Friday, May 16, 2008

The Language of Oversensitivity

The Language of Oversensitivity
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
May 16, 2008

Enough already!

Every word, every thought, every nuanced phrase uttered has been placed under a microscope to the point that if a candidate doesn’t answer quickly enough he or she isn’t smart enough, but if the same candidate answers too quickly, he or she is too glib and thoughtless.

When confronted with words quoted directly out of someone’s mouth, there’s the accusation that the words have been taken out of context. When a candidate comments on what he or she thought someone else meant is that candidate a mind reader?

“Sensitivity!,” shouts Joan Rivers in some television commercial, where she parodies herself and her alleged frequent face lifts. In the case of politics, it’s oversensitivity to the nth degree.

Let’s start with the stupid, move to the sublime then tackle the serious. The stupid would have to be the abundance of criticism laden upon Sen. Barrack Obama (D-IL) for the use of the word “sweetie” to a reporter on Wednesday, May 14. The claim of sexism couldn’t be uttered fast enough by critics – the same news media who have given Obama free pass after free pass on dealing with the “tough” issues. Quick as a bunny – oops – I am not suggesting that Obama is or should be compared to a bunny – but quick as a bunny nonetheless, Obama left a phone message for the reporter to apologize for the use of the word sweetie as well as for not answering her question.

Not answering her question seemed to be completely overlooked, yet was the more egregious of the two “shortcomings.” Sweetie-gate, as every possible misstep by any politician gets the over abused label of “gate” thanks to the true scandal of Watergate, is really much ado about nothing. Who’s kidding who here? Was the reporter damaged beyond the point of being able to work? Should she receive workman’s compensation for mental anguish? At best, this is diaphanous.

The sublime is a bit more serious simply due to the content of the speech given by President George W. Bush before the Knesset in Israel on Thursday, May 15 in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,” said Bush to a strong round of applause from the Israeli Knesset audience.
Almost immediately, while the words were still floating in space, the outcry from Obama supporters was cacophonous. Bush accused Obama of being an appeaser, Bush attacked Obama were the claims. This is where that mind reading thing comes into play. Nowhere in Bush’s speech did he mention Obama, or any American at all for that matter. Clearly there is a cross between paranoia and complete and utter guilt on the part of the Obama camp and his supporters.

Quite frankly, Obama should have guilt feelings. Guilt over admitting and apparently taking pride in his willingness to sit down with the leaders of such rogue nations as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. Iran – whose leader called Israel a "stinking corpse," and wants to wipe the Jewish off the face of the earth. These are state sponsors of terror, sans Venezuela, for now. Even Sen. Clinton referred to Obama's willingness to meet with such despots as "naive." I think Obama is such an appeaser is the classic style of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and a man Obama is resembling, politically, more and more – Jimmy Carter, who President Bush may actually have referred to, but I'm not Kreskin.

This sparked a firestorm that, once again, poor Obama is the victim of a right wing cabal – boo hoo. Obama is smart – he never claims to be a victim, but clearly his handlers and supporters have no problem playing the victim card. And this is where the trouble really begins – speaking the truth without the fear of being called a racist, sexist, homophobe or any other –ist or –phobe.

And again, this is attributed to the oversensitivity that plagues our culture today, and seemingly forever more. It seemed all fine and dandy for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to be a one-time member of the KKK, but when Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) offered remarks of praise for the then centenarian Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Lott was castigated and forced from his committee chairmanships simply because 50 years prior, Thurmond deigned to run for president as a States’ Rights candidate. This was not, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced.

Next up, there was nothing racist about remarks made by former congressman and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) this past March. I have found myself defending the likes of both Ferraro and, gulp-shudder, Hillary Clinton over the past several month for the attacks launched against them. This must tell us something as I have been an active Republican since before I could vote. There was a picture in the local newspaper of me wearing a conventioneer’s hat at age 10 while in the fourth grade casting my ballot for President Gerald Ford in a mock election where Ford emerged victorious.

In the case of Ferraro, she said of Obama’s campaign success, “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.” Ferraro went on to say that if her name had been Jerry, not Geraldine, she would not have been on the ticket in 1984 with former vice president Walter “Fritz” Mondale.

Ferraro made true assertions on all counts. Obama is youthful, energetic, what some might call attractive, intelligent and an articulate speaker. It’s not racist to call someone an articulate speaker, by the way. There are articulate speakers who are black (Condoleezza Rice) and there are inarticulate speakers who are white (Terry Bradshaw). Obama is to the left of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), as hard as that may be to imagine. And just where is Edwards today – on the sidelines having just made the “bold” move to endorse his former colleague. Edwards is youthful, energetic, what some might call attractive, intelligent and an articulate speaker. Hmm – the difference is Obama is black and Edwards is white. Politically, there is but a hairs difference.

Ferraro was also correct in her claim about her position on the Mondale ticket. Clearly Mondale had little to lose by making the then bold choice of a woman for a running mate in 1984 a year when Ronald Reagan’s popularity was second to none. When a Republican candidate for president wins Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island in the same election, that speaks to the candidate’s popularity.

A virtually ignored comment made by Ferraro in 1988 noted that “if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.” Then, but more so now, this was a grand opportunity for a black candidate on the national stage to achieve success. Yet, 20 years removed from the ’88 campaign, the “black candidate” is achieving success across the boards, which was not the case in ’88. But race is still an issue, so much so that Obama, the “black candidate” who has said he is a “candidate who happens to be black,” is garnering the black vote to the tune of 90-plus percent on a primary by primary basis.

So, although race is still a legitimate issue in a campaign, and Ferraro was correct in her assertions about herself and Jackson 20 years ago, and Obama today, the language police have taken to the airwaves playing their game of “gotcha” even when there is no cause. To suggest Ferraro is a racist is absurd, but it makes for good ratings and creates sympathy for the media’s chosen candidate in this era of oversensitivity.

As for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), her turn at the “gotcha” game came recently prior to the West Virginia primary when she repeated an AP report saying that Clinton was enjoying greater success with constituencies that are hard working, white, blue-collar workers. Naturally the media and Obama surrogates clamored that Clinton is a racist for suggesting that if white, blue-collar workers are hard working then conversely, black, blue-collar workers couldn’t possibly be hard working. That is one hell of an interpretation, coming from the mind readers who have been diagnosed with another case of oversensitivity.

The media is the most responsible for the firestorm of “gotcha” journalism – and not just because of the internet or 24-hour cable news networks. The media’s responsibility in the advent of the “gotcha” game dates back to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the infamous Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of former president Richard M. Nixon.

Make no mistake, Woodward and Bernstein are not to blame for Watergate – clearly that falls on the narrow shoulders of Dick Nixon himself, whose paranoia led to his own downfall. The Post reporters were simply doing their jobs, following up on what initially had been reported as a “third rate burglary” at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Quite frankly, this third rate burglary, as it has been labeled throughout its storied history could have instead been a footnote to history had Nixon not been the paranoid he was.

The June 1972 break in at the DNC could have gone away had Nixon admitted that the five “plumbers,” as they were known, who broke into the headquarters were not acting on the orders of the administration, but because of their association with the administration, they would be fired and brought up on charges of burglary. Nixon would have gone on to win the 1972 election in a landslide anyway, and then pardoned the miscreants at Christmas time. End of story.

The point? Since the cover up, the investigation, the reporting that led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace, virtually every reporter wants to be Woodward or Bernstein – cracking that big exposé and making “their bones” regardless of cost and harm to anyone else. That is not responsible journalism, That is hit and run yellow journalism.

Technology is also partly to blame, but it stems from the aforementioned “gotcha” mentality. Today anyone with a cell phone camera, digital camera, blog, website or any other form of technology I omitted because I am a confirmed “technotard,” a term I coined some years ago while teaching eighth grade social studies to students better versed on the computer than I, can be a news breaker.

The problem with the term news breaker is that those who break the news also want to make the news, and that is not honest journalism. Instead that is self-absorbed narcissism.

So, enough, already. The media should do its job – reporting the news, not attempting to make the news or cajole the news into its form-fitting design. Candidates, supporters and surrogates need to be able to breathe freely during the campaign. They need to let each other breathe freely. Instead of examining every syllable under a microscope and attempting to discern what everyone might mean, they should say what’s on their minds without the fear of “gotcha” from the next faux Woodward or Bernstein.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Herndon Voters Validate 2006 Vote

Herndon Voters Validate 2006 Vote
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
May 7, 2008

Throughout the Democratic primary the mantra of its leading candidates has been to seek change. Voters in the Town of Herndon yesterday took to the polls and in their non-partisan Mayoral and Town Council elections decided to keep the change – keeping those members they voted into office two years ago during the highly publicized 2006 races.

For those folks who have been out to sea for the past two years, the Town of Herndon, about a four square mile town in Western Fairfax County, VA, received national attention simply because it had a group of candidates who believed then, as they believe now in some basic core values. Such values include law and order, controlling spending, an expectation of safety for all its legal residents as well as a hope that those legal residents – both native and those who have chosen this great nation as their own, will succeed in garnering their American dream.

However, what the average viewer of “mainstream” television news or reader of “mainstream” newspapers received to their eyes and ears made this particular group of political candidates appear as if they had just stepped out of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation. These candidates were portrayed as racist, ignorant, back-water dolts simply because they did not want the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to pay for a day laborer center that would be used by illegal aliens to the tune of about 90 percent of its users – a Fairfax County statistic. (I use the term illegal aliens because they are not legal immigrants and I do not wish to insult the hard-working immigrants who entered this country legally. Ironically, a liberal friend of mine inspired me to use the term illegal alien.)

Complicit in this crime to provide sanctuary or a safe haven to those who have no legal rights to either work or live in the United States in the first place, Fairfax County, in cahoots with Reston Interfaith and a majority of the Herndon Town Council from the 2004-06 term gave its blessings, and the people’s money, to the creation of this center.

Herndon’s police force, at the time, again thanks in part to the 2004-06 council, did not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, thus leaving illegal aliens free to harass people attempting to access certain businesses around town as well as appear in public intoxicated and even relieve themselves at times on private property not belonging to them. Overcrowding in private homes became a serious concern in terms of safety, sanitation and potentially decreasing home values.

The time had come for Herndon citizens to take back their town. And take it back they did. In an overwhelming response, Herndon voters in 2006 rebuffed those who supported the day labor center with one exception and installed a new group of council members and a mayor who lived up to their words about cleaning up the Town of Herndon.
Rookie mayor Steve DeBenedittis had a mostly veteran council in spite of three newly-elected members with which to work.

It pleases me to say that the three newcomers to the council are friends of mine – Dave Kirby, Charlie Waddell and Bill Tirrell and each opposed the day laborer center. It is interesting to note that neither Kirby nor Waddell served on either the town’s Architectural Review Board or the Planning Commission, typically stepping stones for council candidates. The voters, hell-bent on real change, decided to give some new folks a chance. Make no mistake, they have worked hard and served the community well – so well both Kirby and Waddell have been rewarded with a second term yesterday.

Bill Tirrell not only served on both the above mentioned boards, but also five terms on the council prior to make two unsuccessful bids to become mayor. Tirrell is tenacious and a solid Navy man whom the voters returned to the council in 2006 and again yesterday. He is fair and balanced, to borrow a phrase. Actually, he has to be as he has umpired community baseball for many years. Sadly, his true downfall is his animus toward my alma mater – Maryland and the fact that he is a Yankees fan.

Dennis Husch, reelected to the council for his seventh term, found himself in the unusual position of being vice mayor – meaning he earned the most votes of any council candidate. This shocked not just Husch, but just about anyone with a pulse in Herndon as he had finished in sixth place in each of his six previous campaigns to reach the dais of the six member council. No longer did anyone have to listen to the oft-told joke by Husch, “what do you call the candidate who finishes sixth? Councilman!”

I give him jazz about those sixth place finishes, as I did again last night as Husch was returned to council for an eighth term in his usual sixth place position. Husch is a good man and good friend who truly looks out for the Town of Herndon – the whole Town.

Also reelected in 2006 were Connie Hutchinson and Harlon Reece, both for a fourth term. Hutchinson is a hard worker who was one of the driving forces that made the Herndon Visitor’s Center a reality.

Reece, a good soldier, literally, well, actually a Marine, was the only holdover of those who supported the day laborer center. Reece is also a good man who believes he is working in the best interest of Herndon, but on the issue of the day laborer center, we had to part ways. I still consider him a friend, but politics is politics, issues are issues, and I could not support Reece in his quest to become the next mayor of Herndon in yesterday’s election.

The huge turnout spoke volumes with the major shakeup of the council in 2006. The turnout yesterday shrunk by a couple of hundred voters, but that is because they did not have the same anger held over from 2006. By and large, voters were satisfied with the work of the 2006-08 council and rewarded all who sought reelection with an additional terms.

Reece, the lone holdover initially supporting the day laborer center lost his bid to replace DeBenedittis. In fact, DeBenedittis faced and withstood two opponents, Reece who is a true Southern gentleman, issues notwithstanding, and Jasbinder Singh, an arrogant individual who had no respect for the rules or the office he sought.

In an encounter with Singh yesterday, he was campaigning too close to the entranceway of the Herndon Community Center where the lone poll was located. Clearly a violation of the rules, I politely told Singh he couldn’t campaign where he stood. He said to me, “I am running for mayor, you must respect me.”

After a split-second recovery from that moronic statement, I said, “if you are running for mayor, you should know the rules, and to not follow them is not the sign of a good leader.”

To which he responded, “I don’t have to listen to you,” followed by his son calling me an “asshole.” I reported the incident to an election official.

Fortunately, the Town of Herndon has been spared the wrath of an individual who couldn’t be less knowledgeable of the issues facing the community.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was impressed with not just DeBenedittis’ knowledge of the issues, but his recollection of virtually every person he encountered on election day. As people approached him he remembered where he met them, often times what street they live on and even an issue of concern the voter may have discussed with the reelected mayor. That is a real talent. As someone who has run for public office a couple of times, that is one of the most challenging aspects of a campaign, to remember the names of that many people.

Throughout the day, voter after voter approached the incumbents to offer good luck wishes, congratulate them on a solid term, reassure the candidates they earned the votes of the well wisher, as well as discuss issues of importance.

One Asian-American gentleman related how he has been a Herndon resident for more than a decade. He said how deplorable it is when people come to this country illegally, don’t follow the rules, laws and customs of the United States. The voter then thanked the two incumbents with whom he spoke for doing such a good job during the current term and hopes they will continue in the term ahead.

Another voter, a Hispanic gentleman voiced similar thoughts and added how embarrassed he gets when he reads in the paper about Hispanic males arrested for public intoxication or the overcrowding of single-family homes by large groups of Hispanics.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to read such comments in The Washington Post or the Herndon Observer, Herndon Connection or Herndon Times. Full disclosure, a number of years ago, I labored for the Herndon Connection. That said, the Observer is considered the alleged voice of the people of the Town of Herndon with its deeper roots in town and actually located in Herndon. Truth be told, the paper was nothing short of being a shill for the candidates running in opposition to the incumbents that won reelection. Far from fair and balanced, one only needs to turn to their editorial and letters pages.

Obviously, the voters saw past the local media and remembered why they elected the incumbents in the first place.

On the economic front, the council controlled spending, a genuine rarity these days, and they did so by not increasing their operating budget for FY-2009. Just as importantly, the Town Council did not reach into its citizens pockets any deeper as they did not raise the tax rates during this same time period.

While keeping their hands out of citizens’ wallets, the council managed to make the Town a more pleasant place to live as residential overcrowding was decreased from 120 cases to roughly 40 cases. This is important as it keeps property values high and sends the message that there is an appropriate way to live and the Town will not be taken advantage of by people not willing to live by the rules.

Couple this with the closure, finally, of the day laborer hiring site, now no longer a magnet for illegal aliens and no longer giving the impression of Herndon as a sanctuary town. This too, is good for maintaining safe streets and does not rob people of their tax dollars to pay for the day laborer site.

Thanks to the Town Council, the establishment of the 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement with Homeland Security, ICE has empowered the Herndon Police to enforce federal immigration law for those miscreants arrested on felony and DUI charges.

Improvements have been made to Runnymede Park and Alabama Drive Park continuing Herndon's reputation as a green-friendly place to live, work and play.

This is why the voters returned the mayor and five incumbents to continue their work for the people of the Town of Herndon. But don’t expect the local press to share this with anyone. That’s why it can be found on my blog:

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.