Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Postcards, Robocalls, And Terrorists, Oh My!

I have thought that the South Dakota Republican civil war waged with postcards and voting records to be mildly amusing at best and a prime example of a tempest in a teapot at worst.

The situation has now taken a turn toward the hilarious. David Montgomery reports that the rhetoric has moved beyond hyperbole and reached the rarefied realm of absurdity:
Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson didn’t mince words when I asked him about the people sending out robocalls and postcards attacking him and others.

“I think they’re terrorists. They want to ambush and never say who they are,” Olson said.

He later referred to “terroristic activity” used against Sen. Art Fryslie, R-Willow Lake, in Fryslie’s primary this year.

Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Hill City, used that same formulation.

“The way I would look at the attacks first of all, these guys are kind of like terrorists — they come out and toss a grenade at us and then retreat to their caves,” Verchio. “A bunch of cowards. They won’t take ownership of who it is on the robocalls. It’s a fringe faction that’s desperate for their own power and control.”
Cory has an excellent overview including a CIA definition of terrorism, but this situation may demand some simplification.

First, terrorists mail pipe bombs not postcards. Second, postcards have never killed anyone. That movie that featured a ninja killing 63 bad guys with a piece of cardboard was not a documentary. Third, terrorists usually want to spread fear across a wide segment of the population; I haven't had a single person tell me they're afraid of postcards or robocalls, annoyed perhaps, but never fearful.  As a side note, should South Dakotans, a notoriously individualistic lot, seriously consider voting for someone who's frightened of a postcard and a phone call?

I suppose I should be happy for a teachable moment. I can use Olson's statement to teach metaphor: these people are terrorists. Verchio's statement, on the other hand, is a classic simile; these people are like terrorists. That being said, we live in a country where the President can detain anyone he deems a terrorist without trial, so it's not a term that should be thrown around lightly.

Olson and Verchio should expand their vocabulary to be more precise. The people sending out the postcards and making the robocalls are propagandists, a term that has negative connotations and reminds people of totalitarianism. Granted, Democrats, Republicans, and Rastafarians all use propaganda, so it doesn't make Olson and Verchio's political antagonists appear as despicable as the legislators might like. On the other hand, the Rastafarians might have some good advice for both of them:

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