If Jim Traficant wins a seat in Congress this fall, I may have to move. How could I live in a state of collective stupidity? That we’re even discussing “candidate” Traficant is downright crazy, and it has me wondering what’s happened to critical thinking.
You remember Jimbo, don’t you? He’s the former congressman from Ohio’s 17th District who spent the past 7 years in federal lockup, convicted of bribery and racketeering. He’s back, and a cadre of loyalists want to send him back to Washington.
Best known for his bad toupee and comical rants (“Beam me up, Scotty!), Traficant served Ohio’s Mahoning Valley in a time when the last of the manufacturing base collapsed. He’s viewed as a fighter by his constituents, a buffoon by his Washington colleagues. His rhetoric can be inflammatory, but for all his bluster, Jimbo comes across as a Joe-six-pack kinda guy.
Traficant was amusing, and his rhetoric still channels the anger of his constituents. Jimbo pointed accusing fingers at pols on both sides of the aisle, but presented few ideas of his own. During those 17 years on Capitol Hill, Traficant’s corrupt supporters lined his pockets with goodies that would later be used as evidence against him.
At an fundraiser for the libertarians Wednesday, Traficant agreed to an interview with our local newspaper. My favorite excerpt from that session: “The Democrat & Republican parties have failed. Both are worthless as tits on a bullfrog.” His campaign slogan, “Stimulate this!” also emerged.
Voters who sent Traficant to Congress between 1985 and 2002 gave him a hero’s welcome when he returned from the penitentiary. He’s a media darling, too. Clear Channel’s 50,000-watt WTAM, based in Cleveland, gave the guy his own radio show last month. I know that’s asinine, but not surprising. WTAM features a 24/7 line-up of nattering nitwits, including “activist” Art McKoy, who’s been charged with running a cocaine distribution ring from his barber shop.
Have we lost our capacity to think?
This post isn’t about politics. It’s just me fretting over loss of critical analysis and sane public discourse.
Over the past few months I’ve read a handful of essays from writers concerned that our shallow online world may be killing critical thinking. The question, “Is Google making us stupid?” deserves serious discussion and research. But most of us are too busy clicking the next video or posting clever tweets.
Jim Traficant isn’t a product of the Internet age, and we sure can’t blame his popularity on social media. He was a crook long before there was a World Wide Web. But the attention given Jimbo’s possible run for Congress — online and off — has me wondering when people became so vacuous. And when did the media gatekeepers lose their sense of what’s newsworthy?
Not that long ago, we depended upon news professionals to explain issues in depth and with some level of objectivity. Sure, newspaper publishers had way too much influence. But they employed trained observers who vetted information that helped us see the world more clearly. Their work brought order that you won’t find at Little Green Footballs or The Daily Kos.
Today, our conversations are in little clusters of “people like us.” It’s easier that way, and we get to feel like we’re right all the time.
Call me a paranoid old fart, but splintering media environment scares the hell out of me. Once the media stop serving the watchdog function, folks like Jim Traficant have a chance to exert their influence, as silly as that sounds.
I hope, as a society, we’re not that dumb. But a Traficant for Congress campaign has me wondering, and worrying.