Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Whitney Tilson on Damon: Civility urgently needed

Speaking of tone, personal attacks, etc., Mickey Muldoon responds to my response to his blog post (http://edreform.blogspot.com/2011/08/like-it-or-not-matt-damon-has.html):

To Whitney Tilson on Damon: Civility urgently needed

Posted by Mickey Muldoon on August 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm


I wrote a blog post here on Flypaper this week in response to what I'd seen as some unnecessary and unproductive personal jabs at actor Matt Damon, after he gave a brief speech at the Save Our Schools rally in D.C. a few weekends ago. One of the offenders I referenced was Whitney Tilson, who called Damon's speech "hugely dopey and hypocritical."

Now, I have no interest in defending Matt Damon's comments unilaterally. In fact, I don't think he said anything particularly interesting, newsworthy, or novel—as Tilson wrote, his comments were "just a bunch of clichés that could have been (and, in fact, likely were) written by union hacks." I won't disagree.

Moreover, I like Whitney Tilson. I read his email blasts all the time and find most of the content to be extremely informative and effective.

But what I don't like—and I'm pretty passionate about this—is when policy debates turn personal. It happens all the time in Congress—where camaraderie between senators, for example, is a relic of the past, and where even a topic so wonky as paying the bills at the FAA turns into a soap opera of name-calling and finger-pointing. Personal attacks transform healthy debate into bitter partisanship.

And at least in this instance, I wanted to call out Tilson for what I viewed as unnecessary personal attacks against Damon. In his remarks, Damon may have adopted some populist and clichéd rhetoric, but never did he go so far as to call anyone "dopey," "hypocritical," or stupid. That kind of language is the stuff of political stooges and Rovian cynics; not of the intelligent education debate that we desperately need in this country.

So with all due respect, I would urge Tilson to retract his statement on Matt Damon—not because I know or care about Damon (or, for that matter, any of the people who were part of the Save Our Schools rally), but for the sake of more civil, more intelligent, and more productive debate.

And one last thought on the "hypocrite" comment. Tilson called Damon a hypocrite for criticizing charter schools even though he had personally benefited from school choice as a child. Does that make anyone who is a product of school choice (more than 50 percent of all American families, by the way) and has any criticism of the charter-school movement also a hypocrite? If so, I'd encourage him to call Checker Finn a hypocrite to his face. For the sake of debate.

My quick take: I don't think calling someone a hypocrite is an "unnecessary personal attack."  I think anyone who benefitted from school choice as a child, or who practices school choice with his/her own children (usually because of ample money), but who then opposes giving other (poor) parents and kids choices is a hypocrite, and I don't think it's name calling to say so.  As for calling his speech "dopey", ok, maybe I could have said "ill-founded" or "uninformed", but I try to mix up my adjectives a bit and be punchy and entertaining (heaven forbid I be boring!).

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