Some of you may remember a show called Short Attention Span Theater, which ran for several years in the early 1990s on what was then called the Comedy Channel. The basic concept was to show short clips from various movies and then send them up with comedic commentary and snark.
Now art has become reality as we are bombarded daily on our televisions with one-minute versions of the show in the form of political ads that assume we all have short attention spans. The plot for these scary mini-dramas is always the same: Show a picture of Nancy Pelosi and say the words "Obamacare," "Washington," and "liberal" in a deep voice and claim Politician X is affiliated with these hideous bogeymen. Then sign off by saying the ad was paid for by "Citizens for Truth" or some such bogus organization.
The only problem is that no comedians are coming on afterward to make fun of these things. And thanks to the Supreme Court's recent decision that corporations are "citizens" and that anonymously funded political ads are protected free speech, tens of millions of dollars are being poured into attack ads geared to demonize health-care reform, Democrats, and President Obama — and ultimately to give control of Congress back to the GOP. They want to return the country to the "good old days" of the Bush administration, where corporate stooges ran federal regulatory agencies and the banking industry and Wall Street were unrestrained from making their billion-dollar bets with our money and mortgages.
They are putting millions of dollars into campaigns in the hope that useful idiots such as Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and Rand Paul can be brought into power by scaring a majority of Americans into believing that tax cuts for the rich are the way to "take our country back."
If polls are to be believed, it just may work. Obama and the Democrats swept into power by using the Internet to motivate millions of voters to make a change from the ruinous Bush years. A commitment to sustain that momentum doesn't seem to be there this year. Maybe it's because the benefits and tax credits of the health-care reform bill are being phased in slowly and haven't had an impact yet. Maybe it's because no one is pointing out that the TARP and stimulus packages have kept us from a disastrous recession (see Viewpoint, p. 17).
Or maybe Americans really do have a short attention span.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...