Thursday, December 30, 2010

Words are important, some particularly

When I was in Greenville N.C. in 1999, starting my career as a full-time newspaper reporter, we ran a letter to the editor comparing the city police chief's tactics to the Nazi Gestapo.

We ran a second letter a few days later, saying that, until the Greenville Police Department started lining people up along the Tar River and putting bullets in their heads, let's lay off the Nazi comparisons.

That is what reasonable people do. Because some things in our history were so awful that just using the words associated with them hurts. It inflames. It lowers the level of political discourse.

Which is why Georgia state Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon and the Senate minority leader, was foolish Tuesday to infer that Georgia's most recent round of Democratic Party defectors are members of the Ku Klux Klan.

I mean, read that sentence out loud. Does it sound like a smart thing to do?

If you watch this video, you'll see Sen. Brown chuckling after he makes this reference. Having covered Brown for several years, I will just about guarantee you he wrote that line before hand. He thought it was clever, it made him smile, so he used it.

But the KKK isn't funny. It's legacy is as a band of marauding racist murderers disguising themselves in white sheets. Until the latest crop of legislative party switchers starts lynching people in downtown Macon, senator, let's lay off the Ku Klux Klan references.

Because when you don't, things get inflamed. The real racists and message board idiots come out in droves. They call you names. Other people call them names. Pretty soon hundreds of people are involved in a public debate that amounts to nothing more than petty insults shouted across cyberspace.

And then someone jostles someone. Someone pushes someone down. And now one of your supporters is likely to face criminal charges.

Let this serve as a reminder to all of us who should already know better: When you use too much hyperbole, when you call people names, when you compare political enemies to the worst humanity has to offer, you err. You lead us places we ought not go.

Jon Stewart said this brilliantly:
If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume.
Hear, hear.

Brown in March 2009, making another point about Georgia Republican legislators, with the visual aides of a noose, a dead Chinese Dictator and Pres. Barack Obama.

Update: Per The Telegraph and WMAZ in Macon, Sen. Brown says he wasn't making a reference to the KKK when he said a defecting Democrat's wife, while changing out the blue Democrat bed sheets for the red GOP ones, would need to save a white sheet for a "midnight meeting." From WMAZ:
(Brown) cited alleged sex scandals involving Georgia Republicans as the inspiration for his "white sheets" remark. "I was thinking of the many sexual trysts many Republicans have been found guilty of or alleged to have participated in." He said Republicans display an image of "Christian purity until they reach the white sheets in their meetings at hotels." ... Brown said, "most reasonable observers will see that I made no direct or indirect mention of the KKK."
So, in Brown's metaphor, the wife is saving white sheets at the family home so the husband can use them to sleep with lobbyists in a hotel.

Does that sound like the truth to you?


Michael McGill said...

Should Sen. Brown produce the brochure that calls Democrats "baby killers" (he refers to this)then he might have a somewhat valid point - as we all know supporting a woman's right to choice is a far cry from being a baby killer - and that aspect of this unfortunate incident kind of riled me up a bit --

Lucid Idiocy said...

Yeah, I considered mentioning that for context. But unless you believe that two wrongs make a right ...

Sen. Brown isn't the only person guilty of this kind of behavior, to be sure. It's a shame every time it happens. I guess I'm calling him out because I know him to be an intelligent and calculating man.