The sad fact is that Watergate introduced a poison into the American body politic. Richard Nixon’s downfall was just and important, but it opened up the mouthwatering possibility that you don’t need to do the hard work of persuading people to join your side. Instead, you can destroy your foes all at once through scandal.Maybe this is partly because the real issues facing our country, from immigration to gun control to trade policy, and especially health care, are fiendishly complex and hard to understand. Who wants to listen to hours of argument about tariffs or emergency room fees? Scandal mongering is a way to rile up the emotions without having to engage the higher modules of the brain, and that is just a lot more fun. After all, we already know that our enemies are bad people with bad ideas, so why bother trying to understand them? Easier to accuse them of doing something nefarious and feel smug about our own virtue.
Politics since Watergate has been defined by a long string of scandals and pseudo-scandals — Iran-contra, Whitewater, Valerie Plame, Benghazi, Solyndra, swift-boating. Politico last year compiled a list of 46 scandals that were at one time or another deemed “worse than Watergate.”
The nation’s underlying divides are still ideological, but we rarely fight them honestly as philosophical differences. We just accuse the other side of corruption. Politics is no longer a debate; it’s an attempt to destroy lives through accusation.
The political media, especially on TV, now has a template it can apply whenever a scandal looms into view, to hook viewers into the speculative story line. According to the Tyndall Report, the three main broadcast networks made the Russia collusion investigation the second-most-covered news event of 2018, trailing only the Kavanaugh hearings, another scandal. . . .
It’s all a wonderful game. You don’t have to know anything about a boring policy subject like economics, poverty or foreign affairs. You can have a long career in politics and media by simply treating public life as an arena of life-or-death gossip.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
David Brooks on Scandal Politics
How we do politics in America: