Words that label

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I’m associated with a group called No Labels. You might have heard about the organization. It’s methodically trying to construct an environment that will encourage members of both parties to collaborate, to see past their rigid positions that have left the federal government largely paralyzed. Frankly, that approach is a no-brainer, but still a huge task considering the hateful venom that passes for political debate these days.

But this is not about No Labels. This is about all of us. We need to rethink just what is acceptable in public conversation. Right now, far too many people feel they can broadcast to the world anything that crosses their minds … no matter how vile, no matter how demeaning. No restraints. Thanks to social media, everyone has a venue for poisoning the atmosphere — not just one’s own, but all of ours.

When Chelsea Clinton and her husband gave birth to a healthy daughter and Bill and Hillary Clinton became grandparents, the air was fouled by cruel taunts that aren’t worth repeating and, for that matter, do nothing more than show off the tasteless ignorance of those who wrote them. Even the pros reached for new lows. Exhibit A would be the New York Post headline on the Clinton-Mezvinsky birth.

Let’s face it: People have dark thoughts, and off-color ones. We all do, and none of us is a goody two-shoes. But that’s why we enjoy private lives, where we can ponder and even express the most tasteless ideas and one-liners where no one can hear them. On the other hand, when we hit Twitter or Facebook or other outlets, we need to utilize a filter. Once the garbage gets out, it pollutes cyberspace and does nothing but antagonize.

That’s why it was so outrageous when Fox News commentator Eric Bolling referred to the first female United Arab Emirates jet pilot to fly a combat mission in the attacks against ISIL as “Boobs on the Ground.” Yes, it was a clever play on words, but such an obviously stupid thing to say on TV, on so many levels, that his apologies simply weren’t enough. Unless someone is trying to get publicity — like some shock jock, or a Rush Limbaugh — there is no way a person with a brain cannot comprehend ahead of time that a large chunk of people will be offended by a “Boobs on the Ground” line. Women, for instance, and military people who put their lives on the line.

This is not to single out Bolling; his flippant stumble is nothing out of the ordinary. In the various public forums, there are those who try to outdo each other by letting fly with one repugnant comment after another, urged on by those who want a fight to the death against their ideological enemy.

The problem is that it will be the death of our country if they have their way. With their fight, everyone loses. Somehow, to stop our downward spiral, we have to reverse the direction of our national conversation. Let’s cheer on groups offering an alternative, like No Labels, but let’s also make sure that the careless words from each and every one of us don’t add to the destruction.
© 2014 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Synd.