Guest column: Name-calling isn’t leadership

Name calling is disrespectful, weak and symptomatic of politicians who look back, not lead forward, writes Jerry Sturgill.

Remember this childhood ditty? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

That rhyme was meant to persuade the child victim of name-calling to ignore the taunt, to refrain from physical retaliation, to remain calm, be good-natured and to seek friendship and cooperation.

That was childhood. In adulthood, name-calling is often more dangerous and threatens to bring out the “sticks and stones.”

Personal attacks are a tool of propagandists, who seek to incite fear, arouse prejudices and encourage negative opinion. It promotes ignorance because it replaces rational, fact-based argument with irrational ad hominem attack.

Today’s political news is full of reports of bellicose name-calling, particularly those issued by the “Tweeter-in-Chief.” As a result of “strong talk” the world and our country are more divided and tense today than yesterday.

The ugliness of the 2016 election, and its continuation in the White House, is bleeding into 2018—and into Idaho.

Take this recent, alarming example: In the primary contest for Lieutenant Governor, Janice McGeachin, a proud Trump supporter, an ardent conservative and a Christian, has resorted to name-calling.

On her Facebook page, she recently called Senators Murkowski, Collins and McCain “TRAITORS” [sic] because of their vote against the last-gasp “skinny repeal” bill of the increasingly popular Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)—where Senator McCain cast his final, late-night “thumbs-down” vote.

In her postings, Mrs. McGeachin also refers to her long fight against Medicaid expansion in Idaho. Even if not factually or logically correct, she is entitled to her decisions. However, abuse of those who disagree is inappropriate.

It is symptomatic of the “me-first” name-calling culture that has too quickly gripped our country and poisoned our politics.

This kind of name-calling denotes self-interest in the absence of solutions, to stimulate shock and anger and elevate her prospects in a highly-contested primary race. Sadly, she does this by impugning the patriotism of Senators Collins and Murkowski for expressly standing up for their constituents, rightly fearing the devastating loss to those constituents of Medicaid or affordable insurance coverage.

She questions the patriotism of a war hero and long-time public servant who expressed his dismay for the ramrodding of the repeal bills in historically non-inclusive, non-democratic ways.

In this, Mrs. McGeachin demonstrates not just disrespect for political leaders of great integrity and patriotism, she promotes ignorance and dismissal of the democratic process. Our elected representatives are elected to represent their constituents, not party leadership.

She has obviously replaced facts and rational argument with hyperbole. She ignores the complications of illness and the potential loss of insurance to tens of millions of Americans. She is clearly willing to leave tens of thousands of struggling Idahoans in the never-never-land of the “Medicaid Gap.”

Leadership by name-calling and intimidation is simply not leadership.

Thoughtless and insulting rhetoric takes us backwards, not forward. It encourages anger and blame, it licenses self-interest, it short-circuits rational thought and it accelerates retreat to tribalism and nationalism.

In business, politics and international diplomacy, this behavior destroys the opportunity for cooperation and collaboration and the potential for finding solutions that serve the greatest good.

We need to expunge name-calling, blame-casting and propagandist rhetoric from our political and social discourse. We need to revive the values of understanding, acceptance, respect and decency. As in the childhood saying, we need to remain calm, good-natured and seek friendship and cooperation.

We can start by electing people who have demonstrated those qualities and by not allowing name-callers and propagandists to obtain public office. Even Lieutenant Governor.

Jerry Sturgill lives with his family in Boise, Idaho. He seeks to promote rational, respectful dialogue and smart problem solving in business and politics.