Bob Franken: On the one hand, on the other hand

It’s time for the word of the day, people. Today’s choice is “ambivalence.” For those who might think it describes an emergency vehicle that takes you to the hospital, it is actually defined as uncertainty, not having strong feelings for either side of an issue. A synonym would be “wishy-washy.” Probably, it should be a word for every day.

 

Pardon the cynicism, but there are few good concepts that can’t be turned bad. Let’s take the Internet. I like to say that what’s good about it is that it’s available to everybody. What’s bad is that it’s available to everybody.

We can all agree, for another example, that the standard model of modern medicine in this country provides wonderful, even miraculous health care. Still there are many worthwhile choices beyond the incestuous doctor/nurse/surgery/pill-for-everything approach, where providers, in their specialty silos, prescribe drugs and/or operations as the cure for whatever ails you. At the same time, there are different, effective disciplines, like acupuncture, that oftentimes can work as well or even better.

Unfortunately, valid though it can be, alternative medicine is constantly twisted into quackery, and those looking for relief beyond restrictive traditional care are easy prey for charlatans. In the same way, there is no shortage of questionable practices, even outright corruption, where some doctors and certainly pharmaceutical companies take advantage of their unique places in our society and make a fortune doing it. So it’s another two-way street.

And so it is in the paint-by-numbers world of politics. There is always someone who wants to smear the shabby canvas. Rand Paul is the latest to present himself as alternative medicine for a system that is sick to the core.

In my opinion, which I should point out is not shared by campaign operatives and other hangers-on, Sen. Paul, with his appeal both to anti-establishment young people and old anti-government zealots, could possibly go all the way and become president. Or he could go down in flames. There’s that ambivalence again.

Millions believe that Paul is absolutely correct when he fights the massive surveillance done by the national-intelligence apparatus, as revealed by Edward Snowden. These are the people who consider Snowden a fugitive hero, and Paul speaks to their passion.

But he’s also drawn to the flame of anti-government excess. When Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made a stink after his cattle were seized by heavily armed federal agents because he had accumulated more than a million dollars in unpaid fees for allowing them to graze on public land, heavily armed locals faced off against the feds. Rand Paul immediately offered his support, condemning government overreach. The authorities backed away to avoid a bloodbath, and Paul led the cheers. Imagine his embarrassment after Bundy decided he’d share his thoughts about blacks in our country: “I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom, they got less freedom.”

As the sportscaster used to say, “Whoooooah, Nelly!” Suddenly Paul was dropping Bundy like a stone: “His remarks on race are offensive, and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.” Ya think? The problem is that Rand Paul and his supporters have gotten in trouble over racial matters before, although to be fair, he certainly wasn’t the only Republican Bundy backer who was racing away as fast as their news releases could carry them. Even Fox News, which had made the man a hero, was turning tail. And also to be fair, Paul has gone out of his way to speak to black audiences. So what do we make of him? Is he the new wave or a champion of bigotry in new packaging — or both. Maybe our next word of the day will be “chameleon.”

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

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