Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sticks and Stones: How Hyperbole is Hurting America

In these recent weeks, the passage of new immigration laws in Arizona, continuing debate over healthcare, Tea Party protestors touring the country and the myriad other goings on in America, have set the infotainment industry ablaze with fresh fodder for their "intellectual" discussion.

Emotion-stirring issues like these usually lend themselves to all kinds of finger pointing and posturing from the opinionators and pundits of the media, with their comments generally landing somewhere between derisive to ad hominem. Normally, I don't mind the impassioned sword-crossing of ideological opponents; in fact, I generally think it is a sign of a healthy freedom of speech. However, recent comments have me worried that the state of political discourse is America has plunged to a new low.

Consider the recent deluge of dissent being thrown around the papers and television:

New York Times columnist Frank Rich charged the Tea Party protestors who had thrown bricks through the windows of congress members homes, with reenacting Kristallnacht, the two-night raid of Jewish homes and businesses prior to WWII that marked the genesis of the Holocaust.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has made similar comparisons, calling the countries failure to cover the uninsured, a "holocaust."

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson called the recent Arizona immigration law draconian, racist, oppressive, mean-spirited, unjust, xenophobic, unconstitutional and an abomination.

Jesse Jackson may well agree. In a recent interview on MSNBC, he said the new law is, "a form a terrorism."

Glenn Beck, in a discussion on his show about some Americans' distaste for the recent healthcare overhaul, compared the U.S. government to pedophilic rapist Roman Polanski, and the American people to a 13-year-old girl.

Maureen Dowd, another New York Times columnist, compared her own experience as a Catholic woman, to that of the subjugated women of Saudi Arabia, calling the Catholic Church, "an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity . . . an autocratic society that repress[es] women and ignore[s] their progress in the secular world."

If I may just briefly and respectfully offer some perspective: In this country, Ms. Dowd can say that. In this country, she can travel without a chaperone, drive a car, vote, use the internet and make love to someone of the same sex without fear of death, imprisonment or deportation. And perhaps most importantly given her charge against the Catholic Church, she can leave her religion.

These are of course just a few examples of the pabulum that is daily passed off as discourse in America. Certainly these people have the right to their opinions, but their choice of language and imagery is boorish, morally confused and dangerous. By using this emotionally charged language so cavalierly, they are striping the language of any meaning.

When uninsured Americans are compared to the millions of men, women and children that were exterminated in the Holocaust, then the word "holocaust" loses its significance, and the lives of the victims of that great evil are cheapened. When American taxpayers are compared to a victim of child rape, the true victims of that heinous crime are undermined.

Rhetoric is a wonderful part of American society, but if language is to retain any utility it must be measured.

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