I know that civility is increasingly scarce in our public discourse. Some people are trying to encourage a return to actual discussion. Others: not so much. Maybe it's always been this bad and I never noticed. But I don't think so. I think the Tea Party mentality and the current tilt toward right wing bloviation on cable TV have made it so that even Congressmen (and Congresswomen: I'm sure readers can find good examples of "$#*! Your Congresswoman Says") think they need to say stupid, outrageous, rude, and ignorant things to get noticed.
It certainly worked here: Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA 21st) has apparently lost his mind, or at least any sense of civility. Perhaps he comes from a district so absolutely safe that feels he can say anything at all and still get re-elected. That's probably the case. But it is no excuse for a public official to run so far off the rails.
What did Nunes say? He put up a post on his blog yesterday that managed, in a few short words, to compare several of his fellow Congressional representatives, both California Senators, environmental scientists and advocates, and millions of "valley democrats" to Nazis. At the same time, he compared some Central Valley farmers and irrigation districts, including the hardly politically progressive Westlands Water District, to Nazi appeasers and Neville Chamberlain.
But even that wasn't enough: Nunes went on to insult the families and fishermen who depend on the "billion dollar salmon fishery" wiped out by the collapse of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta ecosystem. Even the title of his post ("Westlands Water Boarding") seems to suggest that he thinks applying torture techniques to the managers of the Westlands Water District would be a good idea. The post is a perfect example of saying outrageous, rude, and stupid things for no apparent reason other than, well, I can't think of one.
First of all, we must more aggressively invoke "Godwin's Law," (which in its clearest form states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1) and in particular, its major corollary, which states that when such a comparison is made, whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress. Under this rule, Nunes lost his argument immediately, when he trots out the Nazis in the very first sentence (actually, the ninth word). Not that he's really making any logical argument anyway.
But most importantly, his constituents should ask, what's the point of his post and his insults? Is he trying to change anyone's mind about water issues in central California? Is he hoping to convince his fellow Representatives of the strength and intelligence of a position on water policy? Is he trying to be more effective in his job? Is he trying to inform the voting public about issues? No, none of these things.
It seems that all this particular Congressman is trying to do is be even more outrageous than talk show hosts and political extremists. Perhaps that plays in his district, but it does nothing to actually work to solve California's water problems, the challenges facing farmers, or the loss of the state's commercial fishing communities. That would require a different kind of politician.
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