So here we are. No matter how trivial or horrific, it seems we have reached a stage in our national and international debates where no event is allowed to rise or fall on its own merit anymore.
A terrifying terrorist attack in central Paris shocked and riveted us. The video was upsetting. The motivation was incomprehensible; the lives lost heartbreaking.
But then, within hours, the ping-pong effect had set in. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) insisted this was not about France or about the contents of a satirical magazine at all. It had morphed into a debate about President Obama’s foreign policy.
“Through a combination of poor policy choices made by the Obama Administration regarding detention and interrogation policies, and budget cuts approved by the Congress with President Obama’s support,” Graham said in a statement, “I believe our national security infrastructure designed to prevent these types of attacks from occurring is under siege.”
Graham was not the only one in search of a bounce. All news is local in these situations.
In the media world, condemnation quickly spread to the news organizations that hesitated to reprint or broadcast the cartoons that had so enraged the attackers. It pinged and ponged from a discussion of free speech exercised by one magazine to a scolding at home.
The same effect was on display as Congress returned to Washington this week and Republicans claimed the leadership posts they’d earned in last year’s midterm elections.
But this is the way ping-pong is supposed to work. The ceremonial and adulatory oath-takings quickly gave way to policy debate and old fashioned horse trading.
We immediately became absorbed with a leadership fight within John Boehner’s ranks conducted by lawmakers so obscure that average citizens had to Google their names to discover what the fuss was all about.
Still, it did not take long for debates about energy policy, health care, and the economy to quickly rise to the top of the pile — fueled by a ping-ponging stock market, renewed discussion about Obamacare and declining oil prices.
The world, however, does not begin and end in Washington.
In the world of culture and entertainment, the sharp turn involved the movie “Selma,” hailed one week as quite possibly the best movie of the year — and denounced the next by allies of Lyndon B. Johnson who found the fictional work too fictional.
Much of these wild swings have to do with ideology. Some of it is driven by debates over legacy. Still others are kept alive by the sheer stubbornness of the participants.
But all of it is good and healthy and a reminder that to know more and to hear more is almost always a good thing.