Wednesday, June 16, 2004


What happens when collegial political disagreement turns into vitriolic animus? Well, if you’ve ever wanted an illustrative answer to this question, you should simply tune into the CNN political free-for-all called Crossfire. In its new incarnation, Crossfire has rapidly devolved into a screaming match, pining dueling, crazed hot-heads against each other in what seems to be a battle to the death. Hardly shrinking violets, Tucker Carlson and James Carville have done great work in turning the once staid, cerebral political program into a third rate clown show.(Bob Novack and Paul Begala, the other hosts, are less brusque)

I would be speaking in tautologies if I said America has been polarized since the 2000 presidential election; but one must preface any explanations of excessive partisanship in the US with that irrefutable premise. America is greatly divided. This should explain the earnest tone being imbued into Crossfire.

Tucker Carlson, the erstwhile big-L libertarian, known for taking both Republicans and Democrats to task, has become a willing apparatchik of the GOP. This has placed him in some unsavory political alliances, for which his own political affiliation to Libertarianism is compromised—although, he’s been vocal in his criticisms of the Republican Medicare Bill and, also, the administration's strategy for Iraq, or lack thereof. But on virtually any other opportunity to raise a legitimate concern about Bush policy—be it the refusal to revisit, or expand, stem-cell research, or the ballooning budget deficit, or corporate welfare—Tucker speaks in sotto voce. His natural inclination to be a contrarian has been restrained, in his criticism of Bush Administration policy, and displaced, into his almost blind rage toward the Democratic Party.

Not to be out done, James Carville, famed political King-Maker and former Clintion campaign aide, has become as shrill as, if not more than, Tucker Carlson. You’ll often find Carville defending the indefensible and tirelessly skewering Bush as if it were a sport—but as of late, it has become the sport. Whether it’s filling in the holes of a Kerry foreign policy, or, with a straight face and in that signature southern drawl, asserting that the reformation and democratization of the Middle East has nothing to do with Iraq and, by extension, the War on Terror, Carville has turned the art of casuistry on its head.

Which brings to mind a new political aphorism in parlance: Just because President Bush believes it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Yet my grousing about what Crossfire has become isn’t at all fair. I enjoying watching the clown show for the sheer idiocy of seeing grown, intelligent men throw tantrums, among other things.(On today’s episode, Tucker threw, what appears to have been, a pencil at James, prompting James to throw it back. Unfortunately, the camera pulled away from the shot: what a shame.)

But I guess reasoned and substantive political debate on policy conveyed in a prosaic manner isn’t good TV. Crossfire, on the other hand, is good TV. The spectacle they have contrived over at CNN has created a new audience of rabid loonies looking for political analysis that’s delivered with a primal howl. I should know. I am one of those loons.

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