March 7, 2015

Words do hurt. Words can kill.

An excerpt from former U.S. Sen. John Danworth eulogy for Tom Sweich, Missouri State Auditor and 2016 candidate for Governor, who apparently committed suicide.  Link to full eulogy.

This campaign for governor started two years in advance of the 2016 election. And even at this early date, what has been said is worse than anything in my memory, and that’s a long memory. I have never experienced an anti-Semitic campaign. Anti-Semitism is always wrong and we can never let it creep into politics.
As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him a “little bug”, there is one word to describe it: “bullying.” And there is one word to describe the person behind it: “bully.”
We read stories about cyberbullying, and hear of young girls who killed themselves because of it. But what should we expect from children when grown ups are their examples of how bullies behave?
Since Thursday, some good people have said, “Well that’s just politics.” And Tom should have been less sensitive; he should have been tougher, and he should have been able to take it.
Well, that is accepting politics in its present state and that we cannot do. It amounts to blaming the victim, and it creates a new normal, where politics is only for the tough and the crude and the calloused.
Indeed, if this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it? We should encourage normal people — yes, sensitive people — to seek public office, not drive them away.
There’s a principle of law called the thin skull rule. It says that if you hurt someone who is unusually susceptible to injury, you are liable even for the damages you didn’t anticipate. The person who caused the injury must pay, not the person with the thin skull. A good rule of law should be a good rule of politics. The bully should get the blame not the victim.
We often hear that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell.