My first letter to the editor was printed four years ago – August 5, 2004. My original intent was to write only four letters, one for each constitutional amendment that was being proposed at the time. Political strategist Karl Rove was using three of them as part of his election year scheme to make the Republican Party the permanent majority: an anti-gay marriage amendment, an anti-abortion amendment, and an anti-flag burning amendment. These were all negative in nature and ran counter to our 220-year history. Essentially, the Republican Party was preying on the emotions of voters and was willing to restrict the Bill of Rights solely for political advantage. The fourth proposed amendment was the only one that was positive – it would have allowed naturalized citizens to run for president – but it never came to a vote.
The anti-gay amendment was so reprehensible that it took me three letters to even get close to doing it justice. Hopefully, this year will be the Republicans’ last presidential campaign to exploit the anti-gay vote – the old hatreds and prejudices taught and learned for generations are dying faster than they would like. It reminds me of the late author Moritz Thomsen, an old friend, explaining why at age 48 he sold his California farm and joined the Peace Corps. He said, “It’s the boredom that comes with familiarity.” (Moritz’s book “Living Poor” used to be required reading for Peace Corps volunteers.) After Massachusetts allowed gay marriages, no harm came to traditional families, and the sun still rises in the east. With each passing day, other than the religious fanatics who don’t want gay couples to be happy, fewer and fewer Americans will likely support legal discrimination.
Over these four years, I have received several phone calls, letters or cards, and emails thanking me for specific letters or just thanking me in general. The very first phone call I received was from a lady who wanted to send copies of my first letter to her friends. She admitted she almost didn’t call me. She presumed that I wouldn’t answer because of all the hate calls I had probably been getting. In fact, I have never received any hate calls or hate mail of any sort. That says a lot about our community’s toleration of views that need to be publicly aired even though they may not be locally popular. Some of my original six letters were venomously answered in letters to the editor; however, since they inadvertently confirmed what I had written, I never felt the necessity to respond to them.
Two challenges were addressed to specific items that I wrote. As to my letter on how certain Republican policies have prevented our having some form of universal health care, Ms. Jeannette M. Simmons accused me of sloppy research by questioning the U. S. ranking of #37. She was wrong about my source. It was not the entertaining, informative, and unfairly-criticized documentary “Sicko.” My source was the World Health Organization’s Report 2000, the same as Michael Moore’s. The list is online at http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html. I’ve never suggested the quality of American doctors and medicine was anything other than second to none; so she and Mr. Kenneth C. Williams could have written their letters on that subject without ever falsely implying that I disagreed.
As to my letter on the differences between the economic policies of the two major parties, Mr. Williams suggested that Jimmy Carter’s entire presidency was an economic disaster. I had identified 1980 as the only bad economic year for any Democratic president since the Great Depression. In reality, there was economic growth during the first three years of Carter’s tenure, 1977-79. However, those were the last years of a horrible economic decade. Many Democrats were disappointed that Carter had not made greater changes in the Republican economic policies of Nixon and Ford and that he had supported a great deal of deregulation of big businesses. That was the reason that Ted Kennedy challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980, an act that divided the party.
Believe it or not, I always try to keep my letters to the editor confined to a certain number of words – within a margin of ten. My first letter and this one are conspicuous exceptions. I had included much of the above information in my original drafts but decided that they were not absolutely necessary to the themes of my letters. Apparently, I should have left them in and found something else to cut.
Mr. Williams also stated, “Mr. Offutt does not believe that World War II helped in reducing unemployment…” I never wrote that, never said it, never implied it, and certainly never thought it. He seemed to be deliberately misleading others to think I had written something that I had not. That’s an example of the Big Lie technique, which I’ve often written about and warned against. Mr. Williams accuses me of thinking readers to be “dupes” or “stupid,” but is it I or he who thinks that?
Mr. Freddie Sligh defined the Big Lie technique, and used it at the same time: “If you tell a lie long enough and you teach our children these lies, they grow up believing it to be the truth.” However, he was implying that it was I who was telling lies. How many readers believed him? What lies? What have I written that was not true, knew to be incorrect, and intended to mislead readers? Also, Mr. Sligh insinuated that I had been a teacher of “ultra left-wing communist garbage.” Did you accept that as fact or did you consider it “character assassination” based on maliciousness? It was certainly a reminder of the McCarthyism of the early 1950s when Republican Senator Joe McCarthy accused individuals in our government of being communists. He never found a single one! Before the Senate finally stopped him and censured him, he had destroyed a lot of reputations and careers with his false accusations (Big Lies).
Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Sligh also accused me of writing revisionist history. I presume they fear my reminding readers of things they had hoped everyone else had forgotten. The events and lessons of history that I’ve written about are well documented.
Ms. Simmons wants me to only write “I hate Republicans” and be done with it. I will never write anything that is patently false. I not only entrust my teeth and my six cats to Republican doctors, I also truly loved my mother, Foster Offutt (Mrs. J. C. Offutt). She was a die-hard Republican who worshipped Richard Nixon! She passed away before Watergate; but while the Watergate Senate Hearings were taking place, Dad said to me, “Your mother would be having a very hard time right now.” She was the most generous and self-less person I’ve ever known; but on political and social issues, she was extremely conservative. I also had a neighbor who was a Republican. He asked me to take him on a three-day canoe trip on the Buffalo National River. He wanted to go in the middle of March, and that’s not a month I like to float the Buffalo. Anyway, on the second day of our cold and rainy adventure, he became a “wimp” – his wife’s word, not mine – and I had to find a way to get us off that river – fortunately, I knew the river. No, I do not hate Republicans.
In my 48 previous letters, I did make some errors. On June 3, 2006, I wrote that President W. Bush had not yet used the Antiquities Act, but he had done so in February 2006 to set aside less than a half-acre of the African Burial Ground in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City. The area was the burial place of some 20,000 slaves and free blacks in the 18th century. On July 5, 2006, I attributed Edwin Meese as being Reagan’s first attorney general and deprived William French Smith of that dubious distinction. Meese was Reagan’s second attorney general. On August 3, 2007, I was horrified to see in the paper that I had used the last name of Chief Justice William Rehnquist instead of William Ruckelshaus as Nixon’s deputy attorney general who resigned during the “Saturday Night Massacre.” I sincerely regret those mistakes.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published August 2, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.