Embrace effort to get to the heart of issues

Michael Alcorn
Posted 8/30/12

Wander through my brain with me for a while (Be afraid ... be very afraid.): what do the Westboro Baptist Church, Todd Akin, Ross Perot and Howie …

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Embrace effort to get to the heart of issues


Wander through my brain with me for a while (Be afraid ... be very afraid.): what do the Westboro Baptist Church, Todd Akin, Ross Perot and Howie Mandel have in common?

Starting from the end, in ascending order of significance: Howie Mandel is one of the celebrity judges of “America’s Got Talent,” but I remember a different Howie Mandel. Anybody younger than 30 probably doesn’t know this, but the Howie Mandel I remember started his career as a stand-up comedian whose most famous gag was pulling a latex glove over his head and inflating it from his nose, and whose most famous character was a baby-talking lad named “Bobby.” Now, he’s an entertainment guru. I’m afraid I have a little trouble taking him too seriously, because whenever he’s saying anything, I’m still picturing Bobby with a vinyl-glove rooster crown on his head.

Ross Perot ran for president a couple times 20 some years ago (again, for those younger than 30). He was one of the first to talk seriously about budget deficits and propose solutions to what, by comparison to today, was a minuscule federal debt. Unfortunately, he looked like a cross between Dobby, the house elf, and Gollum; came to debates with his own pen and easel; and spoke in a nasally, high Texas twang that made great fodder for late-night TV sketch comedy. Again, no matter how important his ideas about spending and deficits, it was a little hard to take him seriously.

Todd Akin is an obscure member of the U.S. House of Representatives, or, at least, he was obscure until last week. Then, having recently secured the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the Missouri senate seat, he gave an interview to local media in which he created new classifications for rape and attempted to rewrite the laws of biology. That sound you’re hearing? That’s the sound of a candidate for federal office imploding. Whatever ideas Akin wanted to push to the electorate, whatever causes he advocates, suddenly will never, ever make it into the public conversation. Quite simply, whatever credibility he may have had, he has suddenly become nothing more than a punch line.

And, finally, we have those charming people from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. You remember these guys, right? They are famous for picketing the funerals of American soldiers because they believe every soldier’s death is a sign of God’s judgment against an America that enables homosexuals. And, believe me, the signage is many times more offensive than the idea itself. I’m not sure, exactly, what they hope to accomplish, or what their issue is, but if they really, in any way, wanted to have a legitimate voice in the public discussion of government’s role in sexuality, they have pretty much guaranteed that nobody outside of their tiny congregation will ever give them the time of day.

And, so, what is the answer to the question? What do all these have in common? They are all exhibits in the Court of Public Opinion’s case titled “The People vs. Clumsiness and/or Stupidity.”

Style matters. I am not one of those people who believe style is everything, that the world should make way for the brilliance of the great orator or reflexively dismiss the person who loses cage matches with the English language. I am a person who will almost always ignore great stylistic flourishes and stumbles to concentrate on the substance of what a person says or does. But there are times, even for me, that people’s interpersonal shortcomings are so pronounced that it doesn’t even matter what they’re trying to say — what they’re communicating is something less.

If you care about the moral direction of this country, you might want to start a conversation by NOT insulting the families of fallen heroes. You want to talk education reform? Maybe you can start by NOT belittling the hard work of people who have dedicated their lives to working with children.

You want to talk to somebody you care for about making smarter choices in their life? Start by showing the person how much you actually care for him or her, then listen. Then and only then do you have the credibility to try to guide that person’s life.

What you care about matters. Don’t let it become a victim of your foot-in-mouth syndrome.


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