Friday, August 05, 2005

Rudeness redeux

I previously posted my feelings here on rudeness in the midst of political discourse(http://tinyurl.com/73jzj and http://tinyurl.com/7wpek ). As always these things resurface, and a couple things came to mind.

The first was a quotation running through my mind, from Robert Heinlein in his book Friday. The quote deals with what he felt was one of the worst signs of a dying culture.

"...a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot. "

This struck me as I read about a couple local events, and considered them in light of the quote and my previous blogs.

First, the head of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation wrote an article on voter reform in response to the debacle of voting problems we had here in Washington. I wont argue the merits of it, except to say that any help would be a big help.

Rep Jim Moeller (d) from our states Legislature responded with this email:


Sour grapes Mr. Williams! You are a Republican (or perhaps Libertarian). Your candidate lost. End of story. People aren't being prosecuted because there was no fraud. You and the Republican party went venue shopping hoping you could find a sympathetic ear in Eastern Washington for your pleas and what you got was an ear full. Why or why did I not hear you howls of protest of fraud, enhanced ballots, and illegal voting after the presidential election of 2000? Because you candidate won! Jesus, you are so transparent as to be comical. Move on Mr. Williams or better yet, just move. Sincerely,

Representative Jim Moeller
49th Legislative District
P. O. Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7872

I found that to be rude and offensive and told him so in an email (well I tell people to write their congressman, so I took my own advice...):

Your recent email to Mr Williams of the EFF was rude. Flat out rude.

As an elected official, as a role model to the people of this state, I expect better behavior then I would from my children, whom would all be grounded for a letter like that.

It saddens me to see you resort to ad hominem attacks on him simply because you disagree with his position and you have a different party affiliation.

Will you respond to me in the same manner? Will you assume I am Libertarian or Republican , as if either of those is a bad thing, simply because I find rudeness inexcusable from an adult and an elected official, particularly when sent on your official email? Is this how you spend the resources of the state? To send abusive emails?

Will you use Jesus as an expletive in my email as well?

FYI sir, I am a non partisan socially conservative, fiscally moderate independent, and a catholic.

If you want to attack me, try those first.

Disappointed,

Karl Swenson

Ok, I admit, I was irritated, but I did refrain from any kind of profanity or insult.

He responded today:

Dear Mr. Swenson:
Thanks for your email. Rude? Candid. Politics and public opinion is an adult endeavor and if you are offended by the language and strong expressions perhaps you're not ready for it. I made no assumption regarding Mr. Williams. He is a well known public figure and has served as a Republican legislator. His motives and opinions are fair public comment. I, unlike many of your compatriots, did not comment on his patriotism, ethics, intelligence, initiative, sexuality, morality or manners.

FYI, I'm a Democrat. Socially liberal, fiscally moderate and a Lutheran and I really doubt Jesus cares that I used his name in my email.

Thanks for writing and please write again.

Sincerely,
Representative Jim Moeller
49th Legislative District
P. O. Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7872

Well, he told me to write again, so this was my response (with his words inline, exactly as sent):

Thank you for your reply Sir,

Dear Mr. Swenson:Thanks for your email. Rude? Candid. Politics and public opinion is an adult endeavor and if you are offended by the language and strong expressions perhaps you're not ready for it.

I think my frustration is two fold, and is not limited only to you, nor solely to Liberals. First is the general attitude of impoliteness that seems to permeate political discussion. Robert Heinlein once wrote:

"...a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot. "

This is something I see far too often, not only in politics but in general. I am far from a prude, I served 12 years active duty Air Force, and I can describe behavior and language far in excess of most peoples experience. But the Military also maintained higher standards of behavior, and most of that non PC behavior was considered improper behavior.

I see this rampant on all sides of the political spectrum, but I see it the worst for some reason in the hard line liberals, and it escapes me why. As example, I posted some comments in reply to David Goldstein's Horsesass.org Blog. In my comments I was measured, respectful and used no invective at all. I was brutally filleted, called all manner of things, the nicest being wingnut, and my arguments were dismissed as stupid without any effort to engage in reason. Oddly when I corresponded directly to Goldy, he was as polite as I was. It was an eye opener. It was easy to see that while a few were there for discussion, most were there to insult in anonymous hit and run attacks.

But the lesson was clear, and has been borne out by Air America, Mike Webb, Moveon.org and other left supporting media outlets: Anything goes.

And to be clear, the conservative world has it's fair share of rude behavior, but it still seems to me, in my attempts to rationally evaluate it, that while both sides play rough, the left holds back less.

My other area of frustration was the fact that you decided to utilize your public resources to respond to the EFF, and that I think was unprofessional and wrong. It was that as much as my perceived rudeness that prompted my letter.

My service to my country was for the protection of that sacred freedom, the freedom of speech, and you as a citizen have every right to express yourself. I just expected you do so in a private format when your response was going to cross from disagreement to "candid" insult. To do so on official (electronic) letter head seems inappropriate.

I made no assumption regarding Mr. Williams. He is a well known public figure and has served as a Republican legislator. His motives and opinions are fair public comment. I, unlike many of your compatriots, did not comment on his patriotism, ethics, intelligence, initiative, sexuality, morality or manners.

From this I assume the greater responses to your email, or some other communication toward you must have been harsh, judgmental and based on personal factors, of which I care nothing about. My response was on behavior, and it was that alone that prompted my email. Just for the record.

Mr Williams actions are indeed fair game, as are yours. I was under no illusions of who or what he is. What bothered me was that a political disagreement, of which he is hardly a lone voice, is dismissed as whining.

What he wrote about is the most precious right we have, the franchise of voting. And how anyone can look at what happened last year here in Washington and not see the need for serious reform is a mystery. I read about the mounting pile of mistakes, the institutional incompetence and openly recognized holes in the security of the process, and I as a voter and Washington resident am appalled. I was more appalled by the reforms that were taken, that ignore the most obvious problems. And please note, I have never yet said or implied fraud, I allow for the likelihood of mistakes, oversight and occasional mismanagement.

I don't see anything there worth labeling whining or sour grapes. Voter reform protects all voters, it should be the most non partisan issue we have.

If you disagree, I would love any manner of comment you have against the specific issues he raised, since I really don't know your position that well.

FYI, I'm a Democrat. Socially liberal, fiscally moderate and a Lutheran and I really doubt Jesus cares that I used his name in my email. Thanks for writing and please write again.

I had no illusions about your affiliation, and I don't think Jesus is the one who was offended. It was the citizens who viewed your response as slightly over the top that were offended. And those citizens are the ones you are sworn to represent ethically and professionally, and in that regard, I don't think you have done so.

Thank your allowing me this opportunity to respond.

Karl Swenson

All in all it served to reinforce what I had believed before, that personal manners are less important to some politicians then making a point. I noted that he made no effort to care about offending people, or for having behaved unprofessionally.

Maybe it's me, maybe my manners are the throwback to a lost generation that actually cared about personal behavior. It doesn't seem, as I look around that modern society gives a rip that often.

Calling each other names reduces us to the level of kindergarteners and makes the process of actually resolving the issues that face us today seem impossible. Lost somewhere is discussion, dialogue and reason, where the merits of the argument mean more then a casually dropped F bomb or insult.

Is our culture sick and dying, as Heinlein believed? Perhaps it is. Maybe Nanny 911 will come in before we mess things up too much.

Perhaps my disgruntlement is a feeble attempt to appeal to an atavistic concept, to try and recapture the politeness of my youth.

Maybe.

All I know is I try and take a more measured approach, and it seems to serve me well, and frankly I think I'm a better person for it. I also note that my ideas are more often considered when I can present them calmly. Seems like a no brainer to me.

So call me names. Sticks and stones.....