Save the sharks

Posted: Jun 09, 2006 8:05 PM

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 (, 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:

"As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we'll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship."

Quite likely, the operative words here are "recorded history." I'm pretty sure our family Bible doesn't reflect the sexual orientation of our gay cousins, either, but just the same, Inhofe might consider dusting off the family rabbit's foot and padlocking the closets.

Kennedy, whose self-caricature is helping put political cartoonists out of business, has declared that all opponents to same-sex marriage are bigots. Right. And all opponents of state-mandated seat belts are child abusers. And anyone who disagrees with me is a moron. Next.

Finally, Coulter may have jumped the shark with her unfortunate tirade against the 9/11 widows in her new book, "Godless." Which is too bad because Coulter had a point that got lost amid the inevitable outrage.

Her point was that debate becomes strained to impossible when one of the gladiators on the other side has recently suffered a grievous loss. No one wants to challenge a wife whose husband has been killed - or a mother whose son has perished in battle - even if they have become public political players.

The opposition will always look like insensitive bullies, as does Coulter, who undermined her own message more than her critics could. Calling the widows "witches" and saying they were enjoying their husbands' deaths was chum to the other side.

Rabble-rousing, fear-mongering and race-baiting may keep local constituents happy, but none of it gets us where we need to go - toward sane remedies for a united nation. And, yes, happier days.

In shark-free waters.

For the children.

While staying the course.

Because we love freedom, and they don't.

Glub, glub, glub.