It's a variation on one of our great philosophical questions: "If Newt Gingrich says something utterly ridiculous, and nobody is listening, did he really say it?”

The answer is "Of course not. What a silly question.”

The problem is that the Newts and Rushes and their counterparts on the left have built entire careers because we pay attention to their bombast. Also, might I add, they've accumulated sizable fortunes.

The most recent example, but only the latest, is use of the inappropriate, loaded word "racist" to describe Supreme Court wannabe Sonia Sotomayor.

While the choice of language and even the thought process in her "Wise Latina Woman" speech are valid ingredients to throw into the debate grinding on over her qualifications, calling her a "racist" poisons the sausage. And Messrs. Gingrich and Limbaugh know it does. They are masters of toxic language.

From their point of view, the incendiary comment is a good thing. As long as they keep the fires burning, they will get the attention they so desperately want and keep themselves on the front burner.

I have less of a problem with Rush Limbaugh. After all, he's just an entertainer and he's pretty funny, as long as you don't take him as seriously as he takes himself.

The case of Gingrich is different. This is a man who is often mentioned as a presidential candidate, who will lead the Republican Party out of the ashes.

He's managed, in the process, to do the same thing for himself, after his tenure as Speaker of the House went down in flames several years ago.

Remember that? Most seem to have forgotten that Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE probably got reelected, more than anything else, because Gingrich scared so many voters away from the GOP.

Here he is, back where we can "kick him around" again (the Nixon reference is intentional). He's managed to rebuild a career in the same way he did it the first time, constructing it on a foundation of hatefulness.

Of course he would prefer to describe himself as "provocative.” And it doesn't matter if he's called out for going too far. He can always publicly temper his remarks, the way he's done in this case. After getting clobbered by the left and abandoned on his right flank, Gingrich now acknowledges that maybe, just maybe, the word "racist" was "perhaps too strong and direct.” Ya think?

Before anyone concludes that's a setback for him, remember that the name of the name-calling game is publicity. So score one for Newt. Again.

In the multi-platform babble that passes for civic discourse, you need to be heard above the din. Nastiness works, thank you very much.

Thoughtful discussion? Booooorrrinnng. Respect for different points of view? How quaint. Civility? What's that? No. No. No. Give us some of that red meat. That'll get you on television.

Never mind that this is all extremely dangerous. When all we respond to rabble-rousing, we've turned into rabble. Angry rabble.

There's obviously plenty to be angry about. Unfortunately, those in power are the first to advocate the polite approach to society's complexities. It's a way to cover up the fact that their self-serving dithering has gotten us into a terrible mess.

It is also fertile ground for those who want to exploit our fears. They know all too well, that Teddy Roosevelt's "Speak softly and carry a big stick" has evolved into "speak loudly and carry a big shtick.”

The shtick is demagoguery. Our only hope is that we stop listening to those who appeal to base emotions instead of reason.

Unfortunately, that's a faint hope. Instead of offering constructive ideas, they act out. And the act seems to work.

Visit Mr. Franken's website at