Kathleen Parker

The poor shark can get no rest these days. Everyone is jumping him.

For those whose shark metaphors stalled on "Jaws," "jumping the shark" refers to the moment when something, usually a dramatic production, runs - or strays from - its course. Coined by Jon Hein (jumptheshark.com), the phrase evolved from the episode of "Happy Days" where the show's writers, apparently out of ideas, had Fonzie literally jump a shark while water skiing.

It was so over-the-top that the show was deemed dead by those who monitor such things. People are said to jump the shark when, desperate for ratings or attention, they make over-the-top statements.

Of late, we seem to have armies of shark-jumpers, from Dr. James Dobson to Sen. Ted Kennedy to Ann Coulter to my hands-down fave, Sen. James Inhofe - all of whom have taken their own mantras a trope too far. Through them, hyperbole and hysteria have formed an uncivil union, casting national debate into a miasma of self-mockery.

Let me put it this way: Dobson and Inhofe, who seem to think that the devil made gay people, make me want to marry a lesbian transsexual; Coulter, who has attacked a group of 9/11 widows to make a political point, makes me want to wash Cindy Sheehan's feet and hug a war protester; while Kennedy, who has been baying "bigot" about anyone objecting to same-sex marriage on even rational grounds, makes one yearn for the comforting sound of a car alarm.

No wonder Americans can't stand politicians, or that our nation has become a quagmire of insult and ad hominem. Here's a sampling of what has passed for debate in recent days.

Commenting on the proposed constitutional amendment to declare marriage a union only between a man and a woman, Dobson said during a recent chapel service (later broadcast on radio) that "marriage is under vicious attack ... from the forces of hell itself."

Same-sex marriage has plenty of intelligent, knowledgeable supporters and critics, from clergy to laymen to legal scholars. However this issue gets resolved, whether as a federal or state issue, the process can't be helped by implications that gays (our friends, family and neighbors) are evil for wanting to marry.

Meanwhile, if Satan's crib is what stimulates the Republican base, Democrats may enjoy an embarrassment of riches come November as rational conservatives seek saner company.

Giving you-know-who his due, perhaps Dobson was just joshin'. And perhaps Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., was just braggin' during the marriage amendment debate when, in a memorable show-'n'-tell, he displayed a poster-sized photo of his extended family and said:


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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