Phil Chinitz taught me a long time ago to use some four-letter words when writing news: Some, many and most.
I was a young, know-it-all reporter at the News-Telegraph in Atlantic, Iowa. Phil was the editor who had been at the paper for more than four decades by the time I arrived in 1989.
In some of my early stories, I wrote lead sentences that said things such as: Atlantic residents Friday showed their support for the Trojan football team, lining downtown streets for a parade that lasted more than two hours.
Phil would read that sentence and say something like: “How do you know every Atlantic resident showed his or her support? Did you ask every one of them?”
I’d take my copy, go back to my desk and rewrite it to say: Some Atlantic residents …,or Many Atlantic residents … If I still felt confident, I’d say: Most Atlantic residents …
Unfortunately, when it comes to politics in the United States in 2012, too few of us are familiar with words such as some, most and many. If you are a Democrat, why of course you have to wholeheartedly embrace gun control. If you are a Republican, of course you assume that welfare recipients are all a bunch of lazy and shiftless people who just won’t work and want something for nothing.
I can only hope that the people who think in such a universal way about the other side are in the minority, but I’m not so sure. Take a look at the following link I reposted Tuesday on my Facebook page after seeing it posted by a friend in Muscatine:
If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!
- If a Republican doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.
- If a Democrat doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.
- If a Republican is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.
- If a Democrat is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.
- If a Republican is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
- If a Democrat is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.
- If a Republican is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
- A Democrat wonders who is going to take care of him.
- If a Republican doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels..
- Democrats demand that those they don’t like be shut down.
- If a Republican is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.
- A Democrat non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.
- If a Republican decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.
- A Democrat demands that the rest of us pay for his.
Are some of these statements true? I’m sure they are. But it is illogical to think every one of these statements applies to every single Democrat or every single Republican. If ever an essay needed some of Phil’s editing, it is this one.
My friend Keith Porter summed up what is wrong with this sort of thinking far better than I can.
“This is the kind of caricaturing (of both Rs and Ds) that make me dislike politics,” he wrote. “I can think of a lot of Rs and Ds who would not agree with several of these points. If we keep choosing our politicians based on fantasy versions of each party, we will keep picking the wrong people.
“The caricature is on both sides here … I can poke a lot of holes in this list of things about what Republicans and Democrats do. Lots of Republicans (state and federal) have voted for common-sense gun laws. (And lots of Dems take money from the NRA.) Lots of Republicans think government services should be given to people equally, whether they are gay or straight. Lots of Republicans have paid into unemployment and are glad to have it when they need it. A Democrat signed the only welfare to work program this country has ever had. Lots of Republicans have tried to boycott entertainers and entertainment companies they don’t like to make them go away. If you think this list describes Republicans, you are voting for a fantasy. And if you think this list describes Democrats, you are voting against something fictional. Take the wool off your eyes.”
Sadly, too many Americans — on both the left and right — have bought into this political fantasy. They think it’s true. And as a result, we will continue to elect the wrong people.
Photo credit: The Associated Press photo used with the post was published by the San Francisco Chronicle in an online gallery.