The Recorder – My Turn: When did politics stop being fun?

Date:

My father was a journalist, political reporter and columnist. His columns on this page covered all aspects of the political spectrum, praising and questioning politicians from both parties, taking both sides on any debate, and rarely stating his own personal political beliefs in print, or even at the dinner table.

I often accompanied my father to the State House in Boston, sitting through legislative sessions from the press box and learning how the process worked. I also hung around various conventions meeting politicians and getting a glimpse at the behind the scenes working of the political system. I was introduced to politicians from both parties and my father treated them all the same — with respect, politeness, humor and good cheer.

My father once wrote, “Being a newsman provides an opportunity to circulate truth or to demolish falsehood, to inform and perhaps lead without preaching, to puncture the balloons of the sanctimonious and to uplift the spirits of those among us who strive to overcome the apathy in themselves and to society.”

When I review his articles (and especially his columns), there is no evidence of personal attacks, name-calling, or hysteria. My father often used satire, humor, and the politicians’ own words against him to “demolish falsehoods and inform.”

My father never piled on a politician in trouble or experiencing controversy, and he often wrote sympathetic and compassionate takes when someone was going down in flames, knowing others would be kicking the unfortunate person while they were down.

My memories of politics and politicians from my father’s writings, experiences and coverage, as well as my own observations of what I saw, was that politics was a much more gentlemanly profession back then. People disagreed, had different opinions, outlooks, philosophies and stances, but the atmosphere was generally polite and respectful. People were doing their jobs with a passion.

My father understood that the people he covered were public servants, and while he may not have agreed with those he wrote about, he respected all of them for what they tried to do — and even when he challenged them for their failures, mistakes, and misfortunes, he didn’t feel the need to attack, inflame, insult or engage in hysteria.

In recent years, a take-no-prisoners approach to the national discourse on politics and religion has become much too common, but screaming and insulting the loudest is not the best way to win an argument or make a point.

We can strive to listen, respect and honor those we disagree with, finding common ground when available, reaching compromise when possible, and remaining civil when a divide cannot be bridged. To each their own.

My career Navy experience taught me that when the ship is on fire, nobody is going to stop and ask the guy trapped in the burning compartment what his politics, religion or favorite baseball team happens to be. We honor our oath and do the right thing for love of God and country.

I think of my father often during these uncertain times in our public discourse, with politics as a contact sport. I wonder if he would criticize his journalism profession and the blurring of reporting with opinionating. I wonder what he would think of talking blowhards who take no responsibility for their rantings. I wonder what he would write about out-of-control politicians who use their verbiage to attack others instead of offering their own solutions, tearing down instead of building up.

I wonder if he would bother with the morass that is social media.

Our current political discourse needs writers, reporters and especially politicians from my father’s era who saw politics not as a vehicle to bring out the worst in people, but to bring out the best in them through hope, service and civility with a common respect for the opposition instead of a need to destroy it.

Wid Perry lives in Greenfield.

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