Our letters to the editor section is at maximum capacity. And it will likely be so until the upcoming general election has passed. It is a forum for public opinion and we are committed to maintaining the broadest boundaries when it comes to what is allowed in the section, as “opinion.”
We emphasize “opinion” because there are a few readers who cannot distinguish opinion from factual content and, thus, tend to avoid opinion.
Pity. Since a weekly perusal of opinions, from a variety of writers with varying abilities, is not only entertaining, but informative and necessary.
In this political season, as in any, the trap door opens on either side of the political spectrum, and out come the characters. And they make claims and, in particular, use labels that are, to say the least, extreme and misleading.
We also witness the arrival of oh-so-delicate folks whose rare sensibilities are bruised by expressions of extreme, and generally unfounded, opinion. Frequently, the protest rides on the back of self-aggrandizing moralism — expressions of condescending individuals, sure of their intellectual and ethical superiority. But, even then, the complaints about publication of extreme, biased and skewed opinions make a point. One we share … to a point.
We have often dedicated this space to a plea for civility in political and social discourse. We will continue to press for civility. To this extent, we agree with protests aimed at the publication of offensive opinions.
At the same time, however, we are realistic.
First, we realize that an offended party takes in opinions via a particular frame of reference. Put simply: that which offends is usually that with which one does not agree.
Second: The notion that American political discourse has ever been civil is misguided, the product of a poor understanding of our history. It has never been civil and has often been less civil than now. And it occurs at all levels. Take, for example a familiar tactic: the use of emotionally-loaded labels to defame an opposing point of view and candidate. Regarding national politics we read that a candidate is a “Marxist, a “Communist” when, in fact, he is traditionally liberal, with no connection to extreme ideology. Remember FDR and Kennedy? Communists? Please.
And it happens at the local level. Take for example, a campaign officer for a local candidate pasting the label of “real estate developer” on an opponent, hoping to keep readers from realizing the candidate has, in fact, a record of government finance experience that could be of benefit in a situation demanding such expertise — a county in dire need of leaders with financial skills.
Civil, and accurate discourse? In American politics? We can only hope for the day.
So, we are left with two options in this business.
One: Censorship of opinions based on our personal reaction to comments, remembering we, too, cannot escape our frame of reference. This is not acceptable.
Plus, we have reason to pay heed to history when it comes to the opinions of those we oppose. We reject the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude; we see danger when our opponents’ opinions are pushed out of the clear light of day and allowed to fester unexamined.
Our other option: to draw the line at the legal definition of libel. Any missive that crosses that clear line will not find its way to print. Others do not make their way to print due to excess length and lack of a verified author.
We trust in the intelligence of most readers to make sound decisions and we apologize to those delicate souls who cannot tolerate expressions that offend and wish to ban them.
But we will continue to print many extreme expressions, in the hope that others will read them, and heed them, before they become more than opinion.