Opinion and Forefront

KRULL: Calling Holcomb to a higher standard

December 24, 2011

John KrullWhen Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker announced he was leaving his post, his opposite number didn’t exactly give him a gold watch and a pat on the back.

Before the ink had dried on Parker’s resignation letter, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb issued the following statement:

“Much of the Democrat Party’s decay in Indiana can be directly traced to running campaigns devoid of ideas, the expansion of their decades-long culture of corruption and sound bites full of rhetorical snark.”

Sigh.

Was that really necessary?

I know I’m about to sound like an old fogey—perhaps because I am an old fogey—but I detest our current culture of sniping and boasting and attacking at every opportunity. I hate the practice of having even junior high school athletes celebrate every touchdown as if it were the equivalent of the lunar landing or VJ Day. And I abhor the trend of taunting an opponent after he or she has been bested or left the field.

Please do not take this as a criticism of Holcomb—at least not of him as an individual. In some ways, he is right.

Democrats often have used snarky rhetoric. And that is not to their credit.

One, though, might note that Holcomb’s statement, while decrying snark on the part of his opponents, was more than a little snarky itself. There’s also the fact that anyone representing a political party whose governor once compared a political opponent who disagreed with him to a car bomber doesn’t have much room to criticize others for rhetorical excesses.

But the issue isn’t Holcomb or Parker or any specific person, Republican or Democrat.

No, the issue is that somehow we think behaving churlishly is acceptable.

I’m reminded of an interview the actor Paul Newman gave not long before he died. Newman said there was a lot about the America of his youth that he did not miss or lament—racism entrenched as law being one of them—and that many things were better now.

“But, damn it, there was a lot more grace back then,” Newman said.

Amen.

Would it have cost Holcomb that much to note Parker’s departure differently? Say, like this:

“We disagree and will continue to disagree with much of what Dan Parker and his party stand for and do, but we respect him as a worthy opponent and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

I get the fact that politics is a rough business. I realize the issues at stake are important and that the members of both parties have to fight hard and often savagely to defend the interests of the people they serve. In fact, I want them to do that.

But they also are leaders—people who are supposed to set an example.

I teach my children that if, after a competition, they ever should fail to shake hands with and compliment their opponents, they won’t have to wait for their coach to direct them to the bench. I’ll do it for him or her. And if one of them ever should taunt an opponent who has been bested—well, the conversation with Dad that will follow is not one that anyone will enjoy.

I teach them that because I believe Paul Newman was right. Grace matters.

It matters because it emphasizes that the common humanity that unites us is more important than the issues or contests that divide us.

More than 50 years ago, Indiana became a right-to-work state. A few years later, we switched course and weren’t. Now, it appears that we will become a right-to-work state again. We may veer back again some years down the road or just find some other issue to argue about.

Through it all, we still will be Hoosiers. We still will be Americans. We still will be people who have to live together.

Not to recognize that demeans two great political parties and the people who work on their behalf. It debases our culture.

And it’s just not right.

Grace matters.•

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Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and hosts the weekly news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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