Monday, August 02, 2010

I Know You Are, But What Am I

Small Town Newspaper allows for commenting on most of their opinion pieces, including what they call 30 Seconds, and the name-calling that goes back and forth between my loving townfolk makes my head spin. And in all of it, these people clickety clacking on their computers can't seem to discuss topics without resorting to petty insults.

It isn't just Small Town that does it—it seems to be a nation-wide pastime. So, I wrote this for today's column. I can't wait to see if there will be any comments later today when when this appears at the paper's website.

I Know You Are, But What Am I

As a nation, we’ve got some heavy issues to sort out, don’t we? We need all hands on deck to solve our problems, all minds sharp and focused on the real issues. Immigration reform, banking reform, a forward-thinking energy plan, fluctuating tax codes, a high rate of unemployment and two wars draining the coffers are the main concerns that come to mind.

There are states with gay rights and abortion laws on the table; and then there is the oil spill in the Gulf and an upcoming election with coveted seats at stake and education and infrastructure and a proposed Muslim cultural center a few blocks from Ground Zero. It’s a good thing all of our elected officials, political groups and media personnel are effectively debating these monumental topics, I’d say.

Except that I don’t hear a lot of true debating. What I hear instead is name-calling, a typically baseless and cheap tactic meant as a distraction from the real subjects at hand. Instead of a presentation of reasoned positions accompanied by proof, as is typical of debating, we’ve resorted to what amounts to “I know you are, but what am I?”

The tone of our communication sounds nothing short of immature. When we should be discussing our opposing views, figuring out how to solve problems and then effectively solving them, we waste our time with playground taunting. When we should be talking about the way forward, we’re yanking hair and throwing dirt clods. We may not leave each battle with a visible black eye, but when we step back to look at what passes for public discourse, we look pretty bruised, and we look pretty childish.

During the last week or so, I collected a list of names hurled by pundits and politicians, and this is how it reads: Racist, Bigot, Socialist, Communist, Racist, Fascist, Un-American, Zealot, Racist, Marxist, Extremist, War-monger, Coward, Racist, Elitist, Stupid, Liar, Terrorist. And did I mention Racist? With each lobbed insult, the person or group being hit replies with a “Takes one to know one,” and on and on it goes. Nothing accomplished, nothing solved.

The recent episode involving Shirley Sherrod is a perfect example of useless name-calling. The NAACP called on Tea Party leadership to renounce the racist factions of its group no matter how fringe. The Tea Party replied with indignation. Jumping in the fight, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart distorted a 20-year-old video of Sherrod speaking to the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, which spread like a virus. The USDA employee was forced to resign from her job, her name was dragged through all sorts of mud on the Internet and on television and radio, and the NAACP publicly denounced her. When it was proved Sherrod was falsely accused and her words were taken out of context, everyone apologized, everyone but Breitbart who Sherrod has now promised to sue.

I didn’t have to dig deep to follow this story because it consumed an entire news cycle and then some, hours of airtime being devoted to a story that amounted to absolutely nothing. Not a single problem was solved by the events that took place, and we are no closer to mending our broken pieces, certainly not where race relations is concerned.

I know name-calling is nothing new in American politics. In 1828, John Adams was called “The Pimp” and was accused of spending public funds on gambling—he bought a chessboard and pool table. His supporters retaliated by accusing Andrew Jackson’s wife of being an adulteress. The stress and humiliation made her ill, and she died before the inauguration, at which point Jackson said, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can.” All for nothing.

Each generation believes its problems are worse than those previous, but I do believe our plate is full, and being petty is a luxury we can’t afford. We don’t have time to waste by being so unproductive in the face of our long list of very real problems. It is my hope we can mature and begin debating intelligently, because in the end, I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.

1 comment:

Shan said...

Great article Robyn! I'm slowly catching up. We are in the middle of the John Adams mini-series by HBO. It is really good if you haven't seen it. It's well made and the acting is top notch. I am not entirely sure how accurate it is but it is taken from a book written about him. I'd like to find out how dead on it is. He seems extremely honorable and good so far in the movie.