Each day I scan through several on line newspapers, look at a couple of news aggregators that include a wider array of sources, and top it off with a little listening to NPR and the BBC. As each reports on the ebb and flow of the political debate, I’ve noticed that partisans on both side, but particularly the far right, use hyperbolic adjectives to describe ordinary words and actions from the other side. They’re more sophisticated versions of the old playground “are too-am not” repartee we all know so well, and handy tools to fend off having to answer hard questions.
A recent t.v. commentator described one senator’s calm, rational but tough questioning as ‘hysterical’. When pressed on it, he simply said it was his opinion, as if that made it OK. Other common examples include ‘heavy handed’ and ‘overreach’ to describe any government action one doesn’t like. Someone who confidently expresses a well thought out position is said to be ‘out of control’. Almost anything can be called a ‘job killer’. Anyone not a right winger is described as a ‘far left zealot’, while those who are not liberal enough are ‘far right zealots’. If all else fails, calling someone a Looney Tune will do.
A representative of the cattle industry complained about heavy handed regulations that stifle ranchers and feedlot operators. What regulations might he have considered not heavy handed? None. That regulations are intended to protect the public health and welfare is irrelevant. Cattlemen know how to raise cattle. Just leave them alone, quit interfering with what they know best how to do. Government interference in how their practices impact on others is of no concern, so go away.
In like manner, public management of public lands is overreach to those who live near them, and want to use them as if they were their private property. As they argue, the land belongs to the people, not the government, and, since they’re the people who live nearby, they’re the people it belongs to. Who does it not belong to? Tourists, Indians, and tree huggers who want to preserve natural and archeological treasures. Overreach, it’s all overreach.
To be fair, government regulators and public land managers often forget they’re in the business of customer service, with the goal of assisting their clientele in meeting standards. Instead, they see themselves as enforcers in search of offenders. Heavy handed overreach may be more an issue of customer service than anything else. How hard would it be to change that?
In other news, a proposed bulk terminal in the Pacific Northwest that would be used mainly to ship coal to Asia was stopped over environment concerns. Shippers and construction unions complained ‘out of control’ government ‘overreach’ had ‘killed jobs’. Apparently jobs outrank all other considerations. If a project promises high paying construction jobs, that’s all that counts. Jobs win over everything else. You’ve got to be completely ‘out of control’ to disagree with that. It’s true that we all want more well paid jobs, but there’s always a but. But we want them for projects we agree are worthwhile for the good of region and nation. Determining what is good will always include measures of impact on quality of life, the environment, long term economic viability, and general welfare. Jobs alone, at any wage level, cannot be the sole determining factor. Labeling opponents who have good reason as out of control doesn’t help. Geez, you don’t have to get all hysterical over it. Get a grip you Looney Tune.
Using hyperbolic adjectives to describe something one doesn’t like is a way to avoid making a calm, rational argument that invites conversation through which agreement might be reached. How did we get to a place like this? Ad hominem name calling has been fashionable for centuries. It’s not a new thing. What’s new is the pervasiveness of talk radio and t.v. personalities who have made it routine, acceptable, and ubiquitous. It’s all over the place. All day, every day. You cant get away from it. Millions of people, submerged under the daily barrage, have adopted the practice as their own normal behavior, and, thanks to social media, they can broadcast it without fear of contradiction, except from those hysterical out of control Looney Tunes who disagree with them.