Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hyman v. the Public II

A recurring theme of this blog is that it’s not so much Mark Hyman’s positions on the issues that are offensive as much as it is the way he expresses them and the fact that does so on public airwaves that are a local public resource.

Kelo v. New London trilogy offers perhaps the best case study of this yet. As I noted in the previous post, a reasonable person can certainly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the use of private lands for economic development. I have my own concerns about the possible fallout of the decision.

So, I don’t take issue with Hyman’s position, but I take exception at the crass way he approaches an important and complex issue. Rather than acknowledging the competing values involved in the debate (the rights of individual property owners vs. the rights of the community), Hyman caricatures the issue into a melodramatic farce with big bad bureaucrats slavering over the prospects of “tax revenue” (Hyman fails to note that the reason governments like tax revenue is that it can be invested in making the community better, but I digress.)

Why demagogue this issue? Hyman would have you believe it’s because he’s looking out for the working class family living in a modest home, a single mom in a trailer park, or a small businessman. Of course, we’ve seen that in a host of ways, Hyman holds such people in contempt by hypocritically advocating policies that help the wealthiest among us (e.g., tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts in social programs, and preemptive wars in which working class kids get killed) under the guise of pseudo-populism.

The last time Hyman devoted so many “Points” in a row to the same topic was when he spent a week slandering John Kerry in September of 2004, so you know that Hyman must feel invested in this topic on some deep level to yammer on for so long on a topic. Given the recent announcement by Sandra Day O’Connor that she’s stepping down from the Supreme Court, and the speculation that William Rhenquist will follow suit, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that Hyman used the Kelo v. New London case as an excuse to do some advance lobbying for a die-hard conservative to be nominated to the Court.

What did come as a surprise, even to us veteran “Point”-watchers, was the screeching, foaming diatribe that ended the series.

The first two installments of Hyman’s Kelo commentaries were fairly repetitive and focused on presenting the issues involved from a single point of view, suggesting that there wasn’t a reasonable argument to be made on the other side. This leads to an argument that manages to be at the same time both weak and manipulative, but not in any way that we haven’t seen many, many times before from Hyman. For example, there are a mere six overt uses of propagandistic appeals in the first commentary (yielding a Hyman Index of 2.51). This builds slightly in the second commentary to eight (which leads to a robust 3.98 Hyman Index).

This slight rise in propagandistic appeals is paralleled by a growing ideological bent in the commentaries. At the end of the first commentary, Hyman promises to tell us next time “who on the Supreme Court voted against your private property rights.” In the second, Hyman follows through by pointedly labeling the dissenting votes of as coming from “the three most conservative jurists,” as well as “swing voter” O’Connor. As for those who were in the majority, he labels Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer as the “most liberal justices” and Kennedy as “moderate.” Never mind that seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republicans and that almost all of the “liberal” judges on this court would be considered moderates in most judicial contexts. Those facts don’t suit Hyman’s purpose.

Which is, not surprisingly, to savage liberalism in general. At the end of the second commentary, Hyman says that in the next “Point,” he will “talk about the ideologies behind this outrageous court decision.”

Political ideology is an interesting point when talking about the Kelo v. New London case. After all, here you have conservatives complaining that the federal government isn’t actively intervening enough in the actions of local governments and businesses. This apparent ideological inconsistency should serve as an indicator that the issues involved in the case are more complex and subtle than meets the eye.

But we don’t go to Hyman for complexity and subtlety. And while it was entirely predictable that
his final commentary on the matter would be a paean to the wonders of conservatism and the need for right wing justices on the Supreme Court, it’s actually surprising how ludicrously over the top Hyman’s climactic rant is.

In an orgy of propaganda (“propagasm”?), Hyman uses at least 14 separate propagandistic appeals. Plain folks appeals are entwined with fear mongering which is laid on unwarranted extrapolation, etc., etc., etc. Hyman’s spewings garner him a 6.39 on the Hyman Index, a record that will likely stand for some time.

We’re told that five Supreme Court justices ruled “against the people” and “for wealthy developers.” The battle is a clash of “adherence to the Constitution vs. judicial activism. Conservative principles over liberal ideologies” [emphasis mine].

And what is an example of a fundamental Conservative belief? That the individual has “certain inalienable rights.” Apparently conservatives have laid claim to sole possession of the Declaration of Independence as well as the stars and stripes.

You liberals might not have gotten the memo, but your “ideology” is that “individual rights can be trampled in favor of the collective good” and that this is “the same principle behind the failed Socialist and Communist forms of government.”

That’s bad enough, but liberal beliefs are also “a cancer on the American way of life.”

The entire commentary must truly be seen to be believed. It would read like a comic parody of Hymanesque rhetoric if it hadn’t come from the man himself.

Even then, it might be easy to poke fun at the spectacle Hyman makes of himself in this piece, except for the fact that it’s not simply his own public image he’s sullying. This is simply a particularly egregious example of what is most disturbing about “The Point” for anyone, regardless of your opinion on Kelo v New London, who you think should be on the Supreme Court, or your political alignment. Every time a public figure such as Hyman chooses to use such venomous rhetoric and abandons any pretext of rationality, it encourages the acceptance and practice of amoral public discourse—speech in which there are no rules or standards of ethics or judgment, where “truth” is simply whatever is yelled the loudest, and the object of discussion is to befuddle and manipulate rather than create understanding.

As much as Hyman frames the battle for the public sphere as that between liberals and conservatives, it isn’t. People of all political stripes can disagree emphatically on any number of issues, but still agree on the proper way to carry out the basic give and take of civic life. No, the true divide is between those of us, both red and blue, who think public debate should be carried out vigorously but with a sense of integrity and intellectual honesty, and those who, either by choice or lack of skills, turn it into a destructive brawl.

That is what Hyman is doing, both in this particular commentary and in his entire rotten oeuvre. More than any four letter word that might escape the lips of a shock jock or drunken rock star, it’s an obscenity—one that we shouldn’t suffer to allow on our publicly owned airwaves.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hyman, the cowardly hyena that he is, marches fearlessly into the ring each day to take the fight to his enemy, the liberal left. Being the shameless coward that he is, along with his fellow right-wing NeoCon thugs, he will never agree to a fair fight. He is such a cowardly pansy, that he will not step into the ring unless his opponent is bound and gagged and tied to a chair or maybe chained to the floor in a fetal position. After pummeling his helpless adversary for a few minutes he emerges from the ring victorious and unscathed. He is the role-model, the absolute epitome of a true modern-day Republican American hero. Is it any wonder that these fascists like to torture prisoners?

Thanks Ted, and keep bustin' Hyman.
Mike B. in SC


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