Fighting Fair

A number of years ago, my husband and I visited Florence, Italy. Not far from the famous “David” statue,  there is another well-known marble statue of two Greek wrestlers, nude, and magnificently muscular. The statues are, as we say, ‘anatomically correct,’ and one wrestler is holding the other by an organ that my male friends tell me is quite vulnerable.

I have long since forgotten the statue’s real name, but my husband always refers to it as the “fight fair, dammit” statue.

Too many Americans seem to have lost the ability to fight fair.

After one recent, unpleasant Congressional fight, a friend gloomily summed it up: “It used to be that conservatives and liberals would offer contending arguments and evidence for their perspectives; now, when someone offers a proposal, the opposition just screams something to the effect of ‘you’re a poopy head!'”

Insults aren’t arguments, and they’re anything but persuasive.

I thought about what constitutes a fair fight after reading some pretty nasty on-line criticisms of our local school board. Full disclosure: I have a stepdaughter, a former graduate student, and a good friend on that board. They are all passionate about what’s best for children and they are all committed to public education. The three of them don’t always agree about what needs to be done to improve performance in the district, but they tend to be able to negotiate their differences with each other, and with most of the other members of the board.

Negotiating differences requires “fighting fair.” When they aren’t getting everything they want, some folks can’t manage that. Rather than making their case, they resort to distortions, and (especially) to impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.

That falls into the “poopy head” category.

It’s one thing to raise an issue, or disagree with a position being taken by someone. It’s another thing entirely to call the Superintendent “Clarence Thomas,” implying he’s a traitor to his race, to accuse Board members of being “like child molesters,” or to claim that they’ve been “bought” by campaign donors who want to “destroy public education.”

When opponents of a policy cannot explain why it is a poor choice, when they engage in name-calling rather than factual discourse, they aren’t entitled to be taken seriously.

Can’t we please acknowledge that reasonable, well-meaning people–nice people who are acting in good faith–might just have different ideas about how to do things? Does everyone with whom we disagree have to be a poopy-head?


  1. “After one recent, unpleasant Congressional fight, a friend gloomily summed it up: “It used to be that conservatives and liberals would offer contending arguments and evidence for their perspectives; now, when someone offers a proposal, the opposition just screams something to the effect of ‘you’re a poopy head!’”

    For me; this is the crux of the current generation of politicians and my mind immediately returned to Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”. His hope was that all parties could ONCE AGAIN return to the bargaining table to work out their problems and seek solutions they could agree on. This is the meaning of the word “compromise” and in the end, nobody is a “poopy head” and everybody loses little and gains much in the process.

  2. I live in Greenwood where Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one. We haven’t elected a Democrat to city office in 20 years and seldom have candidates willing to run. However, this summer, a smart, well-educated young woman from our large East Indian community came forward to run as a Democrat in her council district. Several of us helped her campaign, knocking on nearly every door in the district. In early voting, her community came out in force to vote, giving her a 247-45 lead going into election day. Her supporters from the Indian community were easily recognized by their turbans and sari’s. Her opponent was devastated and feared he was going to lose. When the final votes were counted, he won by only 73 votes. We later learned that her opponent, a 12-year incumbent Republican who was desperate that he was going to lose his seat, complained to his pastor on Sunday before the election that if elected she would support a measure that would hurt the church (not true) and that she had campaigned at her church and they were working for her (also not true). The pastor did not try to verify the information but instead announced at each of the masses that parishioners should vote on Tuesday because there was someone running who was not a friend of the church. Endorsing a candidate from the pulpit threatens a church’s tax exempt status. I confronted the pastor about this after the election and he did not deny it, but claimed he was not endorsing a candidate because he didn’t mention anyone’s name. It’s a large congregation and his plea to parishioners likely made the difference in the race. It wasn’t a fair fight.

  3. But I have sort of given up, you know? They really are the party of ignorance and stupidity. They don’t have interesting ideas to offer, and they lack the capacity to argue the points. Except for the elitists who actually control things, of course, and there is no point in arguing policy with someone who is nakedly sociopathic. It’s like trying to argue that isolation in Guyana may not be the right answer with Jim Jones or his followers and all they want to talk about is which type of Flavor Aid to have with dinner.

  4. There are some issues, birth control, abortion, global warming and gun control where there is a winner take all approach among some. It is my way or no way.

    As far as elected politicians are concerned and those that want to be elected it is fair IMHO to ask who are their paymasters (donors). It also fair in IMHO to point out how closely aligned the candidate is to their donors and any benefits to the donors , i.e., patronage or Crony-Capitalism.

    I honestly do not have an issue with politicians who deny that humans can effect the long term climate. My issue with those politicians are when you discover the fossil fuel industry is one of the primary donors.

  5. Poopy head remarks are prevalent on facebook. Assuming (a dangerous practice) facebook users are considerably younger than I, slander too often is the preferred rebuttal for disagreement.

  6. Facebook’s users have aged as the younger ones have moved on to other platforms and left facebook for the boomers. Check out comments from TMZ, you tube, twitter or reddit and you’ll get a better idea of what young people do with their time.
    This argument method is why I don’t speak to my conservative relatives anymore. Pox Spews has convinced them that this is proper debating method. ugh.

  7. Surely nobody posting here would do such a thing, insulting someone instead of presenting a well reasoned and calm argument.

  8. Aging Girl, I know exactly what you mean by not speaking with conservative relatives anymore. They are so difficult to get along with because they are always “right” (pun intended). They watch FOX news incessantly, and that is their bible. They listen to Rush, and my sister says she does that to learn from him! Learn what? How to spew anger? They don’t fight fair, so I have given up. They do nothing positive for my life no matter how hard I have tried all my life to “get along” with them. I have moved on and left them in their “poopy places” to do what they will. I am so much better off without them in my life. You just get to a point of self-preservation and having some dignity left before they have deflated it out of you. I have no regrets for leaving them behind.

  9. The important details include that we are dealing with “reasonable, well-meaning people–nice people who are acting in good faith–”. I think that the issues are often between two parties that are not reasonable or well-meaning and not acting in good faith. In those instances neither party can rise above the muck. It only serves to further erode public confidence in our system and elected officials. Pres Obama usually does stay above the fray and maintains a positive tone; many others do not.

  10. Katie: You just get to a point of self-preservation and having some dignity left before they have deflated it out of you. I have no regrets for leaving them behind.

    I could have written that…wait, I think I have. 🙁

  11. I believe that it’s great entertainment to watch an expert negotiator at work. Calm and confident, typically with a smiling resting face, well prepared with facts and figures, eminently logical, clear in presentation, an attentive listener, completely open to giving as well as taking, aware always of priorities for his/her position, intuitive about when there is still something on the table and when there’s not. Skilled salespeople for important ideas.

    Formidable talent.

    We used to honor such individuals with work representing us in our government.

    Consider the Republican Presidential slate. A couple of possibilities, Rubio and Carson. Most of the personal attributes but, apparently, little of the intellectual or ethical attributes. They never prepared. They never studied for the position. They have no sense of what’s most important and what’s least. Not leaders but followers.

    Most of us have a sense of how far we are from the expectations of an expert negotiator for democracy. So, if we’re passionate but ill equipped we bumble along trying what we can.

    Like the rest of the Republican candidates who are trying to find a product that their limitations will still allow them to sell.

    Look at the Democrat bench much less the first team. Warren, Kerry, Shumer, Schultz, etc. – well prepared expert negotiators. Formidable in style and substance.

    They fight fair because they can and still win.

    Those who can’t instead have to find easy to sell products and easy to fool customers. Fortunately for them such markets exist.

  12. Gosh, where’s the troll today? He must be trying to think of a synonym for poopy so he can join the discussion.

  13. Theodore Roosevelt recognized the key to good governance is mutual respect–and that is what is missing today.
    “I looked the ground over and made up my mind that there were several other excellent people there, with honest opinions of the right, even though they differed from me,” he later told the journalist Jacob Riis “I turned in to help them, and they turned to and gave me a hand. And so we were able to get things done. . . . That was my first lesson in real politics. It is just this: if you are cast on a desert island with only a screwdriver, a hatchet, and a chisel to make a boat with, why, go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a saw, but you haven’t. So with men.”
    Theodore Roosevelt, as quoted in Nathan Miller’s Theodore Roosevelt: A Life.
    It is a shame that our current crop of politicians are so ignorant they cannot recognize this simple fact.

  14. AgingLGrl and Katie; my GOP relatives gave up on me. My granddaughter’s fiance is a staunch Republican which worries me deeply. Ashley has responded to recent conversations with, “Well, Drew says….” and spouts something totally opposite from conversations we have had for years. When I ask what she thinks, she doesn’t reply. It is no longer a difference in political opinions; it is a difference in beliefs, lifestyles, honoring the rights of others even though you disagree – I could go on but you know what I mean. Ashley is an RN at Riley Hospital; has a number of gays on her mother’s side of the family, biracials and Mexican-Americans on her father’s side, is anti-racist, believes in a woman’s right to choose, birth control, wants to see changes in the immigration status – I could also go on here but you know what I mean here, too. They are so far apart in basic humanities that I wonder what the attraction is. We don’t really talk politics at family get togethers and they rarely come, he doesn’t join in any conversations when they do. He is beginning to isolate her from her family, no idea about her long-time friends. Sorry, but I think he is one of the “poopy heads”.

    Political differences today are no longer JUST political differences of opinion; there is a vast chasm between opposite humanitarian beliefs and life styles.

  15. Some Hoosiers boast about being “conservative” and use the word “liberal” pejoratively. Maybe if we liberals would spout the word “conservative” the right wing would find another word for self-aggrandizement. After all, aren’t we all liberal on some issues and conservative on others? Why do some suffer to be called hypocrites?

  16. OMG, I still believe that the most succinct definition is that liberals and conservatives want the same things, liberals for everyone.

    If you want everyone to have what you want, isn’t that a real thing to be proud of?

    On the other hand if you want what you want at the expense of others isn’t that something that you’d feel ought to be covered up somehow?

    “Liberal” is never pejorative.

  17. Almost as annoying as the ‘poopy head’ defense is something I’ve run into among some of my less thoughtful acquaintances that I call the ‘did someone change the channel’ defense. This isn’t limited to the Fox News crowd, you see it in lefties sometimes as well – when you make a statement or ask a question, and the response has absolutely nothing to do with what you just said. Or, there are three mental steps between that your interlocutor has neglected to mention.

    This may have something to do with the lack of civic engagement, and as a result the lack of experience or practice in having any sort of complicated multi-valued discussion. I guess mind-reading is the expected mode of communication these days.

  18. Insults do nothing to foster debate on proposed solutions to public problems, quite the contrary. They rather take valuable time away from consideration of substantive issues all the way from village councils to the halls of Congress. There is a difference between honest disagreement on the issues and insults unrelated to the issues masquerading as disagreement, and the chairs of such meetings should be quick with the gavel to keep discussion of the real issues in focus.

  19. Conservatives want to conserve the wealth of the wealthy; conserve freedom to the well armed; conserve morality to Christians, conserve the resources of earth like land, air and water to the privileged.

    Liberals want all of those to be shared among everybody. Not equally but equitably.

  20. This has been a remarkably fruitful and positive discussion. Sheila needs to run today’s remarks before presenting all topics, sort of like a “troll talisman”.

  21. You high and mighty folks must have bruises all over your backs with all of the self-congratulatory fawning. I marvel that you criticize your opponents for name-calling by calling them names. You have all forgotten the condescension piled on McCain after Obama won. Obama ignored any attempts at bipartisanship on everything he did for two years. Leaders of both parties (FDR, JFK, RWR, WJC) worked tirelessly to engage in bipartisanship. The current occupant barely engages even members of his own party and made zero effort to engage republicans. When republicans cross the aisle, they are enlightened. When democrats cross the aisle, they get labeled traitors. I do not suggest that every Rush listener and all Fox followers will give well-reasoned discussions but all conservatives are not mind-numbed robots, just like not all liberals are Marxists. I have given up trying to have discussions with liberals because they are the ones that resort to name-calling when I offer a divergent opinion. These days I just ask questions that unfortunately no one seems willing to answer. I have been following this group for several weeks now and sometimes react to what I read. The result usually is that oat of you ignore what I say and Pete points out that I am either too stupid or to greedy and evil to discuss anything with. You are certainly entitled to ignore anyone you want to ignore but my view is the only way to get divergent views together is to discuss them rather than dismiss them.

  22. I know Ken that this would be a hard thought for you, maybe impossible, but, on the other hand you don’t seem to have rationale to offer to support conservatism so maybe, just maybe, accusing liberals of being just as dysfunctional as conservatives misses the point.

    Perhaps you’ve been misled. Perhaps liberalism is more functional. Perhaps the hurtful things that you hear from liberals, or you hear from people who claim to have, are closer to truth. Not impossible you know. We’ve all been wrong before.

    You could consider the whole thing rationally and change what has been your mindset. Nothing bad will befall you. I still have many conservative and liberal friends who accept me for what I am. Many even understand why I am that way.

    Want what you want for everyone. Let go of the entitlement meme. You are in fact one of us, not particularly special or privileged.

    Hang with humanity. Join us. Being able to rationally defend what you believe is calming, less angry.

  23. An even better description of the source and content that derailed America:

    It was really Lee Atwater that created Karl Rove. He died regretting that but by then the genie was out of the bottle.

    Atwater got Bush I elected and, from what I hear about Sr’s latest book, he also in his late years regrets what he perpetrated. For one thing it has ruined the family name that he and Barbara were so proud of. Jeb thought that he could be President with it but that backfired.

    It might be said of Rove that he, like the NRA and Murdoch’s empire got too good at being the ad agencies that they are. Probably true.

    A lesson that we should never forget.

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