Political boundaries

May 18, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

On my way home tonight, I listened to NPR’s Andrea Seabrook talk about “Politicians And Their Wives: What’s Fair Game?

I recalled a political science class from the early 1980s and a professor who was examining the dignity of the office of Presidency…and how it was eroding. He related how when FDR got out of a vehicle, the media would turn their heads, examine their nails, look up at the birds, point their cameras away until he got in his chair and covered his legs. Regardless of the words, accusations, criticisms in print, the visual privacy – and dignity – was preserved.

I also recalled the (comical to me at the time) formal morning coat of the 1981 inauguration, as Reagan wanted to restore the dignity that supposedly was lost when Carter walked the parade route and had a “People’s Inauguration.”

I imagine the professor mentioned above would have been appalled at the television coverage of Reagan’s colon polyps a few years later and probably outraged at the media of today.

So what changed?

Day time talk shows? The topics got juicier until they gave way to the low bar audience egging on the chair throwing, cat fighting, cheating dregs of society … fueling the ratings that generated more of the same and the inevitable copycats.

The rise of tabloid news? As I watch neither, it’s probably unfair to connect “professional wrestling” with the “news”, but I’d like to think that when the WWF/E/whatever-they-are-now stopped pretending it was not fake, at least one “news” outlet claiming impartiality and lack of prejudice could also stop pretending as well. Unfortunately, not only did that not happen, but as those sought after ratings rose for the mud-slingers, the little remaining credibility of the bystanding mainstream media was tossed out in their own efforts to retrieve lost shares of viewership, sinking to the level of the network leader. And dignity? The talking heads crush that of the opposition party while they trumpet indignity over any opposition to their favored party.

Image by Skypixel at Dreamstime (with permission)

The Internet and ubiquitous cell phone cameras make information spread so much faster and easier. So also the disinformation.  Ripley and Barnum would have killed to capture the attention of the denominator that craves the sensationalism, outright falsehoods, deliberately misleading stories, and more that make up the “news” today. It’s a wonder anyone is willing to subject themselves to the public eye (see “This is why it’s so difficult to get good people to run for political office“).

Of course, there are good things to come from private technology – Rodney King’s word would not have been enough to explain away falling off that curb – but there are so many more bad things. Setting boundaries is even more necessary, and yet so much more unobtainable.

I admit I am oversimplifying, but with the Patriot Act and fear tactics legitimizing monitoring, and tabloid advocacy demanding more dirt – real or manufactured – everything becomes “fair game” and we all lose a little more for it.


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Category: Politics, Privacy

About the Author ()

Jim is a husband of more than 27 years, father of four home-schooled sons (26, 23, 16 and 14), engineer delighting in virtually all things technical, with more than a passing interest in history, religions, arts, most sciences (particularly physics) and skepticism.

Comments (4)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    I know I'm sounding like a broken record but, I blame the liberal reformers! The political peer review process in our era of 15-30 second sound bites has gone from political party regulars to the media. In a rush to define themselves as "first" or "vest" outlets will print or put on the air clowns like Trump's fox covered head or anything which fills the air, most of it hot.

    oh, how I miss the smoke filled backrooms of the good old bad old days!

  2. Erika Price says:

    Privacy and 'boundaries' only matter when their absence leads to harsh judgement and condemnation. We may never escape the all-seeing eyes of technology, of the media, of the government- but those eyes might eventually glaze over after they've witnessed enough scandal. How many philandering politicians must we witness until it stops shocking us? How many public admissions of drug use must we hear until it becomes a nonissue? How many embarrassing Facebook photos must an employer see before it stops influencing his hiring decisions?

    I believe most of us have embarrassing or sordid aspects behind us. In an age where every shame is shared, how can it remain shameful? My fingers are crossed that we become numb to scandal someday, and are forced by boredom to focus on policy issues. Part of me hopes for boundless transparency, and zero privacy, so we can stop pointing at others' embarrassments while hiding our own.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Erika: Your comment reminds me of the fact that most great achievers have skeletons in their closet, most of which have nothing to do with their ability to achieve. Yet, had their skeletons been exposed, all of us would have been deprived of their achievements over the years. Think Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, FDR, or whoever else anyone has admired, at any time and any place.

      A vicious press can destroy any person. We need a vigorous press, but one that keeps its focus.

  3. Karl says:

    The only boundary that matters has been impossible to specify where it came from and how it manages to control the US political system, but it definitely exists.


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