Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Lou Dobbs: Populist or parody?

Watching "Lou Dobbs Tonight" is a daily ritual for me. I like Lou Dobbs.

Check that -- I want to like Lou Dobbs.

I respect his record of independent thought, and I happen to agree with his fundamental positions on illegal immigration and other issues.

Problem is, Lou is becoming more parodical every day, as if he's bucking for a prime-time slot on Cartoon Network. The more seriously he takes himself, the less seriously I can take what he says.

"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.

"We know things are bad -- worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'

"Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot -- I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad!"

No, Lou Dobbs didn't say that -- it was Howard Beale, "Mad Prophet of the Airwaves," in the eerily prescient 1976 movie Network.

These days, though, Lou Dobbs is sounding a lot like Howard Beale. He proclaims himself a populist for populism's sake, regularly citing Sen. Hillary Clinton -- of all people -- as a prime example. He summons righteous anger because his formula calls for anger -- and, of course, he must use the word "unconscionable" at least three times during his allotted hour.

Along with the host, every segment, guest and "poll" tilts madly toward the formula. Lou doesn't purport to offer a pure news program, mind you, but what he's doing isn't commentary, either. It's not advocacy. It sure isn't populism and, sadly, its independence is strained.

It is, in a word, thin and getting thinner. It's disappointing to see such a capable independent citizen-patriot become a caricature of his former self.