Bill Gusenius has a point, but perhaps not the one he had intended. In a letter last week to The News-Record, Gusenius, a talented attorney with deep community roots, lamented that politics has become “much more polarized” in recent years and that certain broadcast media (Fox and MSNBC among them) can be blamed for the decline.
Then he added me to the list, noting that I soil the civil discourse of politics. My commentary, he said, “regularly stoops to name calling and insults…” and is not worthy of consideration.
“It only reflects poorly on the author and diminishes the credibility of the opinions expressed.” In the practice of commentary, the trick, or peril, for many writers lies in that sliver of difference that can turn a puncture wound into a bleeder, when a precise piercing becomes a crude insult.
A second failing for many opinion writers is predictability. I spend a lot of time and ink finding fault with the Brownback Administration and their legislative gerbils because there is so much fault to be found. Nonetheless, the danger, the fault of the common scold, is never far away.
I recently wrote to a colleague that among my efforts I have spent more than 40 years writing the same column, or versions of it. The difference is that events have become remarkably worse: What I complained about in, say, 1976 (Gov. Robert Bennett’s arrogance, his repeated sneers at local government) turned out to be a mild version of Mike Hayden’s ham-handedness ten years later, and Sen. Dick Bond’s cunning a decade after that. Then we had Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, our savior, or so we thought, “and it turned out that all the poor girl could do was shovel out the (trash) Bill Graves had left in her closets while waiting for the president to call with an appointment and her ticket to ride a fast train out of Dodge. She couldn’t leave fast enough,” I said.
THE FRENCH put it this way: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In Kansas, the more things change, the worse they become.
The pain of Sam Brownback as governor lies in bearing witness to his dismantling of a community decades in the making, citizens who had worked hard to fashion a state government as good as any other in the country. Some of its programs and agencies were recognized national models in local school finance, in higher education, university research, agricultural science, public transportation, medicine, labor law, voting rights including women’s suffrage, and more.
Along comes a governor to play stooge for a group of billionaire financiers and lunatic ideologues; they use muscle and money to purge the legislature of those who disagree, to force-feed a tax-abolishing agenda on the citizenry, to gut the government of programs that had once helped the aged, the poor and sick, to dismantle our system of public education.
To keep that and more in the works, more muscle and money elected ill-informed neophyte legislators to assent. At the same time, help comes from a power-mad Secretary of State to put
Jim Crow back in voter registration and electronic machines, ripe for hacking, back in the polling places.
The more things change, the worse they become. To illustrate this week after week we sometimes climb down into a gutter, because that’s where the fight is. These people are ruthless, bare-knuckle brawlers in for the long haul. Civil discourse, to them, is for sissies.
We seek the metaphors, the likenesses, the descriptive phrasing to illustrate their meanness, their folly, their arrogance, their crude disregard for our once-dignified and progressive history.
Thus we bless them once in awhile with a Mad Hatter Trophy, or a Donald Trump Congeniality Award, a High Pontiff placard, or even a George Wallace-Bull Connor Racial Sensitivity Certificate.
IN AN APRIL 6 editorial, the Topeka Capital-Journal noted that colleges and universities are using vivid new literature to help young students confront the demanding national issues of economic inequity and racial stress ‒ an initiative that has been met with come criticism. Some people, it seems, would rather not talk about such things.
“Here in the Midwest, there is a long tradition of keeping frank discussions of sensitive topics tightly controlled, comfortable and polite,” the Capital-Journal said. “While that is at times admirable, the world young adults are about to inherit is neither tightly controlled nor comfortable.
“Inequity born of long years of institutional and cultural oppression is difficult to confront; it is often a fact of life that many people would prefer not be aired in public..”
That’s the trouble, and it has cost us dearly. If Kansas ever regains her lost glory, it likely cannot happen in my lifetime.
The damage is too wide, the wounds too deep. “Bleeding Kansas,” once the catchphrase for a state founded on a moral principle, is now the title for its death warrant.
It is far too late for polite to rule in this fight. I strive at least for the creative slur