I want to endorse the need to presume good intentions in others and to be a bit slower in taking offense. Two years ago, a brilliant philosopher wrote in this space about my own favorite example of faux outrage on the campaign trail:

Readers may remember New York’s Al D’Amato, a.k.a. Senator Pothole. As the honorific implied, D’Amato excelled at constituency service. The somewhat unfair rap went: If you need a lecture, visit Moynihan. If you need a traffic light fixed, visit D’Amato, Our hometown Jewish Old Age home had a nice plaque thanking him for some timely help. So did dozens of other places around town. D’Amato was always on the sleazy side. He had various brushes with prosecutors and ethics types. He would not have fared well in anybody’s crusade against earmarks. To D’Amato earmarks, were kindof the point. Of course he inhaled.

Al also tended to the salty side. (This eventually landed him in hot water. In 1995, he got on the Imus show and mocked Judge Ito in a cheesy fake Japanese accent.) To anyone who followed politics, it was side-splitting watching him react when his hapless 1992 opponent Robert Abrams called him a fascist. D’Amato pretended to cry, choosing to interpret Abrams’ comments as a slur against Italians. I wish Youtube were around to record it. Jon Stewart couldn’t script it better.

American politics is filled with examples of faux outrage that make you wonder how the people feigning personal outrage manage to keep a straight face while they do it. Even when one is not feigning outrage, I wish people would holster their rhetorical blunderbuss (sorry for the dreadful metaphor) once in awhile to make possible more civil discourse.

At least people should wait until they’re genuinely offended. Can we at least agree not to fake greater outrage than we actually feel to sound the alarm here?

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.