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Coarse Language Weakens Wisconsin Politics

October 18, 2020

One of the most persuasive and erudite political writers and thinkers of the 20th century was conservative William F. Buckley Jr. He came to mind this past week as a Wisconsin assembly candidate used such vulgar language that it made headlines.

As a teenager I found myself watching Buckley’s Firing Line program, and I recall being in awe that someone could have such a rich and diverse vocabulary.  He was unlike anyone else on television. With the way he used his words an ordinary sentence was almost poetry.  While listening to his program I would try to learn new words for my own usage.  When was the last time anyone said that about a television program? 

There is no good way to segue from Buckley to the vulgar word choice used last week by Democratic candidate Francesca Hong following a court ruling relaxing the limitations on some indoor gatherings. The 76th Assembly District hopeful wrote a tweet about the Tavern League, which had strongly encouraged the judge’s action.

The tweet called the league “corrupt, crooked c——”, saying they don’t represent the interests of all bars and restaurants. That is a way to express oneself, but it does not sound professional or rises to the level of what we want to hear from someone who wishes to take on a leadership role as an elected official.

Following the court ruling last week, which I found very troubling, I summed up my sentiments with this line. It is truly concerning when the tavern league can undo public health orders so their members can make money by conducting themselves in ways that continue the spread of a deadly pandemic. Admittedly, I come from the old school of decorum. 

I suspect, there are many others in Madison who grew up at a time when those in public life either knew or were trained, to act in a manner that did not needlessly offend others.  As such, many were not pleased with the recent tweet from Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan.

He wrote, in part, “Sen. Steve Nass is a dumbs**t. Period.”

Why all this matters is that while the political waters are crashing and roiling we are in the midst of a pandemic, high unemployment, economic uncertainty, racial inequalities, climate change, and cultural clashes. If ever in our lifetime we absolutely needed our leaders, or would-be leaders, to step up and put their tempers behind them and their intellects front and center this is it! To work effectively with the other side of the aisle will require the use of what we often hear is lacking in politics these days.

Decency.

The nasty tweets, the bluster, and bombast is something we claim to find unsettling and not in line with our values. And yet what is being presented to the public too often runs counter to the desires we want to achieve.

Before the time of all-news channels and social media elected officials and politicians had the chance to ponder an event and decide how best to offer a public response. With thoughts about the weight of their words and the way the audience would ‘hear’ them meant the first base reaction was jettisoned for one that made a point without being crude and offensive.

That is a lesson we need to revisit. I am sure the majority of the citizenry would agree.

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