Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
New York City, NY ““ The Big Apple is the scene of the Clinton Global Initiative in a year when some Americans have begun to conclude that American politics may be becoming rotten to its core.
In a time when American political discussion, talk radio and Internet posts and Internet comments sections are now predictable due to ideological narratives and attack lines, the initiative founded five years ago by former President Clinton seeks a different path. It brings together top government, academic and other bigwigs from the U.S. and the world to do something increasingly missing in today’s political life: seriously discuss problems and try to come up with solutions.
The meetings get some coverage ““ Bill and Hillary Clinton’s comments, Laura Bush’s appearance, President Barack Obama introducing Michelle Obama and her speech ““ but discussion topics are often a tad short of the mass media” hot button” issues that dominate front pages, newscasts, blogs or talk show scream fests.
This vanishing notion that adults can get together and respectfully discuss issues without reducing problems to something that sounds vomited up from a bumper sticker, or written by a “troll” in a political blog’s comments section is in contrast to how problems are now often addressed by politicians and framed by some American media.
A quintessential moment highlighting today’s political polemics aired on Fox News when Republican consultant Jack Burkman crossed a rhetorical line that made former New York Senator Al D’Amato explode. The subject: whether the money-losing Postal Service serves any purpose.
Burkman said that most Postal Service employees “should be driving cabs. And I think we ought to stop importing labor from Nigeria and Ethiopia. That’s about the skill level…” When a panel member took Burkman to task and he stood by his comments, D’Amato had enough.
“You are a nasty racist,” D’Amato snarled. “You brought in the fact that bunch of Nigerians…” The anchor tried to rush it along. “Now wait a minute!” D’Amato insisted. “Let me just tell you. That’s a bunch of [male cow waste matter].. And you should be ashamed of yourself and have your mouth washed out. What the hell are you talking about?”
Burkman tried to reply but D’Amato continued. “It’s one thing to say that they’re out of control”¦Shut up! I listened to your racist [male cow waste matter]!. It’s one thing to say that they’re hiring people who are unskilled, that you can save money that you can run it better, that it is inefficient and ineffective. And I agree to all of those things. But for you to bring in about a bunch of Nigerians, it’s out of line. You hurt the cause of saying: “˜Guess what? A combination of private-public partnership could do much better than what [we are] doing now.’”
D’Amato articulated what some Americans feel: demonizing or stereotyping doesn’t change minds or create solutions. Still, the number of Americans favoring compromise is dwindling. A Pew Research conducted poll found 49 percent admire leaders who won’t compromise — and just 42 percent admire those who do. This suggests more partisanship and overripe rhetoric is on tap.
There is irony in the CGI meeting in New York. Clinton was elected in 1992. That summer 39 percent considered voting for millionaire Ross Perot’s third party Presidential bid. Perot blew it when he dropped out, blaming it on Republicans planning to sabotage his daughter’s wedding and then re-entered. Perot lost his moment.
New York is the city whose millionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is now considered by some analysts to have potential appeal to head a 2012 third party candidacy. Bloomberg now plans to endorse Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Cuomo over Tea Party upset GOP nominee Carl Paladino.
And, unlike Perot, Bloomberg doesn’t have a daughter planning a wedding”¦”¦
Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached email@example.com and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman