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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Blinky, Smiley Pundits

A few years ago, I got to see and hear Tony Kushner in person. He is a gentle, polite human being offstage, and a ferocious, intelligent persona on stage. He offered an observation that has kept me thinking for these years. He said that art is not activism. In that moment, I agreed and disagreed, and have puzzled over this comment since. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how what he said relates to the presidential campaign process: rhetoric, which is an art, is not action. Writing and speaking can illuminate us to what the writer/speaker wishes to do and wants us to do. It’s not action, but it’s useful.

Candidates tell us what they think they will do, but the campaign process involves pundits telling us what the candidates really mean, what we should really think about them, and–my favorite part–telling us what the future holds if this or that so-and-so is elected. It reminds me a lot of when critics and fans of the American version of The Office insist that it’s amazing and brilliant, and go on to explain why it’s funny, and how it’s going to go down in history as one of the greatest television shows ever. Political and entertainment pundits alike tend to promote too much, and I tend not to buy what they’re selling.

It’s kind of fun to watch the pundits giggle condescendingly at one another in the split screen, eager to explain why they’re right and the others are wrong. Right now I’m watching a particularly blinky, smiley Republican economist shaking her head as one of Obama’s advisers speaks. As soon as she has an opening, she flings two accusations at the “Obama camp,” which the Obama adviser immediately dismisses before offering some accusations herself. The Republican pundit continues to smile through all of this, blinking faster when she’s not speaking. The Obama adviser is stone-faced through it all. Finally, Wolf Blitzer must go to a commercial, and I have learned nothing from this segment, except that I should have trusted my instinct not to waste my time on this trash.

Not that I don’t enjoy a good rhetorical brawl, but I’d really like some follow-through on some issues. To my surprise, this sort of thing happened on The View last week when John McCain was a guest. During the first segment, I felt uncomfortable because Barbara Walters went right after him despite the “let’s sit on the couch and chat” environment. She asked a clear question (Who does he expect Palin to reform?) and demanded a clear answer (Congress? Him? Someone else?), pointing out that he’s been in Washington for two decades and his party has held president’s office for eight years. It was exciting to see her act like a journalist again. She can be impressive when she’s on.

The next segment made me uncomfortable because the tone softened. The hosts settled for McCain’s weak answers. When he said he thought Roe v. Wade was a bad decision, Continue reading

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