Letters? Oh, We Get Letters

It's always surprising which columns elicit the biggest reaction from readers. I might think my pieces on health care reform or the Religious Right would trigger a heated reaction, but inevitably it's the ones I consider mostly self-evident and not parti

One of the most interesting parts of my job as a columnist involves getting letters, e-mails and online comments on the topics I’ve written about.

It’s always surprising which columns elicit the biggest reaction from readers. I might think my pieces on health care reform, the Religious Right or the latest questionable antics by Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. or County Prosecutor Joe Deters would trigger a heated reaction, but inevitably it’s the ones I consider mostly self-evident and not particularly controversial that kick up the largest shit storm.

One such e-mail was sent in August, after I criticized the manufactured nature of the Tea Party movement. Specifically, I took aim at the scattershot litany of complaints that followers try to cobble together into a coherent political philosophy and its revival of “states’ rights,” a code phrase that has a sordid place in U.S. history by putting a respectable facade on deplorable causes like Jim Crow laws.

The column prompted a reply from someone using the pseudonym “Winston Smith.” Our literary readers will remember that’s the name of the title character in George Orwell’s novel 1984. The fictional Smith was a government bureaucrat who joins a secret group to overthrow the oppressive dictatorship of “Big Brother.”

Smith wrote, “I would like to address the accusations of fluctuating outrage, though. Personally speaking, my list of meandering grievances ARE numerous (our Declaration had many) because the violations of our federal government are numerous. A great place to start would be The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. This Constitutional abomination, greased with fear, was Dubya’s, not Obama’s. Obama’s ‘yea’ was no more/less reckless than Jeannie Schmidt’s. What an effective team they turned out to be.”

I stand by my assertion that the behavior, signs and slogans of most attendees at Tea Parties reveal they have little in common except a generalized sense of anger and fear.

But I will agree that the bailouts of major banks — pushed by both Republicans and Democrats — have given too much power to the Federal Reserve. Even worse, banking executives who wrecked the economy have gone back to their profligate ways while the Average Joe who’s had his home foreclosed or lost his job has benefited little from the government intervention.

Instead of framing the dispute over the financial crisis as Republican versus Democrat or capitalist versus socialist, perhaps a better description would be Main Street versus Wall Street. Unfortunately, many of the politicians who kowtow to the financial bigwigs also appear regularly at Tea Party events, posing as populists.

Further, claiming the Tea Parties are a grassroots movement is ridiculous. The events have been nationally coordinated by FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm headed by ex-Republican activists and corporate officials like Richard Mellon Scaife. Records show it’s funded by energy and tobacco companies and is headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. This might explain why the excesses of the Bush administration never caused similar protests.

So much for representing the people.

A column about County Auditor Dusty Rhodes and his public criticisms on the use of luxury suites controlled by Hamilton County at the Reds and Bengals stadiums led to an exchange with Rhodes himself. Typically, the county lets the suite be used by foster children and their parents or raffles seats off to citizens.

I’d written that Rhodes’ announcement he might have to report everyone to the Internal Revenue Service who has used the suites rang false. That’s because he made the claim only after he had a spat with county commissioners and not during the many years the practice had been used earlier.

The suites have been used at the Bengals stadium since August 2000 and at the Reds stadium since March 2003. Both facilities are owned by the county and leased to the teams.

Rhodes wrote, “Thank you for reminding me that I have been auditor since 1990. Over that period of time there have been numerous instances in which I have asked questions about things that previously occurred. I have never allowed the fact of their varied duration of occurrence to constrain me from questioning them … is it really logical to believe that because we might have not been aware of some issue previously, we should not raise it when it is discovered?”

Methinks thou doth protest too much.

It strains credulity to believe that an old hand like Rhodes suddenly questioned the practice after it had been used for eight years at one stadium and five years at another and that his concern arose just as he was bickering with commissioners. This would qualify as "reasonable doubt" in any court.

Although I’ve been writing a column for CityBeat for almost two years now, by far the most reaction I’ve received was after last week’s piece about some Westwood citizens groups and the self-defeating tactics employed by their leaders.

The column postulated whether Westwood Concern and the Westwood Civic Association only gave lip service to “law and order” but regularly disregarded rules when it suits them and whether it ultimately harms the neighborhood. Incidents include violating the law by trespassing to board up a vacant home and the association selecting as its leader an ex-cop who earlier admitted planting marijuana on suspects and lying to investigators in another case in which a minister was shoved down the stairs.

Several responses disagreed with my take. Some were civil, like John Donaldson’s.

Donaldson wrote, “The city is and has been failing the people of the city. … I’ll tell you what, go over to Liberty (Street) in (Over-the-Rhine), look on the north side around Elm and Liberty. You will see three apartment buildings that have been wide open for years.”

Other e-mails were, well, less so.

An online reader, dubbed “westwoodguy,” felt sexual orientation was somehow relevant to the issue.

The person wrote, “You know what, you need to give up your ‘Ms. Thing’ attitude toward your neighborhood. Try Lisp-syncing ‘I will survive’ and perhaps shooters will Crown you Ms. Pent-up Cincinnati Radical.”

Oh, snap.

Thankfully, other readers — like “Cinco” — helped restore my faith in sanity.

Cinco wrote, “(Those groups) do not speak for the majority of us in Westwood. They’re just the loudest. (Their) tactics reminds me of the Westboro Baptist Church and the hatemongers there.”

Amen, brother.

PORKOPOLIS TIP LINE: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]

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