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Jay Evensen: MSNBC's Mitt Romney sarcasm keeps us from finding solutions

Published: Thursday, Jan. 2 2014 4:55 p.m. MST

Mitt and Ann Romney with their grandchildren.

Mitt Romney Twitter account

If Barack Obama had a white grandbaby on his lap for a Christmas photo, would Fox commentators have made fun of it?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, nor do I want to spend much time pondering it, other than to note that today’s political climate seems to have embraced the worst angels of our nature, and that can’t be good for the country.

The latest case involves MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry who hosts a weekend show with a bunch of like-minded analysts. On a recent episode, she showed the Christmas photo Mitt Romney and his family sent during the recently ended holiday season. Mitt is pictured with a newly adopted grandbaby on his knee, who is black. Hijinks followed, mostly using the baby as a way to poke fun at the former Republican presidential nominee and his party.

Harris-Perry quickly apologized to her Twitter followers and “to all families built on loving transracial adoptions.”

Also part of the hijinks was comedian Dean Obeidallah, who told CNN that he didn’t intend to mock the baby or the family. “Occasionally my jokes have been known to ‘cross the line’ and I can assure you that in the future some of my jokes will do that again,” he said. Thanks for the warning.

Being crass, personal and insulting is not new political strategy, of course. Niccolo Machiavelli is remembered as the father of political science, but that’s probably just because he was a better writer than anyone else in politics in the late 15th, early 16th centuries in Florence. In any event, he is credited with saying, “Politics have no relation to morals.”

They do, of course, but typically only when morals equate to votes. Those who play the game of politics only in the choir lofts of cable television, however, don’t seem to have many rules when preaching the choir, whose votes are not at issue.

As political faux pas go, the MSNBC case was minor. We have, in many ways, become a society that is too sensitive and quick to take offense, just as we also have become a society too quick to offend without a thought to consequences.

Those consequences, unfortunately, happen to be that important matters become trivialized and pushed aside. That means solutions and public awareness get the shove, as well.

One of those matters is the issue of adoption, and particularly adoptions of children with a different race than their adoptive parents.

Writing on CNN.com, April Dinwoodie, CEO of The Donaldson Adoption Institute and herself a transracial adoptee, explained the difficulties she and her parents had to endure, including snide comments from others.

“So often, the thoughtlessness and carelessness of others results in deep pain for adoptees, who are already faced with navigating a life-long search for identity that begins with losing their original family,” she wrote.

A few months ago, another CNN report noted that some parents looking to put dark skinned babies up for adoption are choosing to send them to Canada, Holland or other countries because they believe the child will face fewer race issues there.

Racism, the trouble finding parents for adoptable black children and other serious issues don’t get confronted when they become political sport.

The left has no monopoly on political frivolity. Case in point: The United States spends more public money on health care than any other industrialized nation, but the right has made such sport of Obamacare and its shortcomings that the nation’s real health care needs can’t find a spot on the agenda.

Nothing is new here, as students of political history would quickly tell you. One could imagine Machiavelli as a less-than-civil host of his own cable talk show.

But the marvels of the communication age — from Facebook to Twitter to 24/7 choir-preaching cable channels — seem to be morphing the sarcasm into a formidable blob that darkens the horizon. We are becoming a nation of nattering nitpickers.

That doesn’t bode well for solutions.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his web site, www.jayevensen.com.

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