The election season is officially underway with the Iowa Caucus just a few weeks away. There are many variables that contribute to the decision making process of how we choose our candidates and indeed how we vote in elections. The candidate’s appearance, eloquence, pedigree, upbringing, and professional and civic accomplishments all play a role in how we judge him or her.
However, the single greatest influence on our perception of a candidate, and I would argue appropriately so, are the words that come out of their mouth. What are their stated positions, do they flip flop and blow with the wind, can they articulate their vision and use their words to lead, are they compelling in debates, do they seem sincere, are they highly intelligent and informed?
In general in life, we hold people accountable for what they say and how they say it for that ultimately reflects who they are and who they want to be. People who share opinions while hiding behind anonymity lack credibility, in my opinion, and therefore don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
Just this week I received an anonymous letter in the mail. My policy is that if a letter is not signed, it does not deserve to be read and will go directly into the trash. It is cowardly and discorteous to communicate one’s grievance or even opinion to someone else while denying them an opportunity to reply or respond. There are many legitimate criticisms of each one of us and if we are thoughtful and growing people, we should welcome the constructive feedback. I welcome all of our members to share their feelings and suggestions with us and promise to take their ideas seriously. However, life is not a monologue it is a dialogue and to communicate anonymously is to both be unaccountable for your words and to deny the other party their responsive voice.
Our words and opinions matter and if we are not willing to stand by them and sign our name to them, they lack integrity. Some of the best blogs on the internet are anonymous ones. The anonymity allows them to be provocative, inflammatory and sensationalist, all drawing large readership, but in my opinion contributing little to true intellectual discourse.
Because our words matter, we must confront people when they misuse them, even when they are our friends or family. This week, one of our local Congressmen who is a great friend to Israel and to the Jewish community, showed poor judgment when he said, “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party because they have an incredible propaganda machine.” There is no doubt in my mind that he is sensitive to the Holocaust and did not mean to deliberately offend. But at the same time, I think it is inexcusable to create a parallel between a legitimate political party and a partner and spokesperson of the most comprehensive genocide in the history of humanity. Such metaphors and references have no place in civil discourse and cheapens the heinousness and wickedness of Joseph Goebbels and his activities. Even our friends sometimes make mistakes with their words and require a gentle reminder to be more careful and sensitive.
Elected officials and candidates for public office don’t have the luxury of anonymity and all of their words are scrupulously examined under the microscope of the public eye. But they are not the only ones that must be careful to preserve dignity and integrity while engaging in robust debate. All of us need to be careful and vigilant to examine our words and how they reflect on us. Frankly, when we resort to name calling and personal attacks, it exposes our inability to intellectually articulate our legitimate differences of opinion. As the election cycle has begun, let’s be models for our leaders by teaching them how to debate opinions, positions and policies respectfully and civilly.