Politics & Media
Jun 08, 2015, 02:06PM

Op-Ed Space is So Difficult to Fill

Arthur C. Brooks disparages trolls and haters in The New York Times.

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There’s a speck in my memory reserved for the odious song, “Hip to be Square,” a hit single released in 1986 by Huey Lewis and the News, to the irritation of all those with a semblance of taste. Okay, that’s subjective: I don’t automatically dismiss people who hum “Seasons in the Sun,” “Dancing Queen” or “Piano Man,” but as snap judgments go, it’s fairly compelling. Today, so are the mock protests by writers on the Internet who complain about “trolls,” those commenters (often anonymous) who thrive on virulent—often profanity-laced and semi-literate—criticism of an article or political point of view. Journalists, most of whom are just plain “square,” are notoriously thin-skinned, and I guess the barbs sting, though I don’t understand that feeling: isn’t a torrent of commentary, pro or con, what a writer aims for, rather than silence? And I say “mock protest,” for likely a majority of those trolled upon probably read every single comment about them. It’s a kick, baby, and you needn’t be anywhere near Rt. 66.

I read a rather pointless op-ed in The New York Times today about the upcoming presidential election—of course—by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a usually conservative think tank. The headline read “The Thrill of Political Hating,” and from there it just got worse. Brooks rides the white horse, citing the Dalai Lama and Thomas Jefferson in his denunciation of the anger in politics, and advises readers: “Avoid indulging in snarky, contemptuous dismissals of Americans on the other side. And always own up to your views.”

Thank you, Father, but I don’t believe I’ve sinned.

Brooks says a sign of “hot hate” is when people yell at the television. I do that all the time in the morning, especially when Today’s Al Roker makes an unbelievably innocuous observation. Or when Matt Lauer takes a tiny bite of a dish prepared by the chef of the day and says something like, “Scrumptious, and just 100 calories per serving?” (I do admit that about a month ago Roker cracked me up for the first time, when his colleagues were putting on serious faces when sniffing an expensive fragrance from this or that designer. Roker said, deadpan, “I always though that he who smelt it, dealt it,” and Willie Geist’s glare at him was priceless.) But do I “hate” Roker? Well, no, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the man, and chances are he’s a swell chap.

Same goes for politicians. There are any number of elected officials and candidates I find objectionable: Barack Obama (a disinterested president who’d make a better late-night talk show host), Ted Cruz (a dangerous Xenophobe), Rick Santorum (a head-up-his-ass moral scold), Hillary Clinton (sleazy, shifty and narcissistic), Mike Huckabee (a laughable con man), Bernie Sanders (folksy redistributionist) and Nancy Pelosi (whose name you’d find in a dictionary under “noblesse oblige”). But again, these are men and women in the public square: I haven’t met a single one of them, and again, several would probably be delightful to spend an afternoon with.

More Brooks: “The conventional approach is to blame the politicians and tacticians for this dreaded odium politicum ['destructive rhetoric' in presidential elections]. But we citizens need to look inward a little. Whether or not we want to admit it, political hate is a demand-driven phenomenon. We are the ones creating a big market for it.” Seems that “we citizens,” despite protestations to the contrary, really dig negative political advertising. Bingo, Mr. Brooks! Sociology is the cottage-industry for you!

At least Brooks refrained from writing, “Haters gonna hate,” or I might’ve deposited last night’s artichoke and tuna salad on the thin first section of The Times.

I’m not pointing the finger solely at The Times: this sort of goo-goo drivel is published every day of the year in newspapers and websites. Space-fillers masqueraded as a civics lesson. Troll that, buster!

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955

  • Agree that "Hip to Be Square" is loathesome, but wouldn't a look at the wealth and income distribution figures post-Reagan indicate that a "redistributor" as you aptly label Bernie is just what the doctor ordered?

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  • Oh sure, Chris, a Robin Hood is just what the U.S. needs to finally make real economic progress.

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  • If economic progress is defined strictly by GDP, I wonder how much progress it really is.

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  • Now that you mention Robin Hood, Russ, I kind of like that concept. I mean, I'm trying to think of some reason why I would care if a bit was taken from a billionaire who has way more than he knows what to do with and given to those who can't get a leg up. No one can tell me that this is "unfair" to the billionaire, who has benefitted greatly from the American business/legal environment and all around infrastructure. I truly don't care about billionaires. They'll be fine, even if a Bernie Sanders gets elected.

  • The poor have the same exact legal/business system as the rich Chris. Until you can show me a law that states it only applies to the rich, your argument is bunk. One of the main tenets of the U.S. is equality for all. Why do you want to destroy that? Doesn't it kind of make you a bigot?

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  • Chris, are you actually this naive, or just auditioning for a part in Bernie's campaign? I don't think many care if billionaires are taxed more heavily: in fact, they'd simply adapt. The real danger of Sanders' redistribution is that it would go far deeper than the very wealthy, extending to the middle class, probably with some arbitrary cut-off. Is it fair to gouge a family earning $75,000, with both parents working?

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  • This makes me a bigot too? I'm really beginning to think you are not in compos mentis. Hopefully, it was an attempt at humor.

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  • It's funny, because I was sure you were going to say naive. I haven't looked at Bernie's plan in detail yet, but no I want the burden to be placed on much higher incomes than 75k. I don't think relying on income tax too heavily is the answer either. Closing corporate tax loopholes could be very effective. Giving tax credits for r&d should be eliminated too, as it's corporate socialism. Taxing people in the hedge fund industry at 15% can be looked at too. Also advocate major estate tax boost to high net worth individuals. Put it back to pre-Reagan level. That tax was originally set at a very high rate to prevent inherited dynasties. Also,stop paying defense contractors billions for ordnance even the Pentagon doesn't want. Neither of the 2 main parties serves citizens any more. They work for corporations now. Bernie doesn't so he'll be reviled because his idea are threatening. That is all.

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  • What you're suggesting, Chris, wouldn't raise nearly enough $$$ for what Sanders purportedly wants to accomplish. (Obviously, he's an extreme long shot, and even if elected, would have to work with Congress, of which the House will remain GOP.) Closed loopholes can be avoided; estate taxes can be avoided (just ask the owners of the The New York Times). How about this: a flat tax. Exempt families whose income is $30,000 or less; individual whose income is $25,000 or less. Tax everyone else a flat 25%, with no exemptions. Sounds fair to me, although lawyers and accountants, suddenly out of jobs, wouldn't care for it.

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  • Flat tax has potential but govt tax receipts from corporations is so much less than it used to be that this has to be addressed to.

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  • Russ - Do you have any info on projected tax receipts inder this flat tax compared to current receipts?

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  • The problem with the flat tax is that it sounds easy but is just as complicated as the current system. You can't tax on gross income since it would put most people and corporations underwater. After all, few goods have a greater than 25%margin Same is true with net revenue. A 25% tax off the top along with usual expenses would leave most manufacturers underwater. That leaves net income which allows for most of the ways that people legally avoid paying higher taxes. On capital gains taxes, and taxes on off-shore money, this problem becomes even bigger. It would be better for the investor to leave money off-shore or in the market provided their investments lose less than the tax threshold. This would fundamentally change the stock markets and withhold even more money from the general economy. As for the estate tax that my friend Chris endorses, it is double taxation pure and simple. Furthermore, those who become uber wealthy do so despite the government and not because of the government. There is no moral or ethical reason that comes to mind to suggest the government has any claim to an estate over its rightful heirs who have historically been a part of the estates success. One alternative not yet discussed is a individual tax. For example $10k per year per family member. If you don't pay you don't get the privileges of citizenship like voting etc. Although controversial, it would attack the environmental, population/welfare and tax problems the country currently faces. Obviously those who serve in the army, police, fire, etc. would be granted citizenship rights despite not paying the individual tax.

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