Sunday, January 23, 2011

Addicted to Drama

Latest Newspaper Column

First, a correction. Last week, I wrote that Sen. Rand Paul, son of Congressman Ron Paul, was named after 1950s novelist Ayn Rand, whose long-winded, preachy novels are big among what the tea party likes to think of as its "intellectual" wing. Ron Paul is an avowed fan as well, but Rand is not, it seems, named after her. It's just a coincidence. We regret the error.

Now on to your regularly scheduled column.

My friends, there is an epidemic of addiction sweeping America. It is, I firmly believe, the root cause of the angry and violent rhetoric that everyone's been talking about the past few weeks. This addiction has divided us, polarized us, and damaged our nation.

I'm talking about our addiction to Drama, with a capital D.

We've become a nation of hysterical teenage Drama queens for whom every issue is The Most Important Thing In the World to Me Ever, and every denial or obstacle triggers a tantrum in which it is tearfully asserted that You've Ruined My Life, I Hate You, and I Wish You Were Dead.

To a political Drama addict, everything is a Threat to America's Very Existence. The loss of a Senate election may require an armed insurrection (aka "Second Amendment remedies") to save the Republic from "tyranny," because if "ballots don't work, bullets will." If the presidential candidate you don't like wins the election, he's a "usurper" who's probably not even a real American, and we must fight him to Save the Constitution and Take Our Country Back Before Our Entire Way of Life is Destroyed. A health care bill you don't like means that your special-needs baby may be euthanized by order of shadowy "death panels." And so on.

Sad to say, there are those on the left who seem addicted to Drama as well. (I'm talking about the real Left, not the notch just to the left of center where the president actually resides, and which most right-wingers mistake for the real Left.) In the short time between the election of President Obama and his inauguration, I quit reading some of my favorite blogs in disgust because they were overrun with liberal Drama queens, crying out that there was No Difference Between Obama and Bush, that OMFG We Are Betrayed, and I'll Never Vote for a Democrat Again.

The catalyst for this overwrought opera of betrayal and electoral revenge? The selection of evangelist Rick Warren, who's said ignorant things about gay people, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration ceremony. Hey, I'm not crazy about the guy either, but I wasn't ready to write off Obama's entire presidency before it began over a two-minute prayer.

It's amazing that a country so addicted to Drama in its politics managed to elect as president a man who's famous for his abstinence from that intoxicant. He's made "No Drama" an ironclad rule for his staff. This, you may remember, drew no end of criticism from both right and left during the BP oil spill, when the president of the United States failed to break down and weep or to "yell and scream" as the press clearly wanted him to do.

It's hard to break ourselves of Drama addiction. For one thing, there are so many people pushing it, including a famous talk show host who only stops weeping long enough to feverishly sketch out history-spanning conspiracy theories on his chalkboard, spinning a web of Nefarious Threats to Our Way of Life that would make Dan Brown go "nah, too far-fetched."

Another titles a regular segment of his show "The Worst Person in the World." (The difference, I'll admit, is that Keith Olbermann, in his ham-handed way, is trying to be funny. I stress the word "trying.")

Like all pushers, they do it for the money. You don't get a fat contract with cable news or talk radio for being reasonable. You don't get a million views for your YouTube video by filming yourself saying "I respectfully disagree." Push a little Drama, though, and you can get millions to inject a big ol' hit of that sweet, sweet hysteria into their veins, and my Lord, how the money rolls in.

Maybe we need a 12-step program for Drama addiction, with meetings and everything. "Hi, my name's John, and I'm a Drama queen. Yesterday I burst into tears on camera over closing a corporate tax loophole."

Until that day, I'll just keep making fun of them.