WASHINGTON -- Few instances are more refreshing than the sound of a politician leaving office.
This isn't because we want to see them go, necessarily (though this, too, can be delicious), but because they tend to speak truthfully upon their departure.
One such delectable nugget tumbled recently from the lips of retiring Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York. Reflecting on his 30 years in Washington, Ackerman was asked to comment on the relative lack of comity on Capitol Hill. Did it ever exist?
Not really, he said, but at least Democrats and Republicans used to be friends. Today, crossing the aisle is tantamount to treason. The problem isn't only Washington but society as a whole.
"I think the people have gotten dumber."
Let's pause for a moment to savor that rare morsel. Even Ackerman acknowledged that "I don't know that I would've said that out loud pre-my announcement that I was going to be leaving."
Extrapolating, might we conclude that extreme partisanship is a function of ... dumbness? If so, then whose fault is that? Education's? Surely, at least in part. But the problem is broader than a single institution. Dumbness permeates every aspect of our lives, including, dangerously, our media.
Ackerman put it well: "We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don't know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game."
I may have to lie down for a few minutes to regain my composure. Oh, if only more Congress folk would retire so that we might wallow in such forthrightness.
Ackerman is, of course, correct. Most political talk shows have little to do with journalism -- getting at objective truth -- and everything to do with advancing an agenda. Many, if not most, talking heads come not from the reportorial trenches, but from politics, think tanks or, increasingly, a prosecutor's office somewhere. (Does anyone actually practice law anymore, or are law degrees merely licenses for "experts"?)
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group