some seem to be doing, but I think you’d need to come up with a reason why it should be marked as a ‘false flag’ attack.

    • No. I argue that crazy people rant about whatever they are listening too. The fact that he seemed to know even less about ISIS than I do makes me think that it wasn’t ISIS that made him do it. It was just the justification of this point in his life. He could have turned Christian and blown up an abortion clinic. I’m not suggesting he was pretending. I’m suggesting he was unstable and ISIS (which wasn’t the only group he mentioned) is the big bad enemy today. Is what he did terrorism? Sure. Is it “radical Islamic terrorism”? I don’t know. But it seems wrong to me to use that label when we don’t call abortion clinic bombing “radical Christian terrorism,” or the Oklahoma bombing “radical conservative terrorism.” No, it is just for our one official enemy of the day that we have to make a big deal about.

  2. Ah, there’s a point – I would call abortion clinic bombing “radical Christian terrorism” and the Oklahoma bombing “radical conservative terrorism” (well, “radical right wing terrorism”, anyway – I do find ‘conservative’ is often a misnomer, when what a person wants is nowhere near the status quo or anything a country has had for centuries). As an example, we have a radical right wing terrorist in Britain – calling himself “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/18/thomas-mair-charged-with-of-mp-jo-cox

    • Yeah, you would! Actually, the Oklahoma bombing was clearly a calculated act of terrorism based on an ideology. I think that’s less true of abortion violence, but a case can be made. The couple in Califonia, sure. The guy in Florida? I don’t know. He strikes me more like the Sandy Hook shooter.

      But the point is that the ABC Evening News won’t use these modifiers — except in the case of Islam.

      I don’t like any of the Abrahamic religions. But being a Christian nation, I know that most of this anti-Muslim stuff is straight “My God’s better than yours!” (Even though they are supposedly the same God.) And I don’t want to be part of that. Also: I know that a lot of Americans are Christians because they hate gays. Religion is very often used as a socially acceptable way of hating marginalized people. The religion allows the hate, it doesn’t cause it. Look at Martin Luther’s writings on the Jews!

    • Scutum et Rivulus? Or, “Scuta et Rivuli”?! I’m afraid I’ve lost contact with my Latin adviser.

  3. You’ve decided to discuss those guys with political ideas that are both wrong and boring.

    There is no simple rule, can be no simple rule, that can distinguish what is on the right track from that on the wrong; the interesting from the boring; the worthwhile from the nonsense. But as a left-wing intellectual, considering only for now the David Brooks’ of the world, there are some clear patterns as to why is always fuckin’ boring.

    It doesn’t go anywhere. There is no overall evidentiary basis. It’s all figments of David Brooks’ imagination. It is undisciplined by an open-minded engagement with contrary views. Brooks, the overpaid monkey, is unable to supply the basis of any dialectic, for his ideas are so close-mindedly peculiar to him.

    In other words, Brooks and his kind try to pretend otherwise, but the fact is that all they have is one undefended opinion after another. Now that’s boring. Since there is no depth of thought, the viewer either agrees or disagrees; rarely is anything presented that could lead to a discussion of compromises. Boring!

    Worse, and I think it has been pointed out on this blog, shows like this crowd out the market for shows that feature real discussion. People mistake hypocritical asshole monkey for someone knowledgeable and thoughtful about important issues. The network pretends that this is a real discussion. And thus every few years, someone as self-evidently empty and self-serving as Paul Ryan is treated like a thinker in the mainstream.

    I would be bored in the same way by a show presenting one undefended opinion after another, but favouring my views. However, there does not seem to be any such show around, at least not a very well-known one. The standards seem to be lower, much lower, for speakers who tend to flatter the powerful.

    Boring because it is intellectually empty while pretending real discussion. Reminds me of reading American postmodernists.

    I deeply crave detailed and serious discussion with people who disagree with me. But a guy like Brooks only has undefended opinions, his unreflective, self-serving locutions. Just as boring as someone who mindlessly agrees with me.

    • Yeah — one can like or dislike the writing styles of Matt Taibbi or Molly Ivins, but at least they did their homework before hitting “send” (or, in Ivins’s case, waving “hey, you!” at the nearest Pony Express courier, because Texas.) There’s some data. Cherry-picked, to be sure; they’re polemicists, after all. But it is data. You can accept it, reject it with data you prefer, as you like.

      How mind-numbing twits like Brooks achieve their status, I haven’t the foggiest. Buckley was a blowhard with an impressive vocabulary. And then you had George Will, like Buckley for dimmer readers. And now, Brooks? Tom “a cabdriver in Tel Aviv told me” Friedman? Who reads this stuff? It truly befuddles me …

    • When I was writing this, I was thinking about the Buckley v Vidal debates that were both substantive and exciting (and I’m not just talking about, “As far as I’m concerned, the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself). The TV watching world seems to either want debates that tell them everything is fine and we most agree or debates that tell us nothing because it is all shouting. I think the shouting debates are less dangerous.

  4. This article as boring to read. :P

    Just kidding but it was slightly more difficult then normal because those two are so very dull which is probably one of the reasons I get all of my news from reading and not watching boring political shows on TV.

        • We agree that we like your blog and reading the news is better than watching boring political TV shows I think.

          • But you mostly only talk about what you disagree about. This is a common mistake people make. He disagreed with my statement that we are all on the same side, but the truth is if you went down a list of currently contested issues, we would all agree in the vast majority of cases.

            • That is boring though.

              Me: I like Frank’s blog.
              RJ: I do too!

              End of conversation.

              The only solution is to create a list of things we all think are important and check mark who agrees on what.

              • I have to admit, when two commenters are discussing something, I usually only scan them — and sometimes not even that.

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