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Playground Rules

The show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” was never a big hit, but it was entertaining.  It was all improv, driven by the audience and (in the US) host Drew Carey (who turns 50 today).  The fun was set up like a contest where Carey would award “points” to each performance – but no one ever added them up at the end of the show.

These are the rules of the playground, a place where points don’t have to be added up because everyone is too busy having a lot of fun.  That is, until the bullies show up and worry a lot more about the points even though they still aren’t added up at the end.

That’s what “politics” has become, sadly.  It’s an improv show without entertainment, the playground without the fun, all the rules without even a squishy red rubber ball.  But, like a bunch of kids on a lazy summer’s green field, no one has to get anything done.

The chattering heads who are employed primarily as entertainers rather than serious news people are usually the worst offenders.  Like a street improv act they have to do something to be noticed, so the more outrageous the better. Many political blogs are no different in their approach, most of them struggling even more to be noticed.

It’s not pretty, but if you take it as pure entertainment it’s at least understandable.  The mistake comes when this is confused with real “politics”, which is either the art and science of human interaction (eg “office politics” or “domestic politics”) or the operating system of a Democratic Republic.

Lately, however, the spillover from the playground of entertainment has caused some shockingly juvenile behavior in politicians – actions that suggest our ongoing crisis can only get worse, at least until it gets adult supervision.

The first is the tantrum hollered out as a press release by Newt Gingrich.  The former Congressman, always a lousy politician with his enormous ego and strong intellect, did have a bad week.  It started when he, rightly, decried “radical social engineering” on the right as well as the left.  That didn’t suit well with those who … well, clearly want to perform social engineering.  Newt tried to back peddle in grand style, and when that didn’t work released a press release that can only be called a tantrum.  The performance of this press release on Colbert’s show by John Lithgow is a classic of political parody because not one word had to – no, not one word could – be changed.

Here in Minnesota, we’re less likely to have public tantrums than long screeds full of adolescent ennui.  That’s what Tony Sutton of the Republican Party released in an effort to win over the press.  It was a desperate cry of attention, like most entertainment that passes itself off as politics.

“Starting budget discussions with the assumptive question ‘How big can we grow government?’ is always going to yield a compromise to the left …”

As the father of a teen, I know how hard it is to argue against this kind of stuff.  You have to start by saying, “Huh?” and then trying to back up the angst towards reality somehow.  As if anyone ever asked “How big can we grow government?”  Yeesh.

As shocking as this juvenile behavior is, it’s a natural result of the confusion between entertainment and politics.   Entertainment can be run by playground rules because it is supposed to be fun.  It’s when everyone gets wound up in the “points” that the playground is no longer fun and everything descends into a long and boring discussion of the rules and who wronged who.

The only thing you can do when this goes down is to take the red rubber ball and kick it around.  Those who want to argue on “points” can get their own playground.  That’s what my younger child has learned to do when the playground is taken over by the whiners and rule-bound control freaks.

Of course, politics should never operate by playground rules at all.  It’s just not usually fun enough to sustain a lazy summer day.  If only we didn’t confuse politics with entertainment we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place, of course.  But as long as we do we can expect everything to operate by playground rules – the long and boring kind, that is.

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19 thoughts on “Playground Rules

  1. To me the classic example of confusing entertainment with leadership is Michele Bachmann. She probably gets more media attention that Minnesota’s other 7 congresscritters put together, while saying almost nothing that is useful or truthful. Yet, people on the “left” seem baffled by her success. They keep taking the bait, pointing out the foolishness of what she says, but not making much of an analysis of where it comes from or what interests are served by it.

  2. The only problem I have with this is that I find nothing entertaining about the stuff you describe. I wonder a lot about people who are into it.

  3. It just keeps getting weirder every day. We should have known that once Obama released the whole birth certificate that they’d have to move on to something even weirder. Look at the whole thing with Isreal and the 1967 border that got wipped up over nothing. They are trying but its not getting them anywhere.

  4. Alan, you’re exactly right. We can’t go by playground rules and expect to get anything done – or get respect. What this does is supress voter turonout among real adults because it appears to have no connection with reality. The more we play into that, the more sure we can be that Democrats will lose. I don’t know why this is even controversial, either.

    Jim, Dale, it’s not amusing at all, is it? And it is getting weirder all the time – in large part because the “entertainers” have real power. They are holding the red rubber ball right now. Holding it and making sure no one plays with it while they go on with their histerionics. Bleh.

  5. OK I am confused. I watched over an hour of the DOM debate Sat. nite. The first 3-5 speakers seemed very fine altho I wish #5 and 4 would have foregone some of the nicities and talked about real political power instead. So the republicans are trying to activate their base (just say it) and suppress dems by voter ID. Some of the latter dems seemed a a bit juvenile. Been reading some roman classical lit. again I’ll share it with you sometime.

  6. Dan, you pretty much have it. The Republican base has a tendency to show up, but there are a few on the fringes that they need to energize (a good argument can be made that Emmer lost as Gov more than Dayton won if you look at Republican turnout, esp. in some key areas).

    What I’m not sure about yet, which is why I didn’t write about this today, is that a gay marriage prohibition amendment may energize the left, especially the young, which would be a disaster for the Republicans. I think at this point it’s fair to say that the dice are in the air. Not something I want to have happen with what I consider basic civil rights, but if there’s a fight it might be best to bring it on. It’s up to the DFL to do something about this, IMHO.

    I’m thinking about what to do on this issue. As usual, my approach will be a bit different – but geared to raising voter turnout, for sure. I do think we need humor to engage the young – but the rest is up for debate.

  7. I’ll get back to you on the DMO later but I want to go to another tangent. I am confused still, why is Mitch Daniels getting a free pass as he may gear up for 2016 providing Obama wins? I mean afterall he was the OMB head under Bush II where they seriously misjudged/misled the costs of the Iraq War. He may of will never be held accouable for that by 90% of the presscorps. Sure Frontline may have a quick note on it but not much more.

  8. Since the apostle Paul is going to be named countless times in the DMA here’s the lowdown on glorious roman marriage. A young girl in the form of property was initiated by rape from an older husband. The husband continues to go to girlfriends (who can get pregnant) and prostitutes who can’t. The wife (young girl) was primarily for childbearing. Deformed babies, or excess female babies were thrown away (“exposed” to the elements”). Under new Christian assemblies slaves, women and the exiled were not considered as mere things. Pretty radical.

  9. And as Dan points out, I have left such church.

    But we all must consider the actions we take. For tomorrow is the sums of our yesterdays.

  10. LZ read the didache you may be pleasantly surprised. Erik back to the black panther party some posts ago, read this week’s insight news mpls for more front page history. Or read gregory Bateson and explain it simply for readers. Or singularity (please)

  11. Dan, you’re off on a tangent, but you know what I can’t resist! All I will say now is that the real stories of Rome have yet to be told, but they are well worth it IMHO – so much of what made Western Europe lies in Rome, and it echoes until today. And the Black Panther stuff is also going to keep echoing in ways that seem pretty strange until you understand it, much as various Nazi/KKK things still do as well. I think I have a working knowledge of those, having grown up where radicalism was always just below the surface for a lot of reasons, but I could see getting a lot more “into it”.

  12. Ok I am going off on 3-4 tangents. I am kinda sorta starting to think that there are 4 schools of cultural anthropology. After reading the history of agriculture in the United States (Born in the country) it wasn’t that some of the agrarian movements were “bad” it was that they were out funded, out organized and leadership and membership could drift away to individual pursuits (often survival or social climbing) And back to Kafka’s metamorphisis, I think this is where the reenchantment of the world/nature comes in. I mean the guy was bored stiff with his job which he hated and his parental family was kinda dragging him down.

  13. Dan, there’s little doubt that the Chemurgy movement of the 1920s was out-spent, despite the backing of Dow and Henry Ford. I think you are very right that real agricultural advancement has always been a prisoner of high-buck politics. Look at ethanol for gasoline, for example – a really bad idea that has sucked up a lot of money for little benefit – except to raise corn prices.

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