Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 334- The perfect storm

Dear Mr. President,

Call me crazy, but I suspect that most Americans would pay a few cents more for food if it decreases the likelihood that that food doesn't have e. coli, salmonella, or any number of potentially deadly food-borne contaminants. Personally, I'm willing to pay quite a bit more for food that (besides being generally non-toxic) is also produced with as little harm to living things and to the environment as possible. (I know, I know, that's just mind-blowingly leftist of me to say.) So when congress passed the Food Safety Act today (and you applauded them for it) I figured that this would cause little excitement from the right. Turns out I'm not getting any less naive with age, because Glenn Beck called this "criminal" and suggested that "the perfect storm" is upon us and it's time to "close the bunker door."

I have to say, as much as I appreciate Mr. Beck for giving Jon Stewart something funny to do most nights, I'm really underwhelmed by his sustained hysteria. Food safety? REALLY, Mr. Beck? REALLY? The problem, of course, is that no matter how little credibility I may believe Mr. Beck has, people do take him seriously. Lots of people. People I can't dismiss out of hand because some of them are surely related to me, and all of them probably have loved ones who think they are rational enough human beings. And when Mr. Beck uses words like "criminal" and implies that a relatively modest expansion of government oversight for massive national industries that people trust with their health, (and the health of their children,) is tantamount to a natural disaster, well, people who take him seriously are going to get upset.

Mr. Beck's language implies physical, immediate danger. Storms don't think or reason; they destroy. Storms wreak senseless havoc. Instead of engaging in honest discussion about the role of government in agriculture and food production, Mr. Beck wants his audience to panic, to react with fear and instinct and emotion. Because escaping a storm isn't about reasonable discourse it's about survival; it justifies all kinds of conduct that would not otherwise be acceptable.

I think one of the fundamental divides in this country is between those of us who are willing to turn something as benign as a food safety bill (or really any political disagreement) into a harbinger of the apocalypse, and those of us who are committed to more reasonable, saner discussion of the issues. I think that you fall into the latter category, which is why I respect you and, unfortunately, also probably why you "lose" many of the contrived news-cycle battles with the ever-hysterical right. I'm glad that you don't sink to that level, and I like to think that winning re-election won't require it of you.

Then again, I've already demonstrated a really unhealthy amount of naive good faith in people, so maybe you should break out the end days language and start invoking life-or-death stakes for every legislative battle you face. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The perfect storm is upon us.

Or something.

Respectfully yours,


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