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Dennis Myers: Two words show a toxic political climate

On Oct. 24, this newspaper ran an article that quoted political experts who expected the deceased Dennis Hof to win the District 36 Nevada Assembly election. The headline on that story was, “Nevada experts: Voters expected to ‘elect a dead man’.”

Shortly afterward, the Times published a letter to the editor from a Jim Gronemann, who said the headline “brought shame upon the Pahrump Valley Times,” befouled Hof’s supposedly good name as a supporter of the local senior citizens center and animal shelter, and urged the Times to “STAY on the high road.”

My first reaction was to wonder why he put “stay” in all capitals, given the fact that the letter accused the newspaper of taking the low road. But of greater interest to me was why the words “dead man” were seen by Mr. Gronemann as derogatory. The term is not inaccurate. It’s merely descriptive. Moreover, it is the whole point of the story over which it appears. Neglecting to include the fact that Hof was dead would made the story kind of puzzling.

In addition, the prediction of the political experts quoted in the story turned out to be quite true. Voters preferred to elect a dead pimp over a live Democrat, even one who is, by most accounts, a perfectly nice person and assistant school principal against whom the worst that can be said is that she is not a Republican or that she has policy positions with which some locals disagree.

It is difficult not to wonder how we reached this point in our political life, when voters on left and right are voting all-Republican and all-Democratic, never considering the merits of the candidates or their policy positions.

I often tell high school or college classes where I speak about the way Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked together to enact the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The students often express disbelief. They have never seen such a thing. Today, Republicans in Congress are so dogmatic and intransigent that the Senate Dining Room is considering closing because there is a stigma in the party against socializing with Democrats and business has fallen off so far that closure may be necessary.

The year after the Civil Rights Act, Congress enacted Medicare, which Republicans fought until the last dog died to prevent. But once the bill was approved, the GOP dropped its opposition and eventually joined in making the program work. There was no behavior like the current GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act year after year for nearly a decade.

Even two words, “dead man,” arouse the hackles of fans of a quite fallible candidate who used pretty sulfurous, vituperative words on those he targeted. Apparently, it went unnoticed that the two headline words are inside quotation marks, that they quoted political scientist Fred Lokken. Just a hint of harshness inspires defensiveness in this poisonous political climate. And why is mentioning a dead man in a headline disrespectful but electing one is not?

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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