just a few questions...pundits?

9 years ago

Attorneys and writers have job security because there’s always one more question; the questions always out number the answers by at least one. Same goes for psychologists, I guess, but really all they have to do is repeat, over and over until the hour’s up, “How do you really feel about that?” Yeah, it’s the one more question, but the question goes to feelings, and I’m interested in real answers, causes and effects, the what’re-we-gonna-do-about-its, the good-better-best options, the whole list of multiple choices, from which I always will choose “all of the above,” unless I have the option of “none of the above,” in which case I’ll definitely choose that and make-up my own answer.

No matter what we decide, though, we’ll always have one more question.

How many questions do we have exactly? you need to know. Infinity…plus one. Always just one more than we have answers.

Once upon a time, I imagined I wanted to become an attorney, and I fed my imagination with books, television shows, and movies about attorneys. Couldn’t get enough of that lawyer stuff. I confess, now, and on the condition that you won’t tell anyone, I think I liked lawyering because of the clothes—so dignified, so powerful, so damned proper and so totally expensive. Now, in the era of Law and Order, I’m satisfied, thank you; in the old days we didn’t enjoy quite such an embarrassment of riches. I really liked Scott Turrow’s One-L, his journal of his first year at Harvard Law School; are we surprised he returned to writing? Probably stumbled over that one more question, doncha think? And I really-really-really loved the original Paper Chase, the one with Lindsay Wagner and John Houseman as Kingsfield, the Contracts Professor. On the first day of class, Kingsfield strides, authoritatively of course, into class, and announces, “You come here with heads filled with mush, and I teach you to think like a lawyer.” Kingsfield says it as if thinking like a lawyer is a good thing; and he goes on to justify, “We teach by the Socratic method. Question and answer; question and answer. My questions spin the tiny tumblers of your mind, showing you the vast complex of…,” well Kingsfield, naturally, says something about law, but I have my own version of the sentence’s end. When I complete Kingsfield’s soliloquy, I insist, “The questions spin the tiny tumblers of our minds, showing us how to open-up the vault where they keep the secrets to the human condition.”

Always one more question. Now, really, how hard can that be?

today: pundit?

Pundit (noun)—(1)a well-dressed, ostensibly smart and immensely strategic person, who appears on television and instructs you in the delicate business of political decision-making; (2)a well-connected political operative experienced in peeling the skin off the opposition, who now appears on television to simplify overwhelmingly complex issues, reducing them to the least common denominator for the sake of the viewers’ cognitive efficiency—i.e. “dummies it down for ya”

I wanna be a pundit. Looks like fun. Where do I apply, or how do I get recruited for that?

I’ll happily sit on my stool all perky and bright, telling people what I think about just about everything without the least regard for whether or not I’m right. That is what a pundit does, isn’t it? And I’m ready—got my outfits picked-out and everything.

But, of course, before we cue my Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers theme-song, which I won’t deny I liberally borrowed from Hilary—“She Was an American Girl,” sing it with me–I have a few questions and concerns.

Does anyone ever check the pundits for the accuracy of their predictions, the factual foundations of their opinions, the genuine practicality of their suggestions? Does anyone really hold the pundits responsible for what they say? Does anyone check the logic that guides the pundits’ assertions? Does anyone ever filter-out the bias, screen-out the self-interest, measure the value-per-minute? Does anyone ever suspect that we’re paying these blazer-clad, over-educated, longwindedly inarticulate bozos to pontificate about and lay siege to the obvious? Don’t you suspect that, if we stripped away all the multi-syllables, political jargon, and jingo-journalistic hyperbole, each pundit’s message would come-out, “Vote for the guy I like just because I like him”?

Not that I’m skeptical, you understand. Just curious.

Watching the pundits, I get the very strong feeling that they’re just like PTA Moms, except these guys get to be on television with Wolf Blitzer, while the PTA Moms have to spread the word and wisdom through the parking lots—grassroots guerillas. If a PTA MOM dropped a little political punditry on me, I’d think it over. I would. Because, unlike Wolfie’s cronies, the PTA Moms have earned their authority, and they command our respect: they know how to do important things like fold fitted sheets and apply mascara to their lower lashes—you try that, Paul Begala. If the situation and circumstance demand, PTA Moms will wear pantyhose even in the August heat, subordinating their personal comfort to the needs of the cause; do you see David Gergen doing that? And the PTA Moms always will bring treats for after your on-camera evisceration.

Hey, you schedule a panel of PTA Moms, and I’ll show-up draped in bunting.

Look at it from another perspective: Ann Coulter is a pundette (the feminine of “pundit,” of course). Just let that sit in your brain and ramify for a while. Ann Coulter, the self-same woman who called the 9-11 widows “broads” and accused them of exploiting their grief for their own personal gain, is a pundette. Talk about the power of selling it with sex! Annie markets her bigotry and paranoia in the cutest little black dresses and the highest heels I’ve ever seen. Like the PTA Moms, she knows how to thicken the lower lashes. Ann Coulter does the pundette routine for mega-bucks, tossing around her big blonde hair and shakin’ her groove thing, so how hard can it really be?

I really think I can do this pundette thing.

Watch.

Here’s me in my ever-so-professional outfit, sitting primly and properly on my little stool with my little headset on—got it to work with my hair, and everything. OK, so go ahead. Ask me a question.

“Kieryn,” you willingly inquire, “what is the most important issue facing the nation today?”

Good one, I think, nodding and giving my wry little smile—a signature pundette move. “Restoration of the American middle class,” I asseverate (which is, of course, a pundette word). “Do you remember a movie called Grand Canyon?” I seem to digress, but I will get to the point by the end of my “full 90 seconds.”

“The movie starred Kevin Klein and Steve Martin as a couple of yuppies stranded in East LA in the very dark of dark and stormy night, and it played our upper-middle class fears like a cello, reaching the conclusion, pundit style, ‘The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown to be a Grand Canyon, and out of that Grand Canyon of despair has come some of the greatest violence this country ever has known’. At least, that’s a close paraphrase. The movie focused on the consequences of destroying the solid American middle class. I’m looking for the candidate who can go to the causes of that great Grand Canyon. I’m looking for the candidate who can dam-up the River of Despair that carves that big ol’ canyon.

“So,” I continue, now that I have my momentum going and my lipstick lubricating my lips, “I want to see the candidate who won’t just ameliorate (another pundette word) the energy crisis, but jump on Boone Pickens’s bandwagon and get busy fixing it. I wanna see the candidate who understands that the loss of our manufacturing base pulled the rug and the floor right out from under American workers, who were the undisputed champions of productivity and quality. Why don’t we make stuff in this country any more? When they outsourced the Radio Flyer wagon, that’s when I started taking it personally. And I want the candidate who will see and address the connections among energy, ecology, and the destruction of American manufacturing; they all went to hell together. And, hey, when was the last time the candidates read The Grapes of Wrath? Devastation of the American family farm tore apart the foundations of our system, so that with the rug and floor gone, the foundations torn-up, we’re down to bare dirt, and I want a guy who can show us how to start over and lead us as we do it.

“Most of all,” I nod my head and shake my ringlets, really warming to my subject, “I want the candidate who will recognize that the American middle class and upward social mobility absolutely and non-negotiably depend on the quality of public education. No Child Left Behind, my ass! (you can say that on t.v. now) Our average workers cannot read their employee manuals—not in English and not in their native tongues. Our average workers can’t do the fractions or make the measurements to reach the tolerances high-tech products require. I wanna see the candidate who will grab the Tree of Knowledge and shake it until the dead weight falls out and the knowledge flourishes.

“When we can run our mighty factories on clean energy, putting our people back to work, and when small farmers can compete with agri-corporations, tilling their own land for their own profit, then we can get busy rebuilding our infrastructure. Are they ever gonna fix or finish the freeways in LA?”

See! Aren’t I good?! I got metaphors and rhetoric and all that cool on-air stuff.

Where do I apply?

I must confess, though, I probably won’t get called for an interview. In the same way that I cannot run for office, because I devoted my Berkeley days to banned books and moral turpitude, I will get disqualified from punditry, because I have more questions than I have answers. I’m not sure that I really can answer my own questions, and I’m not totally sure that I want to try. Although it’s really easy to play “the wise one,” I’m not sure it’s all that wise. I know me: The more certain I sound, the more I’m probably wrong. The more authoritatively I say it, the more you can feel sure I’m making it up. If, however, I say something oracular or sphinx-like, you can take that to the bank. Punditry doesn’t allow a lotta room for intuition, and I am way more intuitive than I am smart.

In the end, even if they do invite me for a well-deserved session under the headphones and before the microphones, I’ll probably have to decline. They won’t let me wear flip-flops. And if they’re not gonna let me wear my little red flip-flops I got at Target for $1.99 (no self-respecting pundette admits she adores Target), then I’ll stay here, keep asking my questions, and trust you to think for yourself.

© 2008 Kieryn Graham for Tent City Networks.

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