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September 23, 2013
Guest Opinion: Why do we tolerate vile behavior online?


(Sept. 23 -- By Bruce Maiman, Special to The Bee)

Without question, Allan Brauer should have resigned from his position as communications chairman for Sacramento County's Democratic Party.

By now you're likely aware of last week's Twitter volley between Brauer and Amanda Carpenter, a speechwriter for TexasRepublican Sen. Ted Cruz, over Obamacare. Cruz has been a major force behind what would become the House of Representatives' 42nd vote to defund the law. In the escalating exchange with Carpenter prior to last Friday's vote, Brauer tweeted to her, "May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases."

To be clear: Brauer was directing that at Carpenter, not at the U.S. senator.

To be clear: That doesn't matter. There's no excuse for such repugnant remarks, ever. Yet, Brauer's Twitter tantrum continued with personal insults, pointless talking points and eventually, clueless indignation: "I'm being attacked on Twitter for wishing one of Ted Cruz's pubic lice to experience the pain her boss is inflicting on Americans."

This, from a person whose job title suggested he knows a thing or two about communicating.

Predictably, Brauer's conduct became an opportunity for some to use the very same Internet to denigrate Democrats - all Democrats - as "hateful," as "cockroaches" about which "there is nothing decent." One reader said he wouldn't care if Brauer's SUV "rolled over."

Another wrote that "90 percent of the stupid things are said by Democrats." Perhaps the irony of his screen name, "JerryIs2Senile," is lost on him.

Other transgressions of taste are easily recalled: In 2008, the official website for Sacramento County Republicans sought to link then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and encouraged people to "Waterboard Barack Obama," a move for which thenCraig MacGlashan, then county chairman of the party, took credit while state GOP leaders took offense.

Meanwhile, a San Bernardino County Republican group distributed newsletters with candidate Obama on a $10 bill adorned with a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken.

Honestly, is it necessary to call Phil Angelides a "stooge," or Dianne Feinstein "Senator Feinstupid," as happened last weekend?

Portraying George W. Bush or Obama as chimps, or as Nazis?

Whatever the debate, whatever the disagreement, does it really make anyone's argument stronger to consistently, even exclusively, resort to or encourage such crassness? Are you not tired of this behavior?

The real question isn't what Brauer said. We all know it was inexcusable. It's why he would ever think it OK to say in the first place.

In a bit of serendipity, comedian Lewis CK appeared last week on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," where his comments about the culture of smartphones and why he would never get one for his kids went viral.

With smartphones, he said, you don't have to look at people when you talk to them. If you tell someone to his or her face, "You're fat," you see that person's face and realize it doesn't feel good to make a person feel that way. But when you just text it and never see the reaction, you don't feel remorse. In short, smartphones make us less human.

It's not just kids, though. It's our culture. It wasn't a kid who tweeted at Cruz's staffer, or who guaranteed callousness were Brauer to have a car accident.

It may start when we're young, but after 15 years of increasingly digital inculcation, many of us in every generation and any political persuasion seem utterly inconsiderate, often burying ourselves in technology, and frequently doing so while hiding behind the Internet's cloak of anonymity so we can be as vile as we want, as divorced from human contact as we want.

That's not technology's fault, but we can't seem to help ourselves.

After a bunch of us helped a friend move last year, we all sat down for cold drinks. His wife took out her cellphone and started typing/surfing/ignoring everyone.

Somewhat stunned, one friend asked her what she was doing that was so important.

She said she was "putting a big thank you out on Facebook to everyone that helped us move!"

The friend said, "To who? We're right here!"

The lack of human interface, this compulsion to almost exclusively communicate digitally rather than personally - I don't find that a plus in our society at all. But it seems the more people grow comfortable with that, the greater potential for them to take license with what they say.

It's not that we should eschew technology or be afraid of it, or even suspicious of it; it's that we shouldn't abuse the advantages it provides, especially if it costs us something as simple and basic as civility and common decency.

Unless you prefer a world in which even so-called communications specialists are lacking human relations skills.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at

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