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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Illustrating ideological rigidity

Leonard Pitts Jr.

This one is for Doug.

He was one of maybe 2,000 readers who fired off e-mails in response to a recent column criticizing that paragon of political analysis, Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. I excoriated Limbaugh for saying of Barack Obama’s presidency, “I hope he fails.” As is generally the case when you exact a pound of flesh from Brother Limbaugh’s hide, his legions of listeners were vociferous and unstinting in his defense.

They claimed I misquoted him (the quote was cut and pasted directly from Limbaugh’s own Web site). They claimed Limbaugh was referring not to Obama’s presidency, but to his supposed desire to institute a socialist government (except that Limbaugh was, by his own admission, responding to a question about his hopes for Obama’s presidency).

Doug, however, made neither of those arguments. His e-mail said in its entirety:

“I see your (sic) Mr. Sensitive when it comes to someone saying something bad about your guy. But I had to go 8 years watching, reading, listening to you ravage George W. Bush. Just who has the Class here?”

His subject line: “you ravage Bush we ravage Obama.”

Read that one again: “you ravage Bush we ravage Obama.” Not the barest pretense of principle, nor the slightest attempt at making an argument. Just a child’s game. Tit for tat and tag, you’re it.

You will seldom see a plainer illustration of the mental and moral midgetry to which ideological rigidity has reduced all too many of our fellow Americans.

I plead guilty to the charge, by the way. I did, indeed, “ravage” Bush. He was, in my estimate, the worst president in memory, if not the worst ever. Not “ravaging” him would have amounted to journalistic malpractice. Let Obama turn trillion-dollar surpluses into trillion-dollar deficits, sacrifice lives and treasure in an ill-conceived war of choice, preside over a government whose ineptitude is exceeded only by its arrogance, and I’ll “ravage” him, too. You bring the feathers, I’ll bring the tar.

But then, I also “ravaged” Bill Clinton when his inability to keep his zipper closed precipitated a constitutional crisis. I called him “sluttish,” a “human oil slick,” “Gomer,” “unprincipled, formless, opportunistic,” “manipulative slime,” a “sad, sex-addled liar” and, my personal favorite, “President Hefner.”

I bet that will surprise Doug. He seems to buy the notion, propounded by the likes of Limbaugh and lapped up by millions of Dougs and Dougettes, that one’s first loyalty as an American is to party or ideology. So that you must defend your guy with mindless zeal even if he is President God-awful and attack the other guy with mindless zeal even if he is so new to the office his business cards haven’t yet come back from the printer. Mindless zeal is the common denominator. What’s right, what’s wrong, what’s best for the country, these things don’t even enter the equation.

Yes, we all have our politics, our prisms, our pet narratives. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with embracing an ideology that gives structure and order to your thinking. But for too many of us, ideology becomes identity, becomes an intellectual straitjacket, becomes an excuse not to think. Instead, they wallow in a lazy childishness such that questions involving the life and future of a great nation are treated like stickball or tag, games played with the mindless zeal of childhood, as if nothing of substance were at stake, and victory were its own reward.

That’s what you hear in Doug’s e-mail, an echo of childish voices chanting “nyah nyah nyah.” “You ravage Bush we ravage Obama.” Then what? You ravage the next guy and we ravage the guy after that? We don’t even know who those guys – or women – are yet. And you know what’s sad?

It doesn’t matter.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
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