Now that the term “bloviator” has entered our common tongue, we need to retire it and see what is actually happening: the relentless poisoning of our common well, the willful destruction of political discourse, the unleashing of attack dogs who never let go.
If it were just bloviation — pompous and boastful oration — we would survive nicely. Bloviation is Edward Everett’s two-hour, 13,607-word oration saying nothing over a Pennsylvania battlefield soaked in blood, compared with Abraham Lincoln’s profound two-minute Gettysburg Address.
Bloviation is a human foible, like the table grace that goes on too long, the microphone hog who sends convention delegates fleeing for coffee, or the sermon that approaches eternity. We endure bloviation on every national holiday, when politicians try to portray statesmen by speaking at length.
What we are witnessing now in American politics is something quite different. Call it “attack, attack, attack.” No matter what the opponent does, attack it. Attack it immediately, attack it viciously, attack it unfairly, and attack it relentlessly.
If President Barack Obama wants to address students on the virtues of working hard and staying in school, attack his motives, compare him to a North Korean dictator, attack school officials for even allowing the television broadcast to occur.
Rather than have a rational debate on health care reform, send out-of-control partisans to public gatherings to shout for the cameras. Encourage them to go armed. Distort facts, invent a dreaded idea like “death panel,” and then keep repeating the “big lie” until it gains currency.
Even though sensible politics is always the art of compromise, attack compromising as weak, and attack compromisers as aloof and lacking passion. Undermine the possibility of resolving critical problems, lest a resolution that benefits citizens work to the opposing party’s favor.
Get the opposition so rattled that they lose their composure and seem shrill and unbalanced, and get one’s own constituency so frightened and angry that they will do anything to win.
Never back down. The fight is never over. The question is never answered. Facts and perspective count for nothing. Votes and court decisions are merely prelude to the next offensive. Like a pit bull, bite hard and hold on.
We have returned to the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution, when Irish poet William Butler Yeats saw the extremes holding sway and, we now know, setting in motion decades of destruction, and he wrote:
Things fall apart; the center
Mere anarchy is loosed
upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
The ceremony of innocence
The best lack all conviction,
while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
In such a moment, bloviation would be a relief. In the bloviator we see our common humanity. We sigh but wait patiently, because in a rational and just assembly, we each get a turn.
In the world of relentless attack, there are no turns. There is no respect for the other. The other is branded unworthy, a demon. The only answer is to destroy, even if the destruction of one means the destruction of many and the obliteration of any sanity and hope.
It is time for the center to stand and to hold, to say to all extremists that our future as a nation and democratic society lies in finding common ground, not in relentless attacks.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. His “Church Wellness” column appears in each issue of the Outlook.