Having served the public as a councilman, mayor and state representative, I sometimes think Ive seen it all.
Then, out of nowhere comes some political action thats so ludicrous its beyond belief.
The recent charge by state Rep. Bob Morris that the Girl Scouts in Fort Wayne (or anywhere else, for that matter) promote lesbianism, promiscuity and communism – and that theyre in cahoots with Planned Parenthood – is the latest youve-got-to-be-kidding-me moment.
The beauty of our free-speech society is that short of crying fire in a crowded theater, folks (including legislators) can say whatever they please.
As a defender of the First Amendment, Id never deny anyone that right.
But I learned long ago that when youre elected to public office, your words are subject to an echo chamber. And if you say something with sufficient shock value, your words can quickly take on the blare and bluster of a bullhorn.
So when youre elected to public office, you have a choice: You can choose words that are helpful or inspirational, empathetic or explanatory. Or you can choose words that are hurtful and harmful.
In at least five different ways, Morris ill-informed and groundless words about the Girl Scouts fall into the latter category.
First, Morris words hurt my granddaughter the Girl Scout, my daughter the former Girl Scout and current Girl Scout leader, and all the Girl Scouts in Fort Wayne, the state of Indiana and around the nation.
When you question the integrity of an organization, you question the integrity and good judgment of all the members, volunteers and supporters who spring from and contribute to that organization.
Second, Morris words hurt women everywhere. No man, especially a male authority figure, should presume to tell you – our daughters, sisters, wives, moms, women friends and female colleagues – that he knows better than you about your own organizations, what their merits are, or that youre somehow incapable of making your own judgments and decisions.
Third, Morris words hurt the image of northeast Indiana and our entire state. Because these hurtful words came from an authority figure, and because theyre unexpected, theyve been picked up by some of the nations most prominent media organizations. Theyre on CNN. Theyre in the Washington Post. Theyre in Forbes magazine. Theyre also being blasted on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and more – and not in a favorable light.
While stereotypes are often wrong and unfair, all of us who live here get tainted by Morris embarrassing 15 minutes of fame.
Fourth, Morris words hurt the image of his fellow Republicans and all of us who hold political office. Again, stereotypes are often wrong and unfair, but fool-on-the-hill behavior casts its darkest shadow on those who share the hill.
Fifth and most important, issues like this distract the entire legislature from the peoples business.
As our Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week (while passing out Girl Scout cookies), Ive been to the carnival before, and you dont walk into every sideshow tent.
We need jobs in this state. We need to control utility rates. We need better health. We need lower crime. There are bills moving through the legislature on these and other issues of substance that matter greatly.
With so many pressing issues to address, sideshows like the one sparked by Morris do a tremendous disservice to all the women, all the men and especially all the Girl Scouts were privileged to represent.