Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's Wrong With Us?

God knows I love freedom of expresssion, but sometimes you've just got to wonder why the Founding Fathers neglected to add a note about being polite.

What passes for politics this day would make my late mother sick. And I don't think I ever heard her say a word about politics. She sure did have opinions, though, on how we should treat each other.

This week's story about the Reymann-Tarle exchange on a hot and humid Sunday makes so many good points about why politicians should observe the old adage "if you can't say something nice..."

I spoke with David Reymann the evening of the tussle; the facts in the police report, Reymann's account and Tarle's account, for the most part, all match. What is being glossed over in the aftermath is just how a mother (Mrs. Tarle) and a father (Mr. Tarle) explain to their ten-year old son just why another guy (Mr. Reymann) felt it worthwhile enough to run down the boy's dad.

Reymann tells me he "100% regrets" being the one to put the anti-Ernie literature in front of Ernie's son. I think any of us would be outraged, just as Mom and Dad Tarle were, that their son would be dragged into the childish political games adults play. Where the elder Tarle went over the line was in threatening Reymann; where Reymann went over the line is in not paying attention to what he's doing when handing out political literature to kids.

An outraged father spouts off and makes a threat; a concerned candidate is clueless who he hands his literature to and pulls out a gun. Both men should take lessons from the ten-year-old, who told his mother. Neither of these guys stand as role models for what Akron voters have a right to expect from people seeking to serve them.

What is wrong with this picture?

My Twitter friend "Wayne In Akron" -- who does a remarkable job explaining his opinion using public records -- calls to attention a tweet from Akron Ward Council Rep Kelli Crawford noting voters can cast absentee/early ballots now. She tweets "vote early, vote often!" Wayne finds it inappropriate. I respond in so many words "so what?" and note it's a common phrase. I've heard it every election since I started voting 34 years ago, along with jokes about dead people in Chicago voting twice and West Virginians trading votes for liquor. Where's the intent? Are we really turning into such a humorless society that an "oldie but moldy" phrase triggers alarm? Are we so sensitive we are now insensitive to an easy, throw away laugh?

The comments here on AkronNewsNow enable anyone with an opinion to express themselves, but we spend more and more time reviewing those opinions flagged by readers as offensive, obscene, racist, vulgar, profane or containing vicious attacks on private individuals. The Akron Beacon Journal shut down commenting on their first report of the Firestone Park fireworks beating, and I have to admit plenty of sympathy with the editors on Exchange and Main because we had the same struggle. Open debate is one thing; caustic, hateful, despicable speech is another. In the end, it's the decision of the editors and publishers what we let through, but are we really that rude a people where it must be a constant battle? We've banned some, suspended others, posted warnings -- yet the level of dialogue reflects how easy it is to be nasty when you don't sit face-to-face. Send is easier to hit than reminding ourselves it is best to be polite than sorry. This is the lesson we want to teach our kids?

What the hell is wrong with us?

The statewide games adults play is just as bad; we are a year out of next year's races for Governor and U.S. Senator, and already both sides engage in what passes for raising issues by taking every opportunity to flood newsroom and supporter email boxes with some of the most juvenile, smarmy messages you could imagine. There's a good reason you rarely see this stuff in the paper or hear about it on radio and TV; it isn't designed to be credible political debate, it's designed to get people hacked off enough to send money to "fight the good fight." God help us when 2010 actually rolls around and this spills over to political advertising which fills every television, radio, newspaper and mailbox in the state.

What are we doing to deserve this?

On the national stage, the same folks who smirked and applauded when protesters targeted the President and Vice-President a year ago now cry foul when greeted with the same tactics over the health care debate; there are no opposing viewpoints, only liars, myths, propaganda, Nazi-like suppression of free speech, and even thugs wearing union shirts providing a beat-down on someone hold a protest sign. Despite the courage of a few elected officials such as Missouri's Claire McCaskill, who took on all comers, but is now forced to cancel Town Hall meetings. We're treated to representatives such as Georgia's David Scott -- a Blue Dog as he tells it -- yelling down a local doctor who dared ask questions about the biggest issue in the nation today after he couldn't get through to Scott on his own. Now Scott has a swastika painted on his office door. President Obama gets a more respectful reception in New Hampshire -- not exactly a bastion of liberal thought -- but Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter gets shouted down at his own meeting.

What can we do to stop this?

Usually, the American public is level-headed and responds to the above with a shrug, a comment about how happy we are that the nuts in Washington are kept away from the rest of us, encircled by a beltway, and remind ourselves we vote in spite of our elected representatives and the way politics is played. But after watching an Akron recall draw fewer than one in five voters -- and an income tax in Columbus to protect police, fire and other critical services attract the same kind of interest -- I'm beginning to think voting no is becoming a louder voice than those screaming in our ears.

We need to condemn -- in our strongest, respectful voices -- those who would seek to shout down other voices. We shouldn't accept violence anymore, whether it comes from guys puching out a protest sign holder or a cream pie in the face delivered to Ann Colter. We shouldn't tolerate those who shout down, throw down, or personally put down our neighbors who simply have another idea. That goes for the red-faced, spittle-throwing anti-war protester just as much as the red-faced, spittle-throwing health care opponent.

Enough's enough.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Isn't Free Speech Wonderful?

All the gum-flapping over the Obama White House asking supporters of the President's healthcare plans to "rat out" (the phrase used if you oppose) or "simply report myths" (if you are in favor) point out one thing: it's still great to wrap ourselves in the First Amendment.

The cynics targeting Obamacare charge even asking people to "inform" on those with opposing views -- under the edict to report false statements so they can be dealt with -- conjures up memories of secret police behind the Iron Curtain, getting even the kids to report on their parents.

On the other side, the cynics targeting any questioning of Obamacare charge even asking those questions or offering a passionate objection is little more than Nazi-era storm trooper tactics designed to build enemy lists.

Lost to both sides: by even having this discussion, and by extension painting the other side in the most over-exaggerated prose, Americans continue to prove just what is great about America. We have the freedoms to call those in power to account not just for what they do, but what we think they want to do. The First Amendment gives us that right, and it is the ultimate equalizer keeping power with the people.

Speaker Pelosi and her oh-so-serious-it-hurts-listening band of spin doctors would have us believe democracy is being taken over by the mob; Rush Limbaugh and his equally too-serious-to-want-to-invite-to-my-dinner-table band believe we are on the cusp of becoming Maoist China or, worse yet, East Germany.

Both sides have enough little truth to feed their fears to spark a conflagration among a public looking for leadership but instead settling for manipulation. Is it really a wonder most of the public mentally checks out of these beltway brawls?

It's gotten so bad passionate people who disagree are now portrayed as disruptive enough to force member of Congress to hide from their constituents, an excuse to not talk about why they vote the way they do or show their faces in so-called "Town Hall" meetings that traditionally were little more than photo ops to begin with. Now that we have something of substance to openly discuss with the folks writing the checks, all of a sudden the masters of the presentation are afraid to present.

Suggestion: send flag@WhiteHouse.gov an email EVERY time you see a posting, hear a voice in opposition or see a talking head straying from the party line. I mean EVERY time -- include CNN, MSNBC, Fox, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, even this blog -- to the point where it becomes apparent we appreciate the wide diversity of opinion on this issue. Better yet, add the National Republican Committee to the list: their website is being revamped and while they want you to tell them how you like the new look I'm sure they'd love to hear what you think on other issues. The national Democrat Committee wants to know what you think on the issues, too. You'll also be surprised just how similar the two sites look -- right down to making sure "give us money" is featured prominently.

To our elected representatives enjoying some time back home from the sauna of democracy in August, man up -- aimed at LaTourette, Ryan, Space and Boccieri. Betty Sutton should woman up. You weren't elected to sit in comfort and make decisions based only on the words of the party bosses, lobbyists you allow in your office, or union and industry big-shots back home.

These folks back home who want to hear from you, talk with you and even yell at you are more important that Obama, Pelosi, Limbaugh, Gingrich and the rest of the beltway bunch. These people are your bosses.

Earn your pay. Talk to the people. Listen to what they have to say and then vote your conscience. Then accept what comes next -- good with the bad. Just end the whining about having to put up with either side exercising this little thing called free speech so many Americans fought so hard for.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nothing Good Happens At Closing Time

It's almost as though I've had to break my own fingers to hold off posting some thoughts on Mayor Plusquellic's most interesting adventure on Akron's downtown streets nearly a week ago...but now that just about all the video and audio has been viewed and heard, the fingers are doing the talking again.

By now the facts are pretty clear:
  • Mayor Plusquellic had a busy Saturday night tending to official duties welcoming and introducing acts at the Ohio Ballet and Lock 3 before heading over to one of his favorite night spots to help celebrate a friend's birthday;
  • the night went long, a few drinks may have been had, but overall nothing spectacular and the type of night many of us have enjoyed at one time or another with friends;
  • as is sometimes the occasion at closing time, party turned to pounding. Outside a nearby club a nasty fight is underway; it does not involve the mayor's group but he is about to observe and witness;
  • Plusquellic walks into a bad situation on the way to his car. He does the right thing, calling 9-1-1 for help...just what any good citizen should do.
That's when it goes sour.

There's no dispute he was excited after seeing what he saw. Being a take-charge kind of guy, he wants to help (charitable view) or direct (critical view) what police do next. He doesn't dispute "adult language" may have been involved, admits he wasn't happy with the APD response he saw, and points out he is, after all, Akron's boss.

That's a big part of the issue. Now that this seems to be winding down, the issues of was or wasn't he (intoxicated) and did or didn't he (overstep his authority) seem to be working their way out. But the question most folks seem to have an opinion on seems to have less to do with policy and more to do with style. On that point, it would benefit both sides to remember a boss should be treated like a boss, and the employee should be treated with respect.

Apply The Other Shoe Test: if it had been Officer Plusquellic responding to the same situation and being cursed at, would Plusquellic have tolerated it? Eyewitness Wayne Jones, who says he was treated professionally by police, says the Mayor didn't cuss out the cop. I do know if we (John Q. Public) cussed out a cop, we'd be on the line for jail food the next morning. Then again, if my boss started telling me how to do my job I'd probably grumble about it but do what he said.

There's no easy answer, other than to hope the level of discourse between Chief Executive and people who work under the Chief of Police drops down a couple notches, and soon. Doubtful, given the response to city union leaders asking for more details about cuts they're supposed to swallow to help the City deal with the July budget surprise. Even from overseas, where he's talking peace in Japan on the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mayor's response was typical: fault and pointing blame rather than collaboration. It's just his style.

Another chapter in the ongoing Hatfield and McCoy saga of City politics. Wouldn't it be nice to get beyond the feuds and get right to solutions?

- - -

This week, Columbus voters went to the polls in numbers even worse than Akron's recall election (just 18% voted) and by a slim margin (just 51.7%) approved hiking the city income tax to help stuff a big deficit and stem layoffs to "critical" city workers. Mayor Coleman -- a close friend of Mayor Plusquellic -- thanked residents for putting their money where their critical services are, in marked contrast to Plusquellic, who quickly dismissed an Akron F.O.P suggestion of a public safety levy here despite threatened layoffs. Columbus notes there are "critical" city services, including police; Akron takes the stance uniformed services should get the same budget treatment as other departments.

Question to Mayor Plusquellic and City Council: if there's a rush to reform the recall charter language without a public hearing why not even hold a single meeting to openly discuss giving Akron voters the power to decide for themselves if police, fire and EMS are important enough to shell out more?

The last time a "police levy" was on the ballot it was part of (a much smaller part of) a bid to load up economic development programs. With the budget $12 million out of balance -- according to this month's figures -- would it really hurt giving city voters the option of making public safety critical enough to pay for?