Ahhh ... election season.
That joyous time of year when we are bombarded by political ads where sinister-sounding announcers distort and oversimplify their targets' positions, against a backdrop of strangely out-of-focus black-and-white images and discordant music.
Soon, we'll be treated to debates where candidates answer questions they preferred the moderator had asked (rather than the ones she actually did ask) and accuse their opponents of wanting to kick your dog, steal your grandmother's medicine and then burn her house to the ground just for grins.
With that in mind, I was guardedly optimistic reading the headline for Bob Murray's Aug. 21 column, "Research, consider the sources when weighing viewpoints." In his opening paragraph, he urges all thinking Republicans and Democrats to "forego the pejorative name calling stick to provable facts and consider the sources from which the information comes." So far, so good.
My optimism was short-lived. Mr. Murray's column devolved into ad hominem argument, misrepresentation and outright factual errors. It's impossible to outline all the instances of these problems in the limited space I have, but here are a few outstanding examples.
Rather than addressing the substance of his opponents' differing views, he repeatedly refers to political persuasion ("extremely conservative;" "far right;" "appeared on the Glenn Beck show") and demeanor ("crying commentator") as evidence of why we should be suspicious of what they advocate apparently unaware that, by that logic, his readers ought to be deeply suspicious of anything he says, given his self-identification as a "proud" liberal.
This is no slight to liberalism nor defense of conservatism, but rather, the irresistible conclusion of Mr. Murray's questionable advice that we focus the who, rather than the what. That is to say, it would have been much more helpful to increase his focus on the relative merits of his target's views, rather than cliched attacks about their ideological roots. Blinkered insults and put-downs of a person's politics might make the folks on your team happy, but they're of little use to "thinking" Republicans and Democrats.
Ignoring his own advice to "stick to provable facts," he makes the unprovable assertion with no hint of irony that the "conservative" group Americans for Prosperity has "probably done more damage to the American political system than even the Supreme Court." He charges talk show host Glenn Beck with being "inexcusably biased" notwithstanding that Beck's job, as a talk show host, precisely is to have opinions. Would you complain about there being "too much Chinese food" at your local Chinese restaurant?
He also alleges Fox ended its relationship with Beck for being "so far to the right." In fact, a quick Google search reveals a number of competing theories for the break-up: declining ratings, lost advertising revenue and irreconcilable personality differences being chief among them. Whatever the actual reason, Mr. Murray's curious inclusion of disputed "facts" means we should recast his "rule" this way: he gets to decide what's provable fact and what's not.
Mr. Murray declares Mrs. Schreiner's use of the word "moronic" to describe certain people is "belittling" and is "the sign of a small mind." Name-calling is rarely helpful, to be sure, but there's not a dime's worth of difference between calling someone moronic or saying they have a "small mind:" it is distinction without a difference. Thus, we have another of his rules restated: Name calling it's OK for me, but not for thee.
I applaud Mr. Murray's aspirations to elevate our political discourse, but perhaps the good physician should heal himself first, by taking the medicine he has so sanctimoniously prescribed to others.