To re-paraphrase an old Donovan song, it “must be the season of the gaffe,” and it’s growing as old as the song itself locally and nationally.
I’m not the first to point this out. Matthew Pulver recently wrote about the media’s obsession with gaffes in Salon.com. But the reporting of so-called verbal gaffes committed by politicians often misses the point. Are they miscommunications corrected by a simple apology or, more likely, are they statements of belief and value systems?
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican Party, all have made the news recently for supposedly miscommunicating ideas, and the local and national media has seized on them voraciously.
Here’s how it works: A politician says something controversial. The media reports it. The politician’s opponents demand an apology or ridicule what the politician said. The media reports it. The initial politician then issues some type of clarification or apology. The politician’s opponents claim that it isn’t enough. The media reports it. Then another politician gaffes it up, and the cycle repeats itself.
The next presidential election doesn’t happen until 2016 so I will go out on a limb and forecast a lot of gaffe reporting awaits us in the future. Must be the season of the gaffe.
On the local level recently, Fallin made news when she appeared in front of reporters to not know the three branches of government. That was followed by an Oklahoma Republican Party Facebook post that compared people on food stamps to animals, which created a tremendous amount of controversy. Both made national news. Fallin, to my knowledge never clarified her statement. The chair of the Oklahoma GOP, Randy Brogdon, apologized after a storm of criticism.
In each case, however, the main issue seemed to get lost in the reporting.
As I argued earlier, Fallin most likely knows the three branches of government include the executive, judicial and legislative. Here’s what she said that caused the media firestorm:
You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.
The media, of course, focused on how she clumsily described the branches of government. But it was her main point that deserved more discussion. Her point basically was that Oklahoma voters, not a court, should be allowed to decide the fate of the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. As you know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 2 the monument must be removed from the Capitol because it violates the state’s constitution.
But the very purpose of the judicial branch of government is to uphold laws and constitutions while protecting those people with minority viewpoints from tyranny and mob rule. Fallin is expressing a deep-seated philosophical viewpoint about the rule of law, and her refusal to remove the monument and her basis for it should be the focus of scrutiny.
The media also seized on a cruel Facebook post by the Oklahoma Republican Party. Here’s the text of that post, which has since been removed:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."
Thus ends today's lesson in irony ?#OKGOP
Another gaffe? Well, Brogdon sort of apologized and the post was removed, but the point is that there are many, many people in Oklahoma that possess misinformation about people who receive food stamps. They close their minds to studies and basic financial information that prove the vast majority of people who receive assistance are actually in dire need of help.
Should we let voters decide every issue, even if it’s discriminatory against another group of people? Should we allow children to go hungry or even starve to death in this country because they “will grow dependent on handouts . . .”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Who cares if Fallin knows the three branches of government or whether Brogdon is truly apologetic? What matters is the substance (or lack thereof) of their narrow viewpoints.
Progressives and liberals here in conservative Oklahoma need to take a day or two to emotionally recover from the conservative landslide in Tuesday’s state election and then get right back to pushing for their values in the political scene.
That’s my advice after the carnage Tuesday, which included lopsided votes in favor of Republicans for the entire ballot’s statewide and Congressional and Senate offices, including the governor’s seat. Here’s another bit of bad news: Republicans picked up four seats in the state Senate and will now have a 40-8 advantage. Republicans continue to hold a huge majority in the House.
The national election results didn’t bring good news either as Republicans took control of the Senate. This will create even more gridlock and standoffs between the White House administration and the national House and Senate. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s infamous global warming denier who is about to turn 80, is even poised to become chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The planet is definitely in more danger now because of Inhofe’s intractable position on climate change, and that’s not hyperbole.
The political atmosphere over the next two years on both the state and federal level will definitely be frustrating and ugly for progressives. That’s why it’s important to keep fighting rather than give up. I believe there is hope for a massive correction on the national level in the 2016 election. It’s also possible the Oklahoma electorate will grow tired of the conservative extremism in state government by then but, frankly, a significant shift might be ten or more years away, and even that is uncertain to me.
The reasons for the demise of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma are myriad, some of which are outside its control. The party faces a hostile and blatantly unfair corporate media, which is not above distorting facts or omitting crucial information about political issues. There is the insidious paranoid anti-President Barack Obama hysteria anchored in racism and fueled subtly by many state media outlets. This racism then affects how voters perceive Democrats in general here. There are too many, dare I say arrogant, “leaders” and “activists” and “experts” who think they know the magic solution or want people to adopt their ideas or political approaches solely and not enough people who want to unite around some common causes despite differences in opinions. There are too many supposed progressives who sit scared on the sidelines and won’t speak up because of some exaggerated fear of reprisal.
Here’s how I view the political reality: There’s no one answer or one candidate here that can bring about change. Some of what we’re experiencing politically here is beyond our control. It might take a major crisis for change to occur or we might be slowly but surely heading to a statewide abyss. What happens after even more tax cuts here when the Oklahoma oil and gas boom goes bust, which it surely will?
But, today, the main worry for progressives here should be battle fatigue. How do we get back up after getting knocked down over and over again? How do we continue to support candidates when we know they are the better person for the office but also know they will lose by landslide margins and leave us open to mocking and ridicule by our opponents?
The only answer I have to these questions is for progressives to keep fighting. It may well be that you might not even live to see the change you fought for, but you would have lived a life based on reality and inclusive principles that include believing in equality and social justice for everyone. Change is sometimes extremely slow and incremental. Don’t give up.
What does an act of bigotry cost these days in Oklahoma?
Well, at least $303,333, which is how much Oklahoma taxpayers will have to fork over to pay legal fees to attorneys that successfully argued that the state’s 2010 edict forbidding the use of Sharia and international law in courts is unconstitutional.
In 2010, Oklahoma voters overwhelming approved a measure placed on the ballot by legislators that “makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases,” which was, of course, already the law in the first place. But it also specifically banned the use of international law and Sharia or Islamic law. The measure passed by an approximate 70 to 30 percent margin.
The problem with the measure was two-fold. State and federal law is already the law of the land so the measure obviously was gratuitous and targeting Sharia law was an obvious specific act of discrimination, violating the rights of Muslims here in Oklahoma.
A federal court eventually ruled the measure unconstitutional after a lawsuit was filed against it. U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange recently granted a request for the attorney fees for the plaintiffs. The $303,333 figure doesn’t include the amount of money spent by Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office to defend the law. According to a media report, the office declined to give an estimate of the legal costs in defending the discriminatory measure.
Legislators who pushed the bill were never able to cite one Oklahoma court case in which Sharia law was used instead of federal and state law. The measure was simply a glaring and bigoted attack on Islam, sanctioned by nearly 700,000 voters.
One of the unfortunate things about this case is that those who voted against the myopic hate and bigotry will be held just as financially liable as those voters who apparently got some visceral thrill in bashing one of the largest religions on the planet.
Speaking of bigotry, legislators this year are apparently going to decline funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. The uncompleted project serves as another symbol of this state’s racist history. Add to that history the anti-President Obama hysteria fueled by conservatives over the course of his presidency, throw in state Rep. Sally Kern’s continuing attacks on gay people and the unflattering picture gets completed. The bottom line is that beneath the state’s sugary welcoming exterior there lurks a cauldron of hatred, paranoia and fear.
All this does matter in terms of the state’s national and international image, whatever the impact, and it lowers the quality of life here for people who believe in diversity and tolerance.