By ANNE DONNELL
In an e-mail dated 2/15/2010 to The Jonesboro Sun ( published 2/21) Kelly Craft wrote, “[Since first voting in 1972] I … have observed our political life in decline, spiraling downward on a course of shameless blaming and irresponsibility which I have termed ‘Poisonous Pedagogy…’ It is present on both sides of the political aisle…a language that uses cynicism, sarcasm, scorn, scoffing, character assassination, and schadenfruede (a word that means joy in another’s suffering). It generates fear and distrust by deliberate inaccuracies and purposeful confusion. It is a language of disrespect that demonizes and dehumanizes. The people who use the Poisonous Pedagogy are demonstrating their lack of civility, their lack of respect for the other, and their willingness to use any means to gain an advantage. The Poisonous Pedagogy discourages participation in public life at all levels…I stand against all persons in our public life (pundits, preachers, politicians, etc.) who use the Poisonous Pedagogy to advance agendas. I call for maturity and civility in our public life...”-Sent by J.G.
This is an indictment that fits, isn’t it? The spring, summer, and fall of the last presidential election (2008) was marked by exploitation of fears (race, gender) and extraordinary, though often bombastic, rhetoric, not all of which issued from the candidates’ mouths. Televised political commentary on the national level (and who knows what each of the states was up to) became almost unbearable as night after night tension and nastiness reached new depths.
But, this isn’t so new, certainly older than our recent 20th century American politics, although that century featured the daisy ad against Barry Goldwater (implying he’d start a nuclear war) and the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis (implying he was soft on crime).
Beginning in the 1790’s Tammany Hall controlled a lot of what passed for New York City politics, including graft and political corruption. Still remembered is William M. "Boss" Tweed (1823-1878) who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and to the New York State Senate and convicted for stealing between $40 million and $200 million (Wikepedia Online says, “based on the inflation or devaluation rate of the dollar since 1870 of 2.7%, this is between 1.5 and 8 billion 2010 dollars”) from New York City taxpayers. He died in jail. Wikipedia adds, “The term ‘Tammany Hall’ is now used to refer to a corrupt system of buying or controlling votes.”
So we’ve behaved badly in politics, and not just in New York City, and we’ve talked badly about politicians. Consider John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, dying on the same Fourth of July (1826 – 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence) and friends initially, friends in retirement, but, oh, that bitter in between. Perhaps the most wretched point? The election of 1800, written in acrimony.
And there’s, “Ma, Ma, where’s Pa? Gone to the White House, rah, rah, rah,” doggerel about an illegitimate child and Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), the only U.S.President to serve two terms not in succession.
We must deplore and regret discouraging people from seeking public office, a noble calling now requiring a fearful price paid by candidates and families and friends.
Is all this an incurable, American condition? This lashing out in the march toward power? This eyes-on-the-prize-and-anything-goes-until-it’s-in-my-grasp? No, it’s evident before America’s birth, and easily found wherever politics has any freedom of expression. Incurable? Perhaps until human nature gets reinvented. But, that’s possible.
The role of morality is to direct such reinvention, and the role of religion is to make it happen (and much more.) So right here at home in America, when we start being the people we say we are, good followers of the American dream for all people, a way of life encompassing personal liberties and respect, we’ll deal a death blow to Poisonous Pedagogy.
ONLINE DEPARTMENT: (Thanks, B.F.) “Political et al Chicken Crossing” SARAH PALIN: You betcha the chicken crossed the road! He crossed the road because he's a gosh-darn maverick! We're both mavericks. BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change! JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road. HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me. GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here. DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun? BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken? AL GORE: I invented the chicken. DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems. ANDERSON COOPER: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed access to the other side of the road. NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks. DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told. ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone. GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough. ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road. JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace. ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken? COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?