Keep election letters civil – and brief
“If you want to get elected, it is better to be mean than to be funny.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, from his book on the Clinton campaign, titled “Better Than Sex – Confessions of a Political Junkie.”
Things have gotten mean around here, and they’re going get meaner in the next 60 days or so before the election. That’s why we’ve got to have rules regarding political letters.
And before you conspiracy theorists go on about “bias” this and “bias” that (I get rather sick of those kinds of generalizations), do your homework. Count the number of political letters to the editor in the past month and note the targets.
The nastiness has been spread around pretty evenly among the four legitimate (and one illegitimate) candidates for the two seats on the county’s board of supervisors.
I can’t help it if the liberals are better artists than the conservatives, which explains the lack of cartoons supporting Drew Bedwell or Robin Sutherland.
In spite of a couple of witty political cartoons, this election year has generally lacked a sense of humor. None of the candidates are particularly funny. At least not in a hee-haw kind of way. That probably explains the absence of funny letters to the editor regarding their candidacy.
What’s so funny about sewer problems?” some of you are bound to ask.
Plenty, I’d say. In fact, if I were running I might run entirely on a sewer platform. “If you don’t back me up, your sewer will.”
Or, “If you think I stink, elect my opponent.”
You could also have a few laughs with affordable housing. “Vote for me, and I’ll pay your rent.”
Or, “Vote for me, and I’ll lower property values.” I’d simply put basketball hoops in every driveway and send the neighbor kids over.
The biggest rule change in The Union’s political letter policies has to do with length. If you’re not going to be funny, you only get 100 words, and you only get one shot at it between now and November. That may not sound like an awful lot, compared with the 350-word letters some of you ill-tempered types have been getting, but brevity is wonderful.
For example: Let’s say you want to bash Robin Sutherland for her apparent inability to handle her personal finances. With a 350-word limit, you might be tempted to write, “In September, 1997, Ms. Sutherland, blah, blah, blah, blah, and how can we support a woman who blah, blah, blah, blah and what makes us think that if she’s elected she’ll be able to handle our blah, blah, blah.”
With some good editing, you could cut that down to: “Robin Sutherland wouldn’t know a checkbook if it climbed up her shirt. Vote for Izzy.”
Or … let’s say you wanted to really say something mean about Izzy. Under the old guidelines, you’d probably be looking for those five nasty words that say the same as one nasty word. “That Supervisor Izzy says she loves organic food, but she also hates developers, and if she’s elected again we’ll all be eating tofu.”
You could get well under the 100-word limit simply by writing: “Izzy loves rock music. And she wants your land. Vote for Robin”.
Rules are made to be broken, however. And I’m more than willing to fudge on the 100-word maximum, provided you make me spit my coffee. I’ve been dying for a good laugh ever since my 401(k) went south, leaving me with a hard drive full of bitter letters and the shirt on my back.
And Drew’s black helicopter conspiracy doesn’t count as funny. It’s been done and it no longer makes me laugh. In fact, it gave me nightmares the other night. They were coming to get me, and I couldn’t scream. Black choppers landed on my new roof and guys with ski masks crashed through my new skylight, demanding to see my passport.
The newsroom tells me there are other rules governing other opinion page material (“Other Voices,” etc.), but they give me a headache. I’ll let my new editor explain those if he ever gets here from Chicago. He told me the other day that we haven’t seen mean elections until we’ve lived in Chicago in November. He seems pretty funny, which is why we hired him. You need a sense of humor around here to keep from crying.
So keep those letters coming. Just get to the point sooner than later, and remember that once an election season ends, we’re generally left with a sense of betrayal and disappointment, followed by years of hardship and oppression. Laughing will come in handy during those times.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, email@example.com,
or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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