After a Fox-free weekend, following a Fox-filled week, I was looking forward to a relatively quiet Monday. Imagine my surprise when I came in and found our C&C mailbox flooded with still more comments about the Michael J. Fox story.
People have seized on this story and just won't let it go.
I can appreciate that. It gnaws at you. When I pull the issues apart and hold them up to the light, I can't help but feel with utmost certainty that…both sides are right.
I know. That makes me a spineless twit. Living without a spine makes it harder to sit at my desk and type, but it does make airline travel easier.
Anyway: I've been spending some time chewing over this story, and how it all unfolded. And I think one thing is absolutely clear. This is a story about image and perception, more than fact and argument.
And in the war of images, Michael J. Fox is the winner.
This idea –- the power of pictures -- was something politicians have known for a while. The media have been slower to grasp it. Evidently, it still eludes Rush Limbaugh. Because, whatever the merits of his argument - and some viewers were eager to send us e-mails and let us know how right Rush was -- they dissipated into mere mist when you actually saw him on television.
There Rush was, flailing his arms, imitating a man with Parkinson's disease.
After that, anything he said was moot. Or mute. It didn't make any difference. What America saw on television was a big fat guy making fun of a little skinny guy -– a sick little skinny guy, at that. All that was missing was a beach, so that Rush could kick sand in the face of a 98-pound weakling.
What made matters worse for Limbaugh was that when the object of his derision finally appeared to tell his side of the story, Fox looked like a perfectly reasonable guy, without a trace of anger or bitterness or righteous indignation. He didn't mind being mocked by someone twice his size. If someone wanted to pick a fight with him, he'd just let them kick sand in his teeth.
People have commented that what Michael J. Fox displayed was courage, or dignity, or character. I'm tempted to call it something else: grace. He showed us the best that we can be, and called out to the better angels of our nature.
And Rush? He showed us how to bully people suffering from chronic debilitating illness.
There are a lot of clear-headed, passionate people who argue against everything Michael J. Fox is trying to do, for reasons that are ethical, or political, or religious. They are persuasive. But whether they realize it or not, they've already lost this battle, because they've lost the war of images. No matter what they say, or what they argue, this moment in political history will be remembered as the day a big fat guy made fun of a little sick guy.
When Katie and I were talking about this after her interview, she noted: "Rush Limbaugh may be the best thing that ever happened to Michael J. Fox and his foundation."
She had a point. Limbaugh could learn from it. Be careful who you pick on. You might look worse than you think.
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