Opinion

Political discourse has become something out of Harry Potter

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The woman on the phone wanted to know if I could get rid of a rock rising up from a section of her lawn. She was responding to my classified newspaper ad offering to do “odd jobs.” At age 15 or 16, my mom suggested the “odd jobs” ad as a way for me to earn money.

When I placed my classified ad I was thinking I would get calls from people asking me to clean out a garage, an oven, scrub toilets, rake leaves, weed gardens, wash windows — needed jobs most homeowners preferred to put off or ignore.

I did not anticipate this lady asking if I could remove a rock from her lawn.

With shovel, 10-pound sledge hammer, and wedge in hand I went to the lady’s home and confronted her rock. She wanted the exposed rock gone, the remaining rock flush with the lawn. At the time my limited experience had me beating the sledge hammer against the rock, and against my steel wedge placed on fissures and cracks.

Determined to succeed, I ultimately admitted defeat. All I had to show for my several hours beating that rock were blistered hands, a bent wedge, and a few pieces of chipped rock.

Thinking the last few days about this week’s column topic, I tried focusing on any one of several current political news stories/personalities vying for state or national attention.

I discovered whenever I began thinking through a column on a current political story or personality, it was like blistering my hands all over again, but this time, beating my head against political stories the way I beat my sledge hammer against that lady’s rock. For this week, I again had to admit defeat.

Across all political media, users of all political stripes are out in force injecting (or trying to inject) humor, sarcasm, and ridicule into an elected official who said something “stupid,” or the video “clearly showing” an elected official has “no brains.” Or distorting simple, straightforward sentences into modern art sculptures of hidden meaning, conspiracy theory, and/or grounds for attacking people.

But this political situation isn’t funny. Count me among those citizens who don’t get the joke.

Where do people yearning for serious, straightforward political analysis turn for information?

I am not God’s gift to political discourse. I’ve worked in politics and news media 25 or so years. I pretty well understand politics and government in theory and in practice. Yet, I recoil from the snarkiness enveloping political discourse that seems directed by Harry Potter’s Dementors “feed[ing] on human happiness and…extract[ing] souls with their kiss.”

Do I want to join the snarkiness, the sarcasm, the ridiculing with my writing? Not in the least. For one thing, it’s disheartening to think the public actually needs to be told when elected officials push bad ideas or say something crazy, ill-informed, or harmful.

I’ve seen guys at gas pumps filling their cars with gas while holding lit cigarettes in their mouths. How many people don’t recognize smoking and pumping gas as dumb and/or dangerous? Does anyone need to devote 650 words explaining why the smokers’ actions are a bad idea?

This Dementor Politicking often seems to me overwhelming. For people with no background in politics, the Dementor Politicking must seem insurmountable. But it’s not insurmountable.

I just need to guard against discouragement.

If I went back to that lady’s lawn rock today I could finish the job. Find the fissures and cracks and tackle the job that way, or find alternatives to beating against the rock, such as digging a hole next to the rock, tip the rock into the hole, and bury it.

That’s the attitude I need when writing about politics.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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