When I first wrote of how we use words to shape political debate, I was trying to point to the more subtle impact that language has on how we engage issues. I was not trying to assert that words could inspire anyone to acts of violence, though they certainly can.
It is quite likely that the lunatic from Tucson at the center of the debate over extreme political speech might have just as easily targeted any politician, but we're so busy trying to divert or assign blame that we can't look at the bigger picture.
Anyone can make the case that rhetoric inspires violence. The evidence is pretty clear. The issue for me is that the discourse has gotten to the point where we have dehumanized those with whom we disagree. Left or right doesn't matter anymore. When we characterize someone as a baby killer, a Nazi, a communist, fascist or traitor, we make it permissible to make them no more valuable than their politics. To silence the idea, we justify silencing the person.
It isn't about a particular event anymore — which is why connecting the dots in Tucson doesn't even matter — it's about how all the talk has elevated the temperature in the room to the point where loose cannons start doing stupid things. We need to start separating the issues from the personalities.
There are very few things about which Lenore Solis — a candidate in the City Council race that I ran in — and I agree when it comes to national politics, but I know that she is principled and ethical. To the extent that we could ever work together on an issue about which we agree, I would not hesitate. I am sure we would fight like hell about everything else, but we would always respect each other. I am proud to know a lot of people like that.
That's the piece that many of us are missing, that separation of person and politics. I understand that for some issues it is challenging — when someone's politics infringes upon another person's constitutional rights — but you win the day by winning the argument, not by destroying the person.
We have our own local character-assassination team. Every week I receive an e-newsletter from a local open-government advocacy group purporting to work for my interest with special powers granted by the Internal Revenue Service to ferret out corruption in any quarter. Though the IRS really doesn't grant powers, Vanguardians and Barry Allen have spun it that way.
City administrators are made out to be liars who have squandered city reserves, and council members have had their character assassinated with nothing more than innuendo and conspiracy theories. They have even made derogatory speculation about private personal behavior fair game. What they have done in the name of a free press is disgusting.
I have not always agreed with the positions held by council members, but I have never accused them of being corrupt or immoral. They work long hours for little money and receive even less thanks once in office for more than six weeks. I don't always think that the administrative staff gets it right, and I am sure City Manager Jim Starbird doesn't share my utopian ideals, but I don't think any of them are gunning for a job over in Bell.
They actually thought they were getting rid of the one that did.
And I don't think that the fire and police departments in this city are trying to screw anyone, but we can talk about having responsible salaries and pensions without spitting on a fire truck as it passes.
The truth about Advanced Development & Investments Inc. and its relationship with the city and its elected officials will come with time and the efforts of responsible journalists. If there are guilty parties, we will hold them accountable either by sanction or ballot.
For now, we need to turn down the temperature and start looking at issues without putting a target on each other's backs. We need to start looking at problems and finding solutions without dehumanizing the person with whom we disagree. We need to do it as a country — and we can start locally.
MICHAEL TEAHAN lives in the Adams Hill area with a clear view of the Verdugo Mountains so he can keep an eye on things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.