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Keeping political discourse clean isn't easy

KwartlerOne of the great things about a newspaper column is that I can tell you what I think without having to listen to what you think. I can give you my opinion without being forced to hear yours. I can even write about what you believe and completely ignore how I feel, just to mix it up.

It’s been a few months since we’ve last talked, so there is much you need to hear from me about: senior year, college applications, the terrifying fact that “2014” rhymes with “many boars preen,” the mayor closing off the Lake Oswego High School math hall for two hours of “refurbishing” in retaliation for the principal not endorsing his mayoral campaign (OK, not really), etc.

What I really want to talk about, though, is something else entirely. Way back at the beginning of January, I went to a town hall meeting. Like most town hall meetings, it was not held in a hallway, nor a town, so I was a bit surprised to learn it was actually a meeting, and not, say, a Broadway musical. Anyway, many people came to this city room meeting, as U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley was the main attraction.

For much of the time, the senator took questions from the audience. The usual political topics were brought up, like: “Are you aware that the letters in ‘coal train’ can be rearranged to spell ‘I can’t, Lora’?”; “Wouldn’t the Columbia River Crossing cost less if we built it out of gingerbread and cream cheese frosting?”; and “So, if I like my health insurance, I can keep my pet schnauzer, right?”

What was most memorable, though, were the hooligans in the back that started shouting out belligerent comments. (Note: I’m now a legal adult and hence lawfully allowed to use the word “hooligan.” I do have to be 21, however, before I can legally use the word “hence.”)

Fortunately, many attendees found this perturbing*, and managed to silence the noisemakers using the quiet coyote sign. They also employed a lot of collective shushing. The “shhhh” is a very powerful weapon. It’s often used to keep order in oppressive dictatorships. (“Sir, there’s an armed crowd outside the palace protesting against your ban on zippers, ‘Duck Dynasty’ and potable water.” “Tell them to ‘Shhhhhh.’”)

Now I want you to know I’m all for political discourse. Our country wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t thrown tea into Boston Harbor, created the Sons of Liberty, written the Declaration of Independence, formed a continental army, spilled tea on the Declaration of Independence, created the Great-Grandsons of Liberty and thrown Boston Harbor at the continental army. But times have changed. You can’t even chop down a cherry tree these days without getting sued by the Environmental Protection Agency and Ralph Nader.

I think we’d all agree that political discourse works best when it’s polite. For example, take our U.S. Congress. It passes practically nothing, and some of its members aren’t always the most civil. If Congress changed, and became more polite, more legislation might pass. By that same reasoning, if Congress changed, and every congressman and congresswoman started wearing tutus and Groucho Marx glasses to work, more legislation might pass. Also, C-SPAN ratings would go through the roof.

Why is all this — the tutus, the discourse, “hooligans,” etc. — relevant to your lives, you ask? Well, let me ask you a question: How do you feel about the Wizer block development plans? You can continue reading when you’ve stopped foaming at the mouth and shredding this paper with your teeth. I get it — some of us are very passionate about this issue.

Passion, however, makes it harder to remember one’s manners. Now, it seems we’ve done a pretty good job thus far. Certainly, the Wizer block issue is the biggest thing since the West End Streetcar Elementary Closures debate, but at least we still care about, uh ... oxygen more, am I right? No, seriously, guys, at least some of you do still care about oxygen more than the Wizer block’s development plans?

We live in a country that affords us the luxury of civilized political discourse. Since we’ve got it, why not make use of it? (Note: Don’t apply that logic to nuclear weapons. Or dog toothpaste. Or a VHS.) Oh, you disagree? Well, LA, LA, LA, LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

*If you’re not at least 35 years old and/or Joe Biden, you’ve just committed a Class II misdemeanor by reading that word. Sorry.

Joel Kwartler is a senior at Lake Oswego High School. He is a guest columnist for the Review. To contact him, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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