Loaded comments drown out legitimate debate

GUEST OPINION

WE HAVE A SUGGESTION for politicians and those involved in politics: Save your overkill, your bluster, your vitriol and your faux-righteous indignation, and stick to the facts.

We have examples from both sides of the aisle:

. Last month, Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Gov. Scott Walker’s record on issues relating to women was like domestic abuse, saying he has “given women the back of his hand.’’

. Last week, Eric O’Keefe, director of the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth, said the reactions of several homeowners whose houses were raided as part of the John Doe investigation into Walker’s 2012 recall campaign were “similar to a rape victim.’’

Both Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and Walker’s campaign office backed away from the respective comments while the other side went into attack mode.

The point is, the statements were made. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It’s kind of like those courtroom dramas when someone on the stand says something outrageous and the judge admonishes the jury to disregard that outburst. Can they really disregard it? Isn’t the damage done?

You have to wonder whether this isn’t the strategy. Say something outlandish, then backtrack and apologize while the person you support distances him- or herself from you.

Mark Glantz, assistant professor of communications and media studies at St. Norbert College, says “surrogate’’ speakers can often do the dirty work for candidates they support without fear of backlash. In the Wasserman- Schultz case, “It’s OK if her credibility is destroyed with Wisconsin voters because her name is not on the ballot.’’

That leaves the candidate in an awkward position of not wanting to perpetuate the same position but not wanting to alienate the surrogate speaker and those who like the speaker.

“What they’re really trying to do is to motivate people and reinforce already existing beliefs,’’ Glantz said.

The lasting impression, though, is the crass statement. That’s why, sadly, this won’t be the end of such utterances.

We hope that politicians and officials who stoop to this level wouldn’t use such devastating actions as metaphors.

Domestic abuse and rape are both horrible crimes that are not remotely like the events with which they were compared. In fact, it does a great injustice to be so trivial and hyperbolic about these crimes and, in turn, their victims. It adds nothing to the conversation and detracts from the message because afterward all we focus on is the inappropriate comment and not the case each person was trying to make.

Does anyone remember Wasserman-Schultz’s criticism of Walker’s policies outside of the ``back of the hand’’ remarks? Does anyone remember O’Keefe’s criticism of the early morning raids outside of the “rape’’ comment?

Probably not, and that’s too bad because legitimate criticism and conversation about issues are what we need. We don’t need any more hyperbolic, over-the-top bluster and rhetoric.

If this is a political ploy, it’s cheap and sick, and it turns off voters.

We hope campaigns can stay above such a low standard.

At issue:
Verbal overkill
Bottom line:
Stick to the facts

Green Bay Press Gazette


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