This one is for Doug. He was one of maybe 2,000 readers who fired off e-mails in response to a recent column criticizing that paragon of political analysis, Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. I excoriated Mr. Limbaugh for saying of Barack Obama's presidency, "I hope he fails." As is generally the case when you exact a pound of flesh from Brother Limbaugh's hide, his legions of listeners were vociferous and unstinting in his defense.
They claimed I misquoted him (the quote was cut and pasted directly from his Web site). They said Mr. Limbaugh was referring not to Mr. Obama's presidency but to his supposed desire to institute a socialist government (except that Mr. Limbaugh was responding to a question about his hopes for Mr. Obama's presidency).
Doug, however, made neither of those arguments. His e-mail said : "I see you're Mr. Sensitive when it comes to someone saying something bad about your guy. But I had to go eight years watching, reading, listening to you ravage George W. Bush. Just who has the class here?"
His subject line: "you ravage Bush we ravage Obama."
Not the barest pretense of principle, or the slightest attempt at making an argument. Just a child's game. Tit for tat and tag, you're it.
I plead guilty to the charge, by the way. I did "ravage" Mr. Bush. He was, in my estimate, the worst president in memory, if not the worst ever. Not "ravaging" him would have amounted to journalistic malpractice. Let Mr. Obama turn trillion-dollar surpluses into trillion-dollar deficits, sacrifice lives and treasure in an ill-conceived war, preside over a government whose ineptitude is exceeded only by its arrogance, and I'll "ravage" him, too.
But then, I also "ravaged" Bill Clinton when his inability to keep his zipper closed precipitated a constitutional crisis. I called him "sluttish," a "human oil slick," "Gomer," "unprincipled, formless, opportunistic," "manipulative slime," a "sad, sex-addled liar" and, my personal favorite, "President Hefner."
I bet that will surprise Doug. He seems to buy the notion, propounded by the likes of Mr. Limbaugh and lapped up by millions of Dougs and Dougettes, that one's first loyalty as an American is to party or ideology. So that you must defend your guy with mindless zeal even if he is President God-awful and attack the other guy with mindless zeal even if he is so new to the office his business cards haven't yet come back from the printer. Mindless zeal is the common denominator. What's right, what's wrong, what's best for the country, these things don't even enter the equation.
Yes, we all have our politics, our prisms, our pet narratives. Nothing wrong with that; nothing wrong with embracing an ideology that gives structure and order to your thinking. But for too many of us, ideology becomes identity, becomes an intellectual straitjacket, becomes an excuse not to think. Instead, they wallow in a lazy childishness such that questions involving the life and future of a great nation are treated like stickball or tag, games played with the mindless zeal of childhood, as if nothing of substance were at stake, and victory were its own reward.
That's what you hear in Doug's e-mail, an echo of childish voices chanting "nyah, nyah, nyah." "You ravage Bush we ravage Obama." Then what? You ravage the next guy and we ravage the guy after that? We don't even know who those guys - or women - are yet. And you know what's sad? It doesn't matter.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.