30 August 2008

The Talk That Really Matters

S. used to take issue with the tone of my speaking voice. “You always sound so certain, even when you’re wrong.”

“That’s how I grew up. Why wouldn’t you want to sound sure of yourself?”

Kitchen table debates and Sunday morning showdowns were the routine when I grew up. Our small town paper was, to put it mildly, a little light in the news sections, so my father subscribed to the state newspaper as well, turning our kitchen table into a news archive when we weren’t eating at it.

If you supported a particular position, you stated your case. If you disagreed with something someone else was saying, you refuted them with the best argument you could muster.

Sounding unsure was the quickest way for everyone to lose interest in what you were saying.

Which is why when I listen to the punditocracy on television, I filter out the authoritative tones and the aggressive postures.

The reality in our country is that our political narratives are largely driven by a few hundred people, most of whom have never been elected to anything since high school.

The faces we see on TV are a distillation of these elite who inhabit the media and government bureaucracy.

John McCain upset the applecart with his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. He did an end run around the normal channels through which information flows in the political arena, bypassing many of the mechanisms by which the shapers of our national political landscape keep tabs on upcoming developments, allowing them to mute or exaggerate their importance.

This weekend, your TV screen will be filled with the petulant sneers of those who feel betrayed by this surprise vice-presidential pick, and those who will take this opportunity to forecast doom and gloom for Obama/Biden, all of them trying to get a new handle on how they think this will affect the presidential race in the coming weeks.

For the next few days, every time you see one of those familiar faces look firmly into the television camera, every time you hear one of those familiar voices start to explain in an authoritative manner why their opinion should be the only one that counts, remember that there will be hundreds of thousands of men and women around the country this Labor Day weekend, many of them in Obama ‘08 t-shirts, looking firmly into the faces of the public, telling them in an authoritative manner very similar to these television talkmeisters why they should be registered to vote.

This is the talking that will really matter.

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