On ‘fulbminatory’ letters to the editor

Peter R. Kann of Princeton
    Several of the letters to the editor published in The Princeton Packet in recent weeks offer us a sad perspective on what passes for civic discourse in our civil (or uncivil) local society.
   The exchange between Ms. Anne Sweeney (Jan. 30) and Mr. Mark Welch (Jan. 23) follows the iron law of such letter writing: every foolish letter inevitably prompts an even more fulminatory and fatuous one.
   So, on Jan. 23, Mr. Welch, clearly a George Orwell fan, draws an all too tenuous parallel between “Animal Farm,” Orwell’s scathing fable about Stalin’s Soviet Union, and contemporary American politics. It is a bridge too far.
   Still, to be fair, Mr. Welch is not totally partisan in his negativism. He doesn’t like government, big business or, for that matter, the media. A slightly silly letter, perhaps, but hardly an incitement to verbal violence, which is precisely what it prompts from Ms. Sweeney.
   On Jan. 30, she assails Mr. Welch’s letter as a right-wing Republican rant reflecting a “truly pathological state of denial.” She then lays into “conservative Republicans” as “disgruntled dingbats” who think it is just fine to “lie, torture and steal us blind.” The Republican Party, in Ms.Sweeney’s view, is a collection of “corporate thieves, religious fanatics” and ignoramuses. And so on. And on.
   Now, why, we might ask, is Ms. Sweeney so very bitter? Her candidate, Barack Obama, has just won an election. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush before him, is a man of even temper and good manners. It is hard to imagine either of them drawing parallels between the old Soviet Union and the U.S. and harder still to think of either of them spraying Ms. Sweeney’s verbal shrapnel at fellow citizens who, after all, comprise roughly half our voting population.
   By the way, I actually am a Republican, though I do not think I am a thief, a fanatic or a fool.
   So what do we do about this kind of degradation of civil discourse? Perhaps a small start would be for Ms. Sweeney and Mr. Welch to go out for a lunch together and bury the hatchet — though let us pray not in each other’s heads. I will be pleased to pay.
Peter R. Kann