Why can’t our team follow suit: Three cheers for Kathleen Parker!
In her column from Sunday’s Washington Post, Parker crosses tribal lines to defend Michelle Obama. Much of the column deals with reaction to Jodi Kantor’s recent book about the Obama’s marriage, which you can read if you’re feeling especially nosy. But eventually, Parker describes the way the tribal haters currently play the game.
Parker describes a segment from last Thursday’s Hannity program. As usual, Sean was trying to stoke the tribal hatred. But Kathleen Parker wasn’t buying.
Let’s think about what Parker said:
PARKER (1/15/12): Attempting to prod his guests into saying something negative about Mrs. Obama, Hannity pulled out the old clip of Michelle saying that she was proud of her country for the first time when her husband was running for the Democratic Party’s nomination. This has been played and replayed thousands of times and presented as evidence that Mrs. Obama doesn’t really love her country, that she wasn’t proud of it until her husband was running for president. So what?We wouldn’t agree with every word. If anything, we think Parker is working a bit too hard to "understand" how Obama must have felt. (We've never been especially proud of our country either—and we get listed as "white.") But Parker does describe the way modern tribal punditry works:
These perhaps were not the best words for a future first lady, but I have no trouble understanding how she felt in that moment. It may be easy for fortunate whites to say they’ve always been proud of America, though they’re probably lying. It is less easy for someone whose ancestors were slaves and whose own parents remember when blacks couldn’t vote and were lynched for trying in some parts of the country. Given that history, one can forgive a few ill-chosen words uttered in an emotional moment.
But no. Mrs. Obama has been paying for her remarks ever since.
Tribal tribunes lurk in the bushes, waiting for those in the other tribe to make some remark which may involve “perhaps not the best words.” The tribune then seizes upon that remark, tearing into its flesh like a ravenous dog. As Parker notes, the person who made the imperfect remark is punished for her imperfection for years. Tribalists swallow the comfort food, reassured that folk in the other tribe are very bad—really quite vile.
As a columnist, Parker has most often written from the center right. She crossed tribal lines in this piece to speak up for Michelle Obama. On the basics, Parker was right, of course. Because her husband was running for president, Michelle Obama’s words may have been less than perfectly chosen.
But people say imperfect things all the time. Sensible people cut others some slack, as Parker does in this piece.
Hannity plays these tribal games every night. These are the only games he knows. But hasn’t our side fallen in love with this “not the best words” tribal game too? Aren’t we camped in the bushes too, hoping for imperfect statements by others? (Or perhaps for photos of shoe shines?)
Hannity poses as the world’s angriest dog. But don’t we adopt that pose too?
Under the circumstances, Michelle Obama probably didn’t use “the best words" in that particular instance. But as Parker memorably reasons, “So what?” People say imperfect things all the time! Everyone understands this except tribal players, and those who get sucked in their stew.
People don't use the best words all the time! Tomorrow, we’ll review a few last points about What Santorum Said—more accurately, about What He May Have Said or What He Almost Said. Or is this conduct only bad when it’s done by the other tribe?