Is There a Place in Politics for Trash Talk?

I'm know I'm occasionally guilty of it (and my 'favorite' trash talking subject is Man-Caused Global Warming), so I need to get better at taking my own medicine, but I don't think trash talking has any place in politics, any more than I think it has any place in sports.

I once stopped playing in a basketball game because a guy on my team was huffing and puffing at someone on the other team. It's completely inappropriate. Rush Limbaugh is the political epitome of trash talk, so I don't listen to him much. Just as trash talkers desecrate the games of sports, so do political trash talkers desecrate politics, which is NOT a game. For me it's all about being fair. Political trash talking is not fair, and neither is the political secrecy that often accompanies it.

I teach my kids that they can tease each other from time to time as long as (a) it is meant in fun, and (b) it does not annoy the other person. After that it's trash talk.

Greg Allen and I had an excellent conversation this morning on The Right Balance about the importance of decorum in politics. I've learned a great deal from Greg over the past several months about this subject, which has informed my political ambitions.

Greg Allen is a consummate man of fair play, and a wide variety of people respect him for it. I need to get better at being fair. This morning I told Greg of an apology I made here on SUMP for incorrectly throwing all liberals into one bucket. I pointed out to him--like he needs me to tell him--that there are a great number of Democrats (traditionally I'm a Republican) that are upstanding, and that there are a great number of Republicans who aren't. No party has a

Politics is not a game. Members of the opposition party are not the enemy.

monopoly on goodness. Nearly every person has a story to tell or a point to make, and nearly every story or point is worth listening to.

I have been recently disappointed by my political party, in such areas as blind support for the Gods of war and empire, threatening fellow Republican legislators that if they didn't vote for education vouchers they would have less favors come their way, and being no longer able to see that a bribe is a bribe.

But then again, there are a lot of areas in which I don't agree with Democrats, particularly in the area of social welfare. I think private individuals need to take care of their fellow man, rather than government.

Are there too many Republicans in the Utah legislature? If the answer is based on how well they listen to the people and how well they coalesce with legislative Democrats on critical issues, then...Yes, there are too many Republicans. But that could be fixed by more Republicans being responsible to their constituents and less enamored by their office.

What is a good Republican? In many ways it's the same thing as a good Democrat. Here's the recipe:
  • Sticking to the principles, rather than bowing beneath the shifting winds of pragmatism.
  • Disagreeing with members of our party when it is appropriate, not just disagreeing with members of the opposition party, and in all cases amicably.
  • Being open to persuasion, because we know that our points of view are not infallible.
  • Realizing that members of the opposition party are not the enemy.
  • Attempting never to trash talk.
  • Ultimately apologizing when we do.
  • This recipe doesn't make for good theater by any means (and might mean far fewer mentions on the evening news), but it makes for much healthier government and a healthy society.


    1. Totally agree with your post. The voucher debate featured ridiculous reams of this. There is one particular example that still makes me shake my head incredulously.

      That is partially because I think that Kim Burningham, former chair of the State School Board, did his duty as an education advocate in voicing opposition to the voucher program. I was angry at all of the attempts to stop the voice of the people being heard through referendum and muzzle teachers with threats of lawsuits. It is ridiculous to say that teachers shouldn't voice an opinion about a law that would dramatically effect schools and the one area where they have the most personal experience. Should police officers not be allowed to discuss proposed changes to law enforcement or doctors threatened for commenting on the healthcare debate? (I'm not attributing any of these positions to you Frank) It would be unprofessional for a teacher or the chair of the State School Board not to inform himself and have an opinion on such an important issue. They have unique perspective to add to the debate. Sure they shouldn't tell students how to vote in class, but all of the claims of teachers sending stuff home with students that I saw turned out to be the PTA voluntarily and legally handing out things at conferences, etc.

      After that sidebar, the second reason this particular example angered me was the pure hypocrisy of it. Even if you accepted the silly position that Burningham was just a power hungry bureaucrat opposing noble vouchers, blah, blah...a Representative of the House should still maintain professionalism and decency. If Representative Burningham had posted the same sort of bad joke about a member of the legislature, you KNOW they would have blown an indignant gasket at his "unprofessionalism" and "lack of respect for the elected representatives of the people."

      I am happy that Representative Dougall reports having respectful, productive meetings with AEA reps from Alpine District and have heard similar reports from teachers that Rep. Dougall has been friendly and respectful in their discussions. But this blog post still just gets under my skin.

    2. I had some slightly disparaging things to say about Kim Burningham and vouchers on this site, and it was nice of him to respond and clarify his point of view. I think it's easy, as in my case and in the case of the people thinking teachers were sending home political propaganda with their students, to see something and then jump to conclusions.

      I'm trying to get better at seeking to understand--getting information--before I make a judgment.

    3. Frank - I agree with about 98% of this. For my own blog, I chose a "name" that would remind me to keep my discourse above the fray for the purpose of encouraging debate. However, when it comes to the blatent hypocricy that you see from folks on all sides, then a little "righteous" indignation is ok - in my very humble opinion...


    4. Very true.

      I just hope that my indignation will always be righteous. But, knowing me, that's a tall order.


    5. Appreciate this thoughtful post, Frank. Incivility backfires in the long run. The trick is remembering that when others are being rotten.

    6. I agree. I believe in pointing out trash talk whenever it occurs. Sometimes its harder to admit, though, when it happens on our own side, and it's even harder for me to admit when I'm guilty of it.

    7. I was an avid news reader, but not a blog reader before September/October. But as I searched the web, I kept finding blog posts with great arguments and better information than the media, as well as discussions that were for the most part much more civil than the message boards on the newspaper websites. So I only saw your last post or two on vouchers in real time.

      I went back and read most of your voucher posts and some of the dozens of comments. For what it's worth Frank, I think you were almost always even-handed and using a "non-trash-talk" tone. I definitely disagree with many of your voucher arguments, especially the financial ones, but your willingness to engage opposing viewpoints and change your opinion upon learning new facts is admirable.

      Rep. Urquhart is the only one of the big pro-voucher legislators who I felt similarly politely acknowledged opposition views. He may stubbornly cling to some wrong views, but he doesn't put you down for arguing with him. You can't say the same for Representatives Frank and Dougall or Senator Bramble. I would vote for you over any current Republican legislator in Utah Valley. Maybe not against Steven Baugh... =)


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