Op-ed: Reaching the age of dissent

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, April 12, 2016 4:12pm
  • Opinion

I’m among those who believe that when a political figure puts forth his or her spouse or grown-up children to appear on his or her behalf, those adults should be subjected to the same rigorous coverage as the candidate. The young kiddies can be cute props, off-limits to our snarky skeptical questions, but once they reach 18 — let’s call it the age of dissent — they are fair game.

That, however, doesn’t mean foul game, which would include the social-media dump of that revealing but very tasteful picture of Melania Trump, accompanied by derogatory comments best described as juvenile spittle. Also inappropriate is the misogynistic shot of Heidi Cruz that Donald Trump tweeted in response. But otherwise, if the family members are out there, they should expect to undergo the standard journalistic shredding.

It is obviously true for Bill Clinton. He’s morphed from former president to husband of wannabe future president Hillary Clinton. While he would love to claim some sort of icon status, the truth is that this asset sometimes can make an ass of himself. He’s gotten his wife’s campaign in trouble before with remarks he should have known better than to deliver. This time it was in Philadelphia, when he let “Black Lives Matter” protesters get his goat. He argued with them when they shouted over his speech at a campaign event. It was a classic index finger-pointing performance, with him defending his 1994 anti-crime bill that some argue has filled our prisons with minorities. By the next day, he was perhaps wondering if he had looked foolish. He told the audience at another event, “I almost want to apologize,” but then made sure to take another shot: “I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television.”

Congratulations on presenting yourself as the victim, Mr. President. By criticizing the agitators’ made-for-TV tactics, you have joined all the evildoers over the decades who have tried to discredit protesters who were in fact using demonstrations as a way to get noticed. Why? Because they don’t have the huge financial resources to sway public opinion or manipulate it to deflect valid criticism.

They don’t have the money to hire lobbyists and other influence mercenaries, and they don’t have the wealth to share with politicians and officeholders in the form of campaign contributions, paid speeches and donations to favorite charities. It’s not hard to understand why someone who has benefited from such special-interest largesse would be upset that a group might be so impertinent and interrupt his love fest. Yes, indeed, they’ve relied on their noisy demonstrations to reach a television audience to express their grievances, because that’s one of their few effective tools.

Perhaps that’s also why Hillary and her operatives get so upset when Bernie Sanders aggressively talks about the donations she is receiving from these same fat cats while he relies on small donors. His campaign is all about taking on economic inequality in this country, to the point of making fantasy promises to correct it. While the solutions he offers are unrealistic, they have dragged Hillary to the left, where she promises to take on the same oligarchical system as he does. The difference is, she has a much cozier relationship with the oligarchs, which is just one of the explanations for her credibility issues.

What’s healthy about this is that, in Hillary Clinton’s case, we are offered an opportunity to elect our first woman president. With the other candidates, we are covering wives who are accomplished in their own right. The same goes for their offspring. They are not just there as window dressing. Their abilities are on full display, and they are certainly a match for our toughest, most incredulous inquiry. They don’t need protection from us — from themselves, perhaps, but not us.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.