What's Wrong With This Picture

TAMPA--So there I was, at around 1:30am, with a reasonably good (free) gin & tonic at the Buzzfeed party in the Florida Aquarium, with pettable penguins circulating in a little wagon-cage and mermaids swimming in one of the big tanks, when a somewhat prominent conservative columnist whom I had met roughly 120 seconds earlier and who doesn't know me from Adam began arguing very earnestly with me about whether Paul Ryan's criticism of Barack Obama's failure to act on Simpson-Bowles was fair given Ryan's role in opposing Simpson-Bowles.

There is so, so very much wrong with my world wrapped up in that sentence.

I expect to get to other aspects in later posts, but for now I want to focus on the sadly unsurprising fact that this guy felt the need to argue with me about it, at all let alone at a late-night party with an open bar.

I've always found this need to engage pretty irrational. I'm all for debate and argument and discussion, absolutely. But, of the millions of people out there who, in your opinion, mistakenly believe a particular thing, why is it important to change this one person's mind -- this person you don't know at a party, or on Twitter, or in a blog post comments section, or in my Facebook status comments? Why not just shake your head and move on?

I'm not trying to pick on this particular writer, who I follow on Twitter and suspect is a good, smart guy. The situation just made me think of this broader, constant barrage of political argument that, it seems, is a compulsive need for some 10 percent of America -- and a considerably larger percentage of partisan- or ideologically-leaning commentators.

That barrage is at least a part of what makes real political discussion so rare and difficult. For one thing, the flood is so overwhelming that it drives out of the conversation just about anyone but other obsessives, and it further polarizes and agitates those who remain.

More importantly, that compulstive 10 percent or so are just about the only viable market for political media -- and so the marketplace is going to cater to their desires, which means more Hannity and Levin and Schultz and Sharpton ranting about the faux outrages of the day.

And since that's the noise and nonsense of political media, it's hard to blame normal people -- people who don't want to be insistently argued with at every turn -- for tuning out politics as one big ugly mess.

An awful lot of media energy today seems to be funneling into this debate over which parts of Paul Ryan's speech were or were not egregiously unfair, untrue, or hypocritical. It all sounds like a lot of noise and nonsense among people who just want to get the last word in arguments where that is just never going to happen. 

It really doesn't matter whether the irrelevant, powerless VP is or is not being hypocritical in attacking Obama for not implementing the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan. (Hypocrisy is the palming-double-dribble of politics; everybody is always doing it, nobody watching cares, and you only think to demand it be called when it's the other team in a close game.)

What matters, on that general topic, is what Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would attempt to do to address the long-term deficit reduction they both claim is important, and for them both to defend those plan against a variety of questions and criticisms -- something neither one has done in any sufficient manner, I would argue, especially Romney. But that really requires discussion, not argument, about preferences and priorities, not who's right and who's wrong. 

Which, come to think of it, also wouldn't have been appropriate conversation at 1:30am at a party with open bar and mermaids. But it would have been less annoying.

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