It’s 1984. I’m 27. I’m watching the First Presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, because as a good American, that’s what you do. Mondale, making some point or other about Regan’s policies said “the fish stinks from the head down.” It’s an old expression. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. But apparently Vice President George Bush hadn’t.
At the Vice Presidential debate in October of that year, Bush debated Geraldine Ferraro. Responding to a question, Bush brought up the disgrace of Mondale comparing our President to a “dead, rotting fish.” I sat there watching Bush going out of his way to be offended by this old salt. Really? Had Bush not used or heard that common phrase? And Mondale never called Reagan a “dead, rotting fish.” The worse part was the realization that a group of people had come up with that and definitely wanted that worked into the conversation.
The moment certainly stayed with me. The whole concept of politics changed. It was one thing to tout your positions, or play up your opponent’s shortcomings but I was witnessing the birth of a new era in politics, the power of outrage. Whether it was purposely misconstruing an Al Gore joke about a union theme being his lullaby (“That song wasn’t written until he was 20! Liar!”) or Republicans getting all worked up about using the expression “putting lipstick on a pig” in the same sentence as Sarah Palin’s name, it was now the way to do things. When it happened to Al Gore, it’s like he never had the thought to counter it with the reply, “It was a joke, you idiots!” At least by the time of the Sarah Palin incident, the Democrats knew how to respond, actually finding a clip of Palin using the exact same phrase. But that bell couldn’t be un-rung. Feigning outrage was the new norm and I was not a fan.
I’ll watch the news. I’ll cast my vote but I won’t be leaping for joy when my candidate wins. It’s politics, and a politician will break your heart every time.