Opinion

The word police are loose in Olympia

As if they didn’t have enough to keep them at each other’s throats in Olympia in the final days, House Democrats decided it was no longer allowable for one member to refer to another in government-funded writings as “lacking in honesty with taxpayers” or be called “tax-and-spend liberals” or “disingenuous.”

That’s in e-mails or newsletters to their constituents. Since the Democrats are in charge, it’s the Republicans they’re aiming at, of course. The example cited that of Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, who wrote that Democrats were displaying a lack of honesty with taxpayers.

That’s mudslinging, said House Clerk Rich Nafziger, and is an extension of the rule that forbids lawmakers from insulting each other during floor speeches. They can continue to say what they please at news conferences, etc., but so long as they are communicating with the use of taxpayer money, from now on they have to keep it clean.

Republicans, of course, are furious. I mean, how can a Republican give a political speech without calling Democrats tax-and-spend liberals? Isn’t truth a defense? And I don’t see why saying someone is “lacking in honesty” is so offensive.

Saying your opponent is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg may be carrying it too far but how else can you call someone a liar without coming right out and saying it?

As for disingenuous, I suspect they figure too many people don’t have any idea what it means, so why take a chance on the inference it’s an insult?

So far, they’ve confined their actions to censorship and writing a new rule and no one has proposed passing a bill to enforce it.

In Jerusalem a few years ago, behavior turned so brutish in its Parliament with members leaping out of their seats to shout insults that the Ethics Committee chair circulated a list of 68 insults, including “swamp fly,” “king of the swamp” and “poodle,” that she wanted banned under threat of reprimand and suspension.

Others among the 68 were “blood drinker,” “boor,” “fascist,” “filth,” “eye-gouger,” “Jew-hater,” “Nazi,” “Philistine,” “terrorist,” “traitor,” “government of murderers,” “gut-ripper,” “degenerate,” “defacer of property,” “humbug,” “nincompoop,” “poisoner of wells,” “spiller of blood,” “thug,” “total nonentity,” “threat to the state,” “monster” and “brain defective.”

Members admitted they misbehaved on occasion but said calling the language cops was too much.

They argued, sure, but afterward they went out and had a drink together.

In the early days of the Knesset, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had such contempt for his political nemesis, opposition leader Menachem Begin, that he never spoke his name. He’d refer to him as “the gentleman sitting next to Dr. Bader.”

Over the years, it got wilder, hence the list, which I don’t know the fate of, so I think it was just a kind of shot across the bow of the offenders.

It was the reverse in our state Senate when Lt. Gov. John Cherberg ruled the roost. He’d introduce members as “the great and renowned senator from ...,” “the esteemed and honorable senator from ...,” “the respected and excellent senator from ...”

When members razzed him for his excessive use of adjectives, he warned them what he’d use in place.

How, asked Cherberg, would they like, “he chicken-livered and chauvinistic ...,” “The pussyfooting and pusillanimous ...,” “The wishy-washy and waffling senator from ...”

They decided they like the super-saccharine approach better.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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