My alarm clock is set to WAMC, the National Public Radio (or as they put it, Northeast Public Radio) station for the Albany area. There's a pledge drive going on this week, which means Alan Chartock is on in the morning declaring the Republic in danger. Every time he sets out to raise $800,000 or so, and he is one of the most effective fundraisers I've ever heard, Chartock scarifies listeners with the prospect of public radio getting snuffed out as Republicans gloat. On a certain level this is a calculated ploy and most likely an exaggeration of Chartock's objective estimate of his station's prospects. This morning, however, he took his tactic to a new absurd extreme.
Chartock was worked up over the fact that Senator McCain had "suspended" his campaign yesterday and had called for a "suspension" of the Friday debate. He was disturbed by the word "suspended." What does that make you think of, he asked between snippets of Arlo Guthrie songs. His suggestions: "suspension" of the laws; "suspension" of democracy; "suspension" of the Constitution. All bad. McCain's gesture was inflated into an attempted coup against the democratic process itself.
I would have thought that Chartock would rejoice at McCain's news, but instead he seemed or pretended to be tone-deaf to political jargon. He affected great concern over the word "suspend" when the phrase that should have jumped out to any listener was "suspend the campaign." How often have we heard that term in the past year? The answer is: plenty of times -- in fact, every time a presidential candidate dropped out of the primary race. Remember? John Edwards Suspends Campaign. Romney Suspends Campaign. Clinton Suspends Campaign. Were these blows to democracy? Only insofar as each action resulted in less choices for voters in future rounds of the campaign. So if one was to make a wild inference from McCain announcing that now he had suspended his campaign, the one to make would be that the Republican had admitted defeat and was capitulating to Senator Obama. That, of course, would not have lent any urgency to Chartock's appeals for money. So instead of merely being dumb, which he would have been, honestly speaking, had he taken my retroactive suggestion, Chartock opted for dumb and crazy, and kept replaying the same damn Arlo Guthrie record. And it got the phones ringing. So congratulations, Dr. Chartock: you've played the politics of fear, and won.