Morons in a Great Democracy

Morons in a Great Democracy

I have avoided political substance for ten years in Reading for Leading and I will continue to do so today on the eve of historic health care reform. The President will soon sign a major health care overhaul bill. If like me, you have heard nine times as much opinion as fact, then you might check the CBS News site for a simple factual summary. Our country needs you to be informed.

I want to address my leadership thought to you, citizens and media (and in a networked and blogging world, citizens are the media) – about the way we’re talking to each other about hugely important issues. And I implore people to be civil and truth-driven, rather than hostile and positional.

I heard a major news radio host on Friday condemn “those morons in Washington,” and I felt physically sick and wondered: am I the only one who finds that comment both repulsive and dangerous? It doesn’t matter whether the statement was made by a left-winger or a right-winger; they’d be equally repugnant. Would we call teachers, cashiers, engineers, parents, (insert your profession here) or doctors – morons? It’s not just offensive but doubly dangerous. First, supposed leaders like this talk show host are condoning name-calling, and that has NEVER solved a complex problem – only made it worse. Second, I wonder, as the spouse of a woman leading through excruciating decision after excruciating decision: why would any self-respecting person enter this field?

I look at representatives like the late Gerald Ford and Paul Henry, the retiring Vern Ehlers, and Carl and Sander Levin and think: morons? Are you kidding? These are spectacular people – brilliant, committed, attentive, doing their best in a complicated and challenging world.

So, here’s a constructive thought: next time you hear someone calling our elected officials morons, jellyfish, or idiots, invite them to run for something. Here’s what they will experience: Representatives and executives – from school board to congress to president – must understand tough issues and tradeoffs, gauge their own personal beliefs, absorb the passions of highly active citizens, assess what most of their highly inactive constituents (half a million in a Congressional district) want, and ask the hard question: if my constituents could see everything I see, would they still believe what the one-line polling question says they feel? What an awesome responsibility and privilege and challenge.

As silly season approaches, these elected people will largely rise or sink to the level of the factual and value-oriented bars we set for them. I hope as a citizen we will all try a little harder to

Lead with our best selves.

    • While i agree with you that politicians used to be public servants, and a truly noble profession, i cannot agree that such is the case today. While there may still be many who are trying, there are just as many who are self serving and problematic.

      When our “public servants vote themselves a raise, but vote down an increase in Social Security it’s wrong.

      If the new health care program is so great why isn’t Congress using the plan for themselves?

      And why should we pay pensions to public servants for 2 or 4 years of service? What company pays a pension for such limited service?

      Yes, it is a difficult job, but if you choose to be in the public eye and represent your fellow citizens you have to be able to defend the decisions you make.

  • Dan, what a refreshing note to read. You are spot on in addressing the issue of lack of civility in our discourse today. We can no longer have an intelligent debate but instead we have all been trained in sound bites and name calling. If we are to maintain this country’s greatness we need as you say to be “civil and truth-driven”.

    Keep up the good work.

  • The concern of well-intentioned citizens might be better addressed in the context of the kind of sweeping legislation that frustrates both the stakeholders and the citizens at large. In an era and on a subject so marked by polarization and ideological differences, we should be confident that our elected leaders consider the process as a means of discernment rather than assault of principle.

    Real leadership in the Congress is lacking at a level we have not witnessed in modern history. With the level of transparency now afforded by open media and 24 hour saturation, it all looks so much more foolish. Real leaderhip has a few pieces that just don’t appear in the current realm, and these include competence, credibility and connection. The actions of the US Congress over recent days, given the original intent of “healthcare reform” shows a lack of and didain for all three elements of leaderhsip.

    Daniel Wolf
    Dewar Sloan

    Prepared and Resolved:
    The Strategic Agenda for Growth, Performance and Change.

    • Daniel,
      I think it’s way less simple than you think. You are so right about 24-hour transparency. But how do you take this ADD world, where people’s attention is extraordinarily splintered, and then take a policy that is outrageously complex – with insurers, pharmacists, ERs, specialists, big companies, small companies, people with disiabilities, medicare, medicaid, deficits, myriad tax policies, etc. etc. – and make that clear? WHO has the “competence” for that – either the substantive knowledge of health care issues, or the ability to know how to connect to this populace? So, the work gets done by people with competence, in committee, who have been talking about this for decades. They bring in all kinds of experts. They try to include ideas of the opposition. And you come out with some kind of bill. It’s no surprise that lots of people will find lots of problems! Of course, they exist. But to call them “morons” or disdainful or credibility, competence and connection seems simplistic.

      And credibility? You have 435 + 100 largely bright and hard-working people. Do we hear about them? No we hear about toe-tappers and fondlers and people fighting for their slice of the pie (or pork, if you please).
      And connection? How do you “connect” to half a million people in your district about this complex issue?

      Finally, “disdain?” Really? I have some familiarity with every member of the Michigan delegation, and the allegation that any of them disdains competence, credibility or connection has, to me, no basis in fact.


      • Dan,

        Thanks for the schneide, albeit unmerited.

        The “predictable surprises” that accompany the unfolding reform agenda will uphold the failings of the bundles legislation that were passed. With 30 years of research on the subject, I am more than comfortable with the debate, and the prospects for innovation in health care – but hope is not a strategy here.

        The term “Blah-Blah Ginger” comes to mind, and if the objective was to balance better access, value and quality, the bundle needs a substantial dose of reality as the critial
        detailed implementation rules come together.


  • “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain

    We’ve been doing this since our earliest times. I’m not sure I agree with this legislation, but I think calling names turns off any chance of being listened to.

    One question, were you offended when Bush was called stupid, evil, etc? It happens from all political persuasions unfortunately.

    • Yes I was. I did not agree with much Bush did, but he was the president and if we want to continue as a great nation we have to respect that office and the one that holds it.

  • Good morning Dan,

    I was raised to believe that sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. I think there are a lot of envious (labeling) people.

    Being of African American dessent, I have been called the racially ethnic degrading word several times by other ethnic groups. At first, I was disturbed; I have grown to accept other’s indiscretions and pray for those who need understanding.

    I agree with you though, it can be dangerous when a blasphemer is trying to reap havoc.

    Thomas K. Burke

  • Hi Dan, again, this is one of the most thoughtful entries in your RFL journal. I think the dialogue is enhanced when we can differ over the issue or situation but respect that the individual’s opinion deserves to be heard alongside our opinion in that dialogue.

    It is troubling when we make the person or personality the issue and attack them, not the issue. It is easier to just let every thought spill out and we know some people seem to make sport of creative insults. It can be funny if you understand that it is intended to be funny in a comedy act, because it so “over the line” of civil behavior. If that is not explicitly made clear, it damages relationships instead of building them.

    When we resort to name calling, it is intellectually bankrupt, whether it is to call our politicians of any party the name of the day – or to call the guy who cut us off in traffic a name. It serves no purpose, it just exposes us as people who need to “train the brain” to do better.

    Again, thanks for advancing the discussion and dialogue Dan.


  • “Would we call teachers, cashiers, engineers, parents, (insert your profession here) or doctors – morons?” Oh, Dan…as a teacher, I can tell you we get called worse, and on a regular basis! That’s part of the reason why half of our new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.

    • You may be right about the reason why teachers leave the profession within the first five years. …or it could be because teachers, like politicians and many other professionals, have to work within prescribed guidelines not of their making. Perhaps the teacher, as an individual, would like to give a hug to the child who feels lost and alone because of cruel bullying or a family crisis but they dare not do so at risk of being accused of criminal sexual conduct. …or in some cases, it may be because there are incompetents who enter every profession to run a power game and shore up their weak egos by requiring strict adherence to arbitrary classroom rules.

      In any case, what other people think of us is none of our business as long as we are doing our conscientious best. Leaders–whether politicians or teachers or engineers or doctors–do what’s in the best long-term interests of all, regardless of short-term personal consequences. …or so I believe.

  • This is the level of ‘discourse’ – mostly from the GOP and the far-right – that has troubled me ever since President Obama was elected. The dissention seems very calculated appeal to the lowest common denominator of folks: shallow, lazy or no thinking, emotional, anger-driven, lacking self-control, and completely blaming others – “them” – for their own out-of-control lives.
    Indeed, as you ask, more of us need to challenge the name calling and deliberate lies, as well as the willingness to vilify good people (yes, they are no more perfect than the rest of us, so what?) who are trying to make positive change.
    Thank you for the work you do!

    • If your trying to sell something, you might try treating your prospective customers with respect.

  • Dan,
    Even though I do not agree with all your columns, I still read them and some I do enjoy.
    However I am not at all pleased with the tone or the directions that this last article is going. I cannot believe after reading the CBO and the CBS article quoted that anyone could begin to think that the deficit is going to go down with the passage of this bill. To the contrary will do not have the money not the fiscal strength to even begin to think that this law is nothing but a whole morass the numbers simply do not add up.

    • While your posting was respectful, I think you missed the point. It’s not about the health bill. It’s about showing respect to people who have a different opinion than yours.

  • Thank you for saying so eloquently what so many of us are feeling. I feel as though I am in mourning for civil discourse in our government – at all levels. Citizens, I fear, have forgotten the fine art of conversation that is so necessary to s strong nation. We simply need to learn to be polite again.

  • I find incredible that everyone wants to receive grace but even in the same breath fail to offer it. Mercy is for those who extend mercy. I have not found a politician that I have completely aligned with but I have never been led by one that could not use my prayers seeking for them wisdom and courage. May God bless and guide those who lead us.

  • Well said – I have just about abandoned hope for any kind of a civil discourse whether it is Church-related positions or political talk. It seems that loaded words are being intentionally used to invoke emotional rather than rational reactions. I heard a clip of one of the representatives (happened to be Republican) on the floor yesterday shouting “No to socialism, no to totalitarianism…” – Oddly, I don’t hear of anyone demonstrating to get rid of Medicare or Social Security. It scares me that so many people can be moved to join in these choruses. I have worked in health care for more than forty years. Believe me, there are things that should be changed, like providing primary care for people in physicians’ offices – and not the Emergency Room. I hope this legislation will be the start of a new and better way of providing health care for all people and not “I’ve got mine, too bad about you” like it is now.

  • Dan,
    Thank you for saying your RFL today. By doing so you make us think about our own role in all this ‘politicing’ these days. Thanks for helping me see my role and responsiblity/accoutablity in these issues and so much more. Keep helping us to lead with our best selves no matter what the issue is. You’re writing great stuff!

    • Dan; you are right on. And for further reference, I am listening to an audio book by David Denby; author of Great Books. This audio book is “Snark”, and what is Snark?? “You recognize it when you see it–a tone of teasing, snide,undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreakding like pinkeye throught the media nd threatening to take over how Americans converse withe each other.” I have listened to only half of it but it almost makes me sick to hear the way in which we “”diss”” our leaders and fellow man. What happened to the messages of the gospels or our former leaders. I fear for our country. Keep up the good writing.

  • This is the 1st time I’ve taken the time to comment on one of your posts. I agree witj many of the others, one of your best!

  • This is very refreshing Dan. My son goes to St. Clare Montefalco Catholic School in Grosse Pointe Park and when the Principal, Sr. Kathy Avery came to the school over 2 years ago, she immediately instituted a no swearing / name calling (including words like “stupid” and “boring”) policy…even writing all the words on a chalkboard that would not be tolerated…I mean ALL the words (including George Carlin’s list!). The point being, these kids are learning that the words they say are important in how they think, feel and behave. In Don Miguel Ruiz’s “Four Agreements” he says to be “impeccable with your word,” in order to keep keep one’s character and sense of self clean, civil and respectable.

    Thank you for the reminder to try and stay above the indecency and incivility that occurs not only on the airwaves and in the halls Congress, but also in the coffee shops, dinner tables and playgrounds.

  • The current state of politics in our once glorious country are at best pathetic! I for one have had my fill of all of the sensitivity banter when ever decision is weighted principally in emotion and not in principal. In that perfect world that we all prefer to believe that is real and possible peace, love and harmony are the rule and everyone shares equally in everything. Greed, lust, envy are completely and forever banned. No one ever loses; no one is ever left behind; no one ever fails; and, no one is ever judged on the basis of what they have or how they look. That place does not exist in the natural world nor will it – ever!

    If we find offense in the words chosen by some to add color to their personal views then maybe we should suggest legislation that will forever remove all of the offending words from our language. But then again how will we determine which words to be banished. Afterall many are offended by anything and everything Christian, read Christmas. And why stop there? Why not deem it illegal to give disgusting looks and gestures as well? How about impoliteness, what should we do with that issue?

    Yup, I’ve exaggerated to make a point! Not any more or less effective then using disparaging words to get one’s attention. Beck is a “shock jock” in the most literal sense. You can choose to worry or whine because his delivery might offend or you can ignore the theater and examine the substance for its merit. I’ll choose the latter.

    For the first time in my life I am beginning to believe that the 200 year fight to preserve the most fundamental of our rights has been for nothing.

    sin or vice, corresponding to weaknesses in human nature.

    • R. Hance,
      You write well and provocatively. Bravo.
      The last thing in the world I am calling for is public censorship. I am calling for personal censorship.

      Take this example: Last night, a congressman (I believe it came from the floor and not the gallery) yelled out “baby killer” while Bart Stupak was speaking last night. Stupak is a courageous Democratic congressman who was fighting in favor of life – to the irritation of the vast majority in his party, nearly blowing up health care reform. He was the epitome of not being “pc” in his own party. And somebody wants to “diss” THIS guy in this way, with this accusation? That to me is where a person needs to exercise self-censorship. (Likewise with Joe Wilson who yelled “you lie” during the President’s speech.) And I believe that this guy gets emboldened by people like Beck who make name-calling and diatribe and incivility appear acceptable.

      The problem with Glen Beck (by the way the host I referred to in this column was not Beck) is not their ideas. It’s what they do to the level of dialogue. If I’m embroiled in a difficult values discussion about rights and responsibility in my home, and I call my kid a “loser” or my wife “a liar,” or they call me a “space cadet,” what will that do to the dialogue? It will make it less reflective, less trusting, and way more offensive, etc.

      We have very tough problems to solve, and we will need common sense to solve them, but when we turn those who see the world differently than us into idiots and enemies we will lose all possibility of common ground and common sense.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic, about the country we all love!


      • The source is really no more important then its substance – Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Holmes, Maher, Stewart, O’Donnell and the like are merely a stitch in the larger fabric of entertainment. Likely very sincere in their beliefs but always in consequence to the need for viewership. My point?; we are insulted by what we choose to be insulted by. It could also be easily argued that harsh words are no more insulting then sarcasm or patronization or dishonesty. Personally I would prefer being called a moron then having it disguised through a patronizing pat on the head! Being a liar is a consequence of telling untruths and the list of those continues to grow in seemingly endless ways. From Clinton to Edwards to Woods to Mcguire to Sanford to Letterman, should we not offend them by saying they lied? If my wife catches me in a lie I would hold that a higher offense then being called on it! The honor and nobility that once accompanied accountability should not be lost simply in the context of civility.

        The whole of the discourse can be vexing. What you see can be as damaging as what you hear. “You write well and provocatively. Bravo.”, that could be taken totally out of context (or not) and seen as nice try, d.a. Counterpoint; pretty and kind words can cut as deep as any if used in a condescending ways! Bottom line is that don’t disagree with your message as much as I’m lost in the Polly Anna approach.

        “If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.” – Samuel Adams

        • R Hance,
          First, I meant the “Bravo” comment as a genuine compliment to you – nothing patronizing about it. And I agree with you that papering over or false praise are hardly noble or helpful.
          But I’m not communicating well if you think what I’m talking about smacks of Pollyanna. To the contrary, I think it’s really really HARD when you care very deeply about something – so deeply that you would yell that “that’s a lie” when the president is addressing the congress, or “baby killer” while a man of great conscience who is pro-life is speaking. But we have to do that hard work of self discipline if we’re going to do the hard work of solving contentious problems! No one will ever convince me that personal attacks help advance hard discussion, no matter how much people “shouldn’t” let those harsh words affect them. To believe you can call your intellectual adversary a “moron” and think it won’t hurt the potential for compromise seems to me much more wishful than what I am asserting.
          Finally, from the rest of your tone, I can’t imagine that you would ever suggest we can legislate or otherwise rule out these destructive, demagogic, and personal attacks, right? So, we’re not left with Polly Anna, but either despair that we’re losing all hope of civility and compromise, or we’re left with the hard work of trying to listen as hard as we talk! I’m for that!
          To quote, Antiadvocate, “or so I believe.”
          — Dan

    • While you make some valid points, “ad hominem” arguments have always been considered weak. I agree that what you think of me is none of my business but I also know that sticks and stones may only break bones, but cruel and disparaging playground epithets cause life-long damage to a person’s spirit. It’s hard to let go when someone, even a person in authority, calls you “retarded.” It may be satisfying, in the privacy of our own vehicles, to let loose some foul language when road rage occurs as long as the other driver doesn’t hear us. But how can it foster dialogue and true, deep exploration of issues where there is no respect, no dignity? Courtesy seems a requirement for genuine civil dialogue to occur–the kind where common ground and reconciliation of disparaging viewpoints occurs.

  • I too agree that the name calling in Washington has gone to far. There is no such thing as bipartisanship any more which is sad.

    I also recall that four years ago, we continuously heard a certain governor talk about how the incumbent’s opponent moved all kinds of jobs to China, hurting the state. This kind of campaign was false and great for a five-second soundbite but did not truly convey the whole story. In fact, the opponent (and his family), regardless of political persuasion, deserves credit for being one of the great job creators this state has ever seen. Still, it was done to win political points.

    It’s easy to say things are repugnant and need to change from a mountain-top. But in the real world, even people you may be very close to break down and use the cheap way of scoring points.

    • Frank,
      I agree that it’s hard to do this in political campaigns. Modern campaigns dominated by 30-second spots are often misleading. They portray pieces of stories, are fundamentally emotional, and are almost always distortive.
      The decisions about strategy on the Governor’s campaign were very difficult. You may recall that Mr. Devos (and others on his behalf) were on the air for about 6 months before my wife’s campaign had the financial resources to battle back. The attacks leveled against her – and the profile advanced by her opponent – were also less than objective and fair. Exporting jobs to China; or, more accurately, cutting jobs while adding jobs in China, was a reasonable issue. Foreign trade remains a huge issue for our competitiveness. Granted it was raised in the emotional way that have become the norm in our ads.
      In the primary I was personally attacked in well-funded ads, and I credit Mr. Devos, because I don’t think he took that low road.
      The ads end up being a poor surrogate for dialogue and debate.
      To sum: I appreciate your point of view. Candidates, too, have to make tough choices. Perhaps we were too aggressive in that campaign. And most certainly neither candidate confronted citizens with the very difficult and bleak realities. Neither Devos nor Granholm had a magic wand; so much of the work and change has to be done by citizens, employees, parents, entrepreneurs, etc., themselves. That may have been the biggest setback from that campaign – hiding the massive amount of pain and change Michigan would need.

  • Could you please elaborate on what “silly season” is? Perhaps I am too young to understand the reference you make.

  • Dan,
    You are correct — the erosion of civil conversation is more than a little upsetting.

    I think the folks who started the coffee party — have a good idea. (It figures that my politics and drink of choice would conflict). But, check it out — the concept is that the conversation should be civil… period!

    Thanks for saying this out loud. The whole debate has been unfortunate at best.

  • I agree with you, Dan. It is not only the public though that need to understand the politicians the politicians need to have respect for one another. Watching the health care procedures before the vote yesterday was appalling to me. The rudeness members of the house showed to one another is unacceptable. How many times did the gavel have to come down and order in the house have to be called because of the loud outbursts when someone was speaking? Too many to count when it shoudn’t happen at all. Name calling is wrong as decent human behavior I would expect this even of the members of congress.

  • Dan, your post is not only timely on the eve of the health care vote, but also for me as a candidate for local office. Four years ago, civility and truth-seeking fueled my brief primary campaign to a near win. While the bumper crop of other local races may have been burdened with outright “hostility and position”, my two opponents and I appeared to have avoided the mud in a contentious primary.
    Those were the days. Since then, the local “silly season” has expanded and re-opened the doors to back rooms–smoking ban notwithstanding. Local incumbents still have advantage, but also have been calling each other names along with public accusations. By comparison, public name-calling edges toward civility. (Okay, not really. But, since when is being labeled “substantive” a bad thing?) The situation truly does challenge candidates with the question, “Why try? Why put on the virtual flack jacket and run for office when The System is so broken?” A friend often says that a candidate could walk on water and still not win. And yes, an incumbent must own recorded decisions, for better or worse. Local office is a part-time-pay job with full-time responsibilities to both active and passive constituents. Who wants it? I do. For me, it’s mostly about being part of the solution, about being in a position to help make the most of our public resources, whether scarce or abundant.
    We have so many urgent issues to resolve. We can’t afford distraction from truth. If we practice and insist on civility and truth, as many still fiercely do, The System, Democracy of the Republic isn’t broken, it’s working.

  • Dan,

    Well said. If we keep calling them morons and idiots then what are we calling forth from them? What happened to statesmen and women and bravery? It’s still there but we have to look for it and reward it.

    Thank you for reminding us of that.

  • Hello, Dan,
    My mother sets a wonderful example of true leadership and on more than one occasion held public office (locally). Trust me when I say the barbs and negative comments hurt in a way most cannot imagine. Hey, that’s my mother up there, not some “dumb old lady” (which was one of the more gentler swipes). Yes, these comments are usually from someone who hasn’t the courage to run for office or step up to any leadership position.

    Please tell your children that we are kindred spirits, along with the Bush twins, Amy Carter, et al.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Dan You need to take a time out and read Thomas Sowell’s new book. Find out what intellectuals can do to this country. Sowell is a real leader. Sowell had it right on health care. Look at the vote 219 to 214 You call that a majority. Five votes that influence 1/6 of our total economy. That is real democracy in action.

    • John,

      Thanks for the book recommendation.

      Do you see any irony in your lines, “Look at the vote 219 to 214 You call that a majority.” Well, yes, that’s exactly what it is. As you put it “real democracy.”

      In the state of Washington the Governor won by a vote that it took nearly a year to confirm; it was that close. But it was a majority.

      On health care there were 200 some Republican amendments accepted in what’s now been passed. There were also other R-sponsored proposals that were surely reasonable and were not considered or not adopted. That’s majority rule. AND there was a strategic move by the Rs to push for “start over,” instead of “work on what we’ve got.” It would seem that BOTH side could have been done better.

      It’s my view that this less-than-optimal process is in huge part driven by the combination of incivility and hostility among media and citizens. When we contribute to ratcheting up the volume, we all pay the price of the distortion.


      • It could be easily argued that a majority of the populace wanted an improvement in the approach to health care both in the provisioning for and insuring to. It seems also easily argued that the majority of folks believed that this bill overstepped the will of the people. Unfortunately the people carry the longer burden of democracy when they have to choose those who say they will represent their will when/while in office.

        The true irony is apparent where the soundbites offered post vote are consistent when/while only recognizing the changes that were popular to the people – those changes likely would have only taken 200 pages not 2000 pages. I for one would like someone to answer the questions proffered by Karl Rove yesterday! What about the double counting??
        Quite frankly our President did nothing to help me feel confident when he consistently dodged questions or filibustered in his interview with Bret Baier. Trust me I’ve considered very carefully the issue of the interruptions.

  • Thanks for crystallizing my thoughts. I long for a return to the days of integrity, civility and respect. We don’t need to agree, but we do need to respect one another. As you point out, it’s no wonder we can’t attract quality candidates to political office. Keep it coming.

  • Politics is a noble profession.

    Words can do real damage /hurt, since they command the mind.

    I am involved with politics and have personally met most of the high ranking presons who represent Michigan, including Jeniffer Granholm, Carl Levin, Debbie Stabenow, and Bart Stupak. I know they are all Democrats, and I serve on a Republican committee, and have worked on a good number of Republican campaigns. I share Dan’s idea that the insults (morons in Washington, eg.) are dangerous.

    I have been able to have conversations a few of these leaders, and have attended their town hall meetings, and similar presentations. These people are a long way from morons. They are psychologically strong persons who can take all the insults, and even the worse they receive personally, and even by members of their own party; and I do not believe they are bigger than human, but that there are times they are hurt, and are shaken.

    Part of the problem is a change in how people look at each other. Read the entries of young persons on Face Book and similar Internet sites. I think that by communicating in a detached way, by electronic devices, cell phones, texting, emails, and social networks, that younger persons have less empathy for their fellow human beings. “The Entitled Generation.”

    Power has become too important. The Health Care bill is a wonderful example of a bill which is far more Republican than Democrat, but that is opposed, from what I can tell, because it was proposed from the other side of the aisle. Governor Granholm knows what that is like. If this were a Democrat’s bill, it would have at least the public option, and even have a way to eliminate the insurance companies. Obama is elminating the private banks from students loans, in contrast.

    The latest insult is using “elite” in the pejorative. Making people feel like they are inadequate and therefore stirring them to anger over it has long been a political device. Hitler told the Germans that they would never be humiliated again. Today, some despots today use that idea of not being humiliated again.

  • THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I woke up this morning trying to figure out way was I do uptight about this debate and I concluded that my stress was caused by the MisInformation that I was getting from the media. Can we get some TRUTH here! Thank you Dan, you hit this one out of the ball park! Tell the parent who has a sick child and seeking medical attention that they are morons for wanting to offer care to a love one, tell a recent college grad who is too old to stay on their parents medical plan but too young to be gainfully employed in a full time job with benifit that they are morons for skipping an annual physical. We must stop this public discourse that is perpetuating our need for bad information. Thank you for taking off the gloves and dealing with that noise maker!

  • Hi Dan –

    Unfortunately, it seems that there has been a fracture in both trust and respect that we accord our politicians – both those “on our side” and those “on the other side” – whatever that means. I do believe there was a time when we may have found a “liberal” or “conservative” politician’s views repulsive to our own views, but respected that they were looking out for what they truly felt were in the best interests of “the people” – whom we all thought were the constituents. It seems we have lost the trust that politicians are looking out for “the people”, but are still confident that they are looking out for the constituents. We just fear that the constituents are now narrowly defined as to who can fund and deliver the votes for their re-election.

    Everyone knows we could have started small and simple in health care reform – putting market forces to work by removing the tax deductability of health care expenses at the corporate level. We could have used this savings to pay for a universal health care system. It just seems this approach was not pursued as it did not appeal to the new definition of “constituent”.

  • Dan, Name calling isn’t good and I agree with your assessment of this. At the same time I believe that good Americans are feeling that this bill is not a good one, most of these people believe there should be health care reform, but this 2,000 page monster took much arm twisting and the granting of millions/billions to get the votes required. At a time when we are witnessing the largest deficit in our history (amount and percentage of GNP), when what we crave is an improved economy with people back at work, this bill – now act – isn’t going to do it. We are placing an enormous burden on our children and grandchildren. Mark my words, this reform isn’t going to cost just $990 billion is going to cost us, much like SS, Medicare and Medicaid, many times more than this…..and that is my fear, concern, and I believe this is the fear that is causing many American to look at Congress as a gang of thugs and morons.

    • There is always a simple, moronic answer to a complex issue like health care reform, and it is always wrong. It takes a lot of steps to right what’s wrong about the path to disaster that existing health care was leading to. This is one step of many that need to be taken. Above all, trust the slow work of [evolution]… (paraphrase of something Rev. Pierre Teilhard du Chardin once wrote in a letter to a young friend.”

  • I agree – if continue to berate our politician, whether we agree with them or not, we are teaching our children there is no need for respect and we become part of the problem not part the solution.

    If we have “No tolerance laws/rules” in our schools for this type of behavior, why it is acceptable in our media and government.

  • Wonderful post. So wonderful that, contrary to my habit, I’m moved to share it with all the people I call “friend.”

    There are many important points made here — elegantly; the chief one being, of course, about civil and “truth-driven” behavior (I think I know what’s meant by “truth”). I’m glad you’re spotlighting this critical issue, Dan.

    What still concerns me, after reading the post and comments on it, is this: how do we engage people in civil, truth-driven behavior? How can people like me (an ordinary leader) help raise the bar for public discourse, in addition to leading by example? How do we, as a community, help make civility and truth the norm?

    I think the core of the issue is in the arena of “character.” Can somebody come up with a comprehensive plan to create a “character epidemic, oxymoronic as the term may seem? And can anybody come up with a comprehensive plan to reform the culture of sound bites, short-hand followership that masquerades as thinking, and toleration for the dishonesty inherent in the twisting of facts to rationalize the above?

    I’d join this bandwagon if someone will help build it.

    • I think the process has to start with respect. Good, well-intentioned people can differ on a subject. It doesn’t mean that either of them are bad, wrong, or stupid. Usually, it means that they’re operating on different sets of facts. Taken altogether, there may be some common ground. Most Americans are not willing to look at all the facts. Most would rather have the facts filtered by public radio or TV, Fox news, MSNBC, or their favorite blogger. The elected representatives try to plow through the whole thing and consider what it means to their constituents. Most citizens do not. We’d rather leave it up to the elected representatives so we can have a life. And this is what we get: elected officials who know a lot about it and citizens who don’t know much about it sitting in judgment on them, unwilling to hear why they think as they do. Sad!

  • Dehumanizing labels serve no positive purpose.
    Hi Dan,
    Your comments on the import of respect in human discourse are critical for us to keep and to pass on to future generations. The absence of social discourse leaves anti-social discourse which dismantles/impedes reasoned deliberation on critical issues. HOWEVER, I would be remiss, after reading so many comments, to not comment that the term “Moron” is reprehensible and needs to be duly noted as such. It comes from an era when people who happened to have disabilities were segregated, disenfranchised, dehumanized and abandoned to institutional ‘apartheid’ merely because of an allegation of a lower I.Q.. Since we have the Americans with Disabilities Act and are now increasingly realizing that IT’S NORMAL TO BE DIFFERENT, it behooves us (I don’t believe I’ve ever said that before) to not use the “M” word, the “N” word, or the “B” word unless in a quote and with some disclaimer so we don’t perpetuate the power of words that diminnish any American’s perceived value. Thank you for your proper social response to a bad trend in interactions especially between The Parties.
    Please remind people that IT’S WHAT IS RIGHT, NOT WHO IS RIGHT, and also that a term such as ‘moron’ is an unfortunate artifact from the past that no longer serves us well.
    Jerry Leismer

  • Sarah Bea,

    I don’t know that we crack this by a “comprehensive plan.” I think we do it by gently inviting people to reflect on the name-calling, and we get better quality as we ask fact-based questions. This is hard – especially when it’s a 2000-page report that few fully understand.


  • Dan,

    Good column today.

    We have a radio station in Kalamazoo that I used to listen to much of the time. In the afternoons, they had a great talk show host named Dave Jaconette who was always smart, prepared, refrained from calling names, and was as objective a host as you could hope for. (Having said that, he sometimes took callers to task when they said something that didn’t make sense, but he did the same to Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, and without calling names.)

    Almost two years ago, that station replaced Dave with a local person who’s much more prone to name-calling, and the station’s evening schedule now consists of practically nothing but people who call names and try to stir things up.

    As a result, I almost never listen to that station any more (except for mornings), and listen instead to balanced discussions on other stations about issues of the day.

    As far as I know, the station still does OK in the ratings because of a certain segment of listeners to whom they appeal. But history will remember this period as one that didn’t further intellectual discussion, and that’s too bad.

    • That is the disturbing thing to me – that this kind of hate, attack, aggrevation, insult, even intimidation is commercially valuable. People want this stuff enough that advertisers will pay to have it put on the air.

  • Dan, 5 big gold stars to you today for your great article. I believe we, the people of this country could accomplish so much more if we all remembered how to be civil.

    Thank you too for reminding us that being in a public office is like living in a fishbowl waiting for the cat to pounce.

  • Very well put. I am astonished and disturbed by the anger and disrespect so freely shown on TV today toward the president and other elected officials. While name calling has always been a part of our politics, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done in such an angry way as over the past twelve months.

  • Gold Star, Dan. Everybody is somebody’s mother or father, daughter or son. Treating people well is one of the facets of refined behavior.

    It would be good if we could treat each other that way.

  • Dan, I agree with almost everything you said, except as it applies to the 43rd POTUS. Sorry, I just can’t get there in that case.

  • Dan,
    The tragic lack of civility in governmental interactions only parallels the same in daily life.

    The online dictionary defines “moron” as: 1. A stupid person; a dolt. 2. [Psychology] A person of mild mental retardation having a mental age of from 7 to 12 years and generally having communication and social skills enabling some degree of academic or vocational education. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive.

    When did the word “moron” come to mean “someone who disagrees with me?” This is way I usually hear the word used. I have uttered the word myself, when cut-off or tailgated in traffic, and was then left to wonder from where came the urge to use it.

    I substitute taught for three months last school year. Civility and consideration simply do not exist in the classrooms, except for the actions of a few (far too few) students and in the rare cases that it is enforced by threat of punishment. Somewhere between 5th grade (where I was still addressed as Mr. McKellar) and 7th grade (where I was downgraded to “Hey you!”) respect, civility, and consideration vanished. I cannot blame the school systems for this outcome. Respect and civility were taught by my parents and were a way of life in our home.

    I was proud to find out that my son has banned the use of certain words in their house, like “stupid, ” “moron,” and “dumb.” In fact, my three-year-old grandson admonished me this weekend when I used the word “stupid” to describe a reality show on television. It was a teaching moment, and I was the student. Humbling…yes, that’s the word.

    Rep. Bart Stupak is the congressman from our district, and I met him when visiting Washington DC with my older son for a conference, some years ago. He is a reasonable and intelligent man, and one who has suffered tragedy in his own family, yet remains a strong and responsive representative. His ability to focus on a conversation and absorb the content is a bit frightening in person. Perhaps his years in the Michigan State Police helped him develop that intensity.

    Perhaps our representatives need to take a page from the life of Harry Truman. Noted for his lively temper, he knew the danger of “spouting.” On the rare instances that he let go, he paid dearly in political capital. His method for handling the problem was a simple one: He wrote a letter with all the emotion, anger, resentment, and fear exposed and plainly written. Then he found a locked drawer and put it away, forever. Maybe our representatives should pause before uttering their nefarious sound bytes, record them on digital recorder, and then delete them forever. Personal attacks and “over the top” allegations make for good theatre and even better news coverage; but they solve nothing. Why fix the problem when you gain more political capital (and media coverage) from fixing the blame?

    In “Cool Hand Luke,” Strother Martin’s nefarious Captain said: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don’t like it any more than you men.” Luke was communicating, but to the wrong audience, and the result was tragedy. Maybe our representatives need to take a good long look at their audiences, instead of the polls. Rep. Stupak has a huge district (lots of miles) and still manages to visit our communities regularly. I sleep better knowing he actually talks to people, not pollsters.

    Nope, you don’t get to congress by being a moron. I think perhaps, it is in the translation of good ideas into Washington Legalese, that common sense is left behind. There are old politicians and bold politicians, but very few old, bold politicians.

  • You are right on the money! As a former elected official as well as the wife of a former elected official of a small Michigan city, I can tell you exactly what they would say: “Oh, I could never do that!”; or I can’t do that because I own a small business.”; or, I don’t have time.” The few people who do accept the opportunity to serve soon realize the challenge of not being able to satisfy all of the people all of the time, but they also usually find the experience most rewarding. Serving in elected office is most difficult when what is best for the community at large is not the most advantageous for their friends.

    In spite of the above challenges of public service,the rewards are so great that I would do it again in a heartbeat!

    Governor Granholm inherited a political situation which is most difficult and she has served honorably. I wish her all the best in the future, and sincerely hope that she will find another venue in which to serve us all.

  • Dan,

    Thank you for this week’s subject. My father was in politics sixty years ago. The right and the left did not always agree…in fact, seldom did they agree. The important part was that they were civil and respectful to each other. They agreed to disagree with dignity.

    Society has lost that respect. It was so obvious when shouting happened at the State of the Union address and again during the debate on Sunday night. Who elects these folks? If they are morons, then the electorate must be morons too! I don’t think so. We should thank those who are willing to step out and lead. We should eliminate those who step out and shout!

    Thank you to your wife and others who lead because they believe.


  • Where are we? Is this America? Black, white, hispanic, asian, native american. It was deemed a melting pot for a reason- to give opportunity. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same opportunity. The rules haven’t always been right, but why not move ahead? Our country is no longer one of dignity, integrity and respect. When we lose sight of the principles that defined us, we lose vision, unity and success. Our economy isn’t the blame of one president (black or white) one administration or one party. The damage was caused collectively. Now one president and one administration is trying to right some of the wrongs. Honestly, I am afraid. When I hear a talk show host say we need to take them out – that disturbs me. Is he calling for killers, terrorists or just plain haters to step forward and take out leaders who think it’s fair that all citizens can go the doctor? Life happens in seasons, apparently this is our season to develop, mature and press beyond the norm. Unfortunately, there is so much hatred, racism and divide – until I am almost ashamed to be a citizen of this country. All in the name of the haves who don’t want to sacrifice another penny of their wealth and the have nots who (outside of children and elderly) won’t launch towards self enhancement, education and avenues of sustainment. Let’s move forward.

  • Why would one agree with, that a person has to pay a thousand dollar fine for not having health insurance. If they can’t afford to buy themselves health ins., how can they pay a fine?

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