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  • Hanging in Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters during his first run for President was a big sign that famously said It's the economy, stupid. Just in case some staffer got an idea that some other issue might be important.

    As the economy doesn't loom so large in the current race for President, if Mr. Clinton were running today (well, I guess he sort of is), the sign would say It's the anger, stupid.

    Nearly all the Republican candidates have already taken that to heart, it seems. The Democrats, well, just want to be nice. For their part, they do try to arouse political passions, but feel it would be beneath their dignity to dig into viscera. That's decent and principled of them, but it doesn't boost their press coverage.

    You have to admit that Donald Trump got a lot more mileage out of calling those who govern us "stupid" than he would from a position paper on government reform. He is hardly the first conservative candidate to middle-finger losers, but he has gotten away with it in spades, and so now most of his fellow wannabes are hot-buttoning the electorate's pent-up indignation, intolerance, ignorance, prejudice, and generalized fear of The Other.

    I'm not being a partisan here. I would likewise tar any Democrats I spotted using hate speech, but they are really hard to find. What aren't hard to find are press and media reports that regurgitate politicians' ill-tempered innuendos, distortions, non-sequiturs and lies with mock gravitas. That's more disturbing than listening to GOP contenders parrot one another's talking points. So maybe it's the media, stupid.

    When foul-mouthed Dick Nixon stalked the White House, he kept his highly seasoned epithets within his own circle, and the press hardly mentioned his vindictive streak until after high water broke over his presidency. Even hostile media outlets took care to call him "President Nixon" or "Mister Nixon," unlike they treat the current resident of the While House, who is often referred to as "Obama" or worse. As the media turns, so goes our veneer of respect for our leaders.

    In a country where everyone has the right, privilege, and plenty of reasons to be pissed off, you would think that we wouldn't need any ersatz outrages. But, as it is so much easier to point to a scapegoat than to fix a problem that may or may not exist, the temptation to conjure up meme-worthy perps is near irresistible to unprincipled pols, partisan pundits, and captive reporters. And so we are mongered defamatory sobriquets like welfare queens, Obamacare death panels, Sharia law, cop-killers, anchor babies, LGBT perverts, and effete abortion-loving, gun-confiscating liberals. We still burn witches, mostly in blogs now, but the stench of scorched flesh also wafts from prime time news. Seems that folks still can warm up to a good ole auto-da-fe.

    There's a lot of blame to go around for dumbing down political discourse, but I see the biggest pile of it near the right foot of the political establishment, on the leg that likes to knee the opposition, kick victims while they are down, and run away from responsibility. But pols couldn't get away with it had established media players not taught them that controversy sells air time, whipped-up crowds whip up ratings, tit for tat titillates, and overstating outrage can make almost any matter loom larger. News is a product, after all, and the last thing you want it to be is boring.

    As long as mega-corporations control national politics and the media, the dissembling and scapegoating won't stop unless enough of us throw open the windows of our minds and stop taking it. After that, let's close the windows on our screens and get out and talk to one another.
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