Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 18, 2006
Now I don’t want to appear to be too high and mighty here. I understand perfectly the impulse to go negative when going negative is, apparently, rewarded. When I was nine and had just moved to Michigan, I remember standing in the backyard of a neighbor’s house with the local gang of boys and eager to certify myself. And, at the time, the best way to do that was to beat somebody up and/or not get beaten up yourself.
In the idle boredom of an endless summer day, there was some drummed up provocation and sides were taken. One kid, Tim, said something to another, Ayman, and I took the opportunity to leap to Ayman’s defense. Not that he needed it or even wanted it –- there are just certain nonsensical things you need to do to be a proper stupid little boy.
I don’t remember what Tim’s original insult was, but I’m guessing it was pretty minor: idiot, moron, that sort of thing. I, however, escalated the insult to nuclear and accused Tim of disparaging Ayman’s Egyptian heritage. (I remember exactly what that insult was, and it’s really too nasty to repeat here.) Tim was stunned and began to stammer out a defense. I knew I had to hit him before he got the words out. I remember very clearly: “I never said th–POP!” I punched him in the mouth. He punched me back. We punched each other some more till Tim said stop. We stopped. A few minutes later Tim said, “I never said that.” I said, “Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.” He said, “That’s okay.” And that was that.
See what I did? I took a little kernel of truth, amplified it way beyond its original context, and used it to brutalize an opponent. That’s politics.
In Michigan, we have a hotly contested race for governor this fall. The challenger, Dick DeVos, an Amway scion has been using his considerable wealth to saturate the media since February with not-so-nice things about the current governor. The incumbent, Jennifer Granholm, had been saving her shekels but now has unleashed her hounds, too. The cartoon should give you a basic idea of what’s going on. (If you would like specifics, Peter Luke had a good article about it last Sunday.)
Ya know, the more I think about it, maybe nine year old boys aren’t so stupid. If we could have just one good DeVos/Granholm fistfight and get past all this negative crappola, it’d make for a much more pleasant autumn….