A month ago, The Washington Post editorial page was dropping rhetorical bombs on conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli for investigating ClimateGate. The headline at the top of the paper's May 7 editorial page (now scrubbed online) was "Mr. Cuccinelli's witch hunt: Virginia's attorney general declares war on academic freedom and climate reality." It began:
WE KNEW Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli's abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia's universities will suffer for years to come.
That's an unsigned staff editorial, not some fulminating columnist with a byline. But these very same Washington Post editorial page staffers offered space on Friday to alleged conservative Michael Smerconish to trash cable news bookers at Fox News and CNN for wrecking America with "polarized politics."
The producer asked whether CNN could identify me as a conservative. "Well, if someone who supports harsh interrogation, thinks we should be out of Iraq but in Pakistan, doesn't care much if two guys hook up, and believes we should legalize pot and prostitution is conservative, fine," I replied.
Another time, a Fox News producer invited me to appear on a program to discuss then-candidate Barack Obama. I was told they were "looking for someone who would say he's cocky and that his cockiness will hurt him, if not in the primary, definitely in the general election against McCain." I declined. A few hours later, the same producer made a new pitch: "What about a debate off the top of the show on whether or not Hillary is trustworthy? We have someone who says she is and we're looking for someone who says she isn't."
The message of both episodes is clear: There is no room for nuance. Either you offer a consistent (possibly artificial) ideological view or you often don't get a say....
All of which leaves more elected officials beholden to the fringe elements of their parties, which in turn means less gets done. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it is robbing our televisions and radios of the substantive dialogue the country desperately needs, while leaving our politics a petty and unproductive mess.
Other than favoring the legalized pot and prostitutes, Smerconish is often a supporter of cringing moderation, so cringing and opportunistic that you switch parties when your polls look bad. Recall Smerconish in April helping NBC proclaim a devastated Republican Party when Arlen Specter swapped parties: "The Republican Party in the aftermath of the presidential race should have come to him and tried to clone him. They need more Arlen Specters." It's Specter right now who looks like he's leaving politics as a petty and unproductive mess.