Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wisdom and the Wiseman Brothers: A Modest Proposal

Posted By on Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 11:04 PM

Russell Wiseman (left) and Lang Wiseman
  • Russell Wiseman (left) and Lang Wiseman
Anyone who habitually reads blogs or readers’ comments to online articles or tweets or such other cyber-utterances as, er, Facebook entries understands that hyperbole is not only tolerated on the Internet, it may be the dominant mode there.

The most extravagant claims, accusations, and braggadocio reign in such places. Overstatement and outrageousness are as commonplace on the Web as ink is in the remaining bastions of print.

Does that excuse the over-the-top bombast employed by Arlington mayor Russell Wiseman in his now infamous Facebook rant about President Barack Obama? No, but it partly explains it.

Obama a Muslim? Scheming to prevent righteous Christian children from seeing Charlie Brown on TV? (And using no less than a major address on defense policy to do so?) Add to that a challenge to Obama’s supporters to go live in a Muslim country and, perhaps most flagrant of all, the assertion that only property owners should be allowed to vote in America. All of this said in the most petulant, carelessly provocative manner possible.

Absurd, arrogant, intolerant, and abominable on its very face, this kind of flame-talk is not uncommon in the stylized and self-willed derangement of Internet argumentiveness. Though it might get its author banned as pseudonymous commenter on a political website, such a pseudonymous or anonymous comment itself, alas, would look perfectly at home there.

But this piece was signed, and by the chief political officer of a Memphis suburb. It is not for nothing that political discourse is — or used to be — guarded, platitudinous, and loaded with hair-splitting equivocations. Public officials — and candidates for office — are attempting to speak for large and diverse aggregates of people, and what they say has to spread wide, even thin, to incorporate them all safely. It is the opposite of cyber-speak.

Aside from the purposely contemptuous nature of Wiseman’s comments themselves, they were a disservice to the population he represents. Any first-amendment defense of what Wiseman wrote is wildly off point. Public officials represent their publics. It is the very nature of our political system.

Though it wouldn’t be exculpatory, it would be a step toward redemption if Mayor Wiseman would do the obvious: Admit error and apologize. Not to do so makes the people of Arlington complicit in his ill-considered philippic.

And there’s yet another disservice he needs to requite — the one committed against the only other public person named Wiseman in these parts, his brother Lang Wiseman, who is not only the chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party but has for the most part comported himself effectively, even far-sightedly, and, perhaps most importantly, discreetly. It would be tempting to call the GOP chairman a “moderate,” only that’s a descriptor as unacceptable to the contemporary Republican as “liberal” is to your average office-holding Democrat.

Lang Wiseman has so far held his peace on the matter of the Facebook entry. It would be wise (as it were) for him to continue to do so, unless his brother declines to avail himself of the apologetic course just suggested. In that case, the chairman might need to supply the remedy himself, as embarrassing to both brothers as that might be.

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