Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Random Thoughts on Cal Thomas

No, not Cal Ripken. Cal Thomas. Sorry.

As “America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist,” Cal Thomas has always failed to impress me. He’s one of these guys who treats any liberal idea with a condescending pat on the head, as if it’s something to grow out of. He’s smug and snide and he comes off as a right-wing Mr Belvidere, without the wit and charm of a Clifton Webb.

Cal recently weighed in on last week’s CNN YouTube Debate, in which the Democratic candidates answered questions from among thousands that had been videotaped by concerned Americans and then uploaded to YouTube. Now, I don’t know about Cal’s regular readers, but any warm body who follows the campaign process even casually should be well aware that these televised Q&A sessions are technically not debates. I don’t think it’s necessary to keep pointing this out, but Cal, not wanting to pass up a chance to be pedantic, makes sure to note that “As before, this was not a real debate.”

He does give CNN credit for trying to liven up a dull and “too-long” campaign season with the YouTube format, but then complains that “This was a boring version of ‘American Idol,’ or worse, a political rip-off of ‘The Price is Right’ (How much do you think each candidate is worth? Come on down!)”

Talk about padding the column. How was it like American Idol, Cal? How was it a rip-off of The Price Is Right? It was the same thing it always is: A question is asked, the candidates answer, and you move on to the next question. That’s been the format for years. With nine candidates competing for time, you’re not going to get deeply nuanced answers, you’re not going to get much in the way of follow-up, and you’re probably not going to hear anything that’ll make you change your mind about your favorite candidate. At best—especially with the first caucus still more than five months away—you’re going to get the urge to read up on a candidate you might previously haven’t thought much about.

Cal goes on:
The problem with televised cattle calls is that the moderator and audience take at face value what politicians tell them. It is as if they are expressing themselves for the first time on every subject and Democrats are rarely asked about contradictory positions they’ve taken and whether it was conviction, or focus groups, that “converted” them. Republicans are always asked such questions.

Those italics are mine, by the way. It might be true that Republicans are always asked about their contradictory positions, but I’m not aware of any planet in this solar system on which it’s happening. Ever since the Poor Dope took office in 2001, there’s a very obvious contradiction that I don’t remember any Republican (including the Dope himself) being asked: “Why did you swear to defend the Constitution—and then not?”

I wonder if Cal would agree that that’s a contradictory position Americans deserve an answer to.

Cal also manages to pontificate on the old “We’re fighting them over there” nonsense, noting that if he had been the moderator of the debate, or televised cattle call, or whatever, he would have asked Hillary Clinton “Do you now believe the insurgents and terrorists would not take over the country [after U.S. withdrawal] and use it as a base to come after us here?”

I don’t know how Sen. Clinton might have responded to that, but I do remember enough about my “Non-Democratic Regimes” political science class in college that terrorists wouldn’t know what to do with a country if they did take it over. These are radical extremists, not revolutionaries looking to topple a regime and install their own government. Suicide bombers aren’t really looking for ways to make the trains run on time—or in this case, to provide electricity and water to a country in ruins.

Terrorism, in short, isn’t a system of government. It’s a tactic. The Poor Dope and his War on Terra supporters of the Cal Thomas variety are doing a great job pretending they don’t understand that.

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