Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 30, 2012

At what point will we let the anger subside and get back to focusing on issues?

Pugsley, the nearly 200-pound Neapolitan mastiff, lies on the side-porch stoop, his bad mood apparent to all. He has vocalized his ill will to the world for a good half hour, alternating between deep, menacing growls and angry barks.

He’s mad at the noises he hears coming from the high school on the other side of the mountain; cheerful laughs and teenage shrieks that break the tranquility of our rural home. He’s angry at the blue jay squawking from atop the apple tree, the deer roaming quietly — and safely — on the other side of the fence line and the black bear lurking in autumn’s shadows somewhere around our home in the heart of the forest.

Why Pugsley doesn’t like loud teens, birds, bears and deer is a mystery. He’s had no bad encounters with these creatures — except for the deer. And those encounters weren’t so much bad, as downright humiliating — the deer watching Pugs’ lumbering form run toward them as fast as possible (which, in dog terms, is pretty slow), before quickly darting across the yard and over the fence. Speed and agility are not strong characteristics of Neapolitan mastiffs.

But bad moods — underscored by growls, grumpiness and gruffness — are something a Neo does exceedingly well. And during this time of year — pre-election campaign season — they seem entirely appropriate.

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If Pugs could type (and read), I imagine he would be an angry blogger, spewing his frustration onto a keyboard and across Internet connections. Perhaps he would be ranting about over-regulation of the pet toy industry (“Free trade! Lower prices! Squeaky toys for all!”), or venting about a lack of oversight of dog food manufacturers (“Keep our kibble free of contaminates!”).

I do not know on which side of the party aisle Pugley’s ideologies fall. Although blue-dog Democrat might seem appropriate due to his species, his fierce belief in individual freedoms (“Why can’t I sleep on the sofa?!”), makes me believe he has GOP tendencies.

Whatever the party, it doesn’t matter. Pugs, on occasion, has one characteristic that fits in with a huge chunk of voters from both parties: a bad mood — and a willingness to share that mood with others.

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On my 18th birthday, I experienced a rite of passage. Staying true to my family’s strong belief in our country’s political process, I drove to the Mercer County Courthouse and registered to vote. At the time, Ronald Reagan was president, “We Are the World” had just been released and mall-chick bangs were an all-too-frequent sight across the nation.

On that March day in 1985, our country was not experiencing any dire turmoil. Here in southern West Virginia, jobless rates and the economy were a topic of conversation (When have they not been a topic of conversation?), but, overall, our country seemed to be existing peacefully — despite differences in political beliefs.

Many of the older relatives in my family were diehard followers of one particular party and stayed true to the straight-ticket vote. But as I grew wiser to the political process I realized that our family’s beliefs were not always in sync with the party affiliated with our voter registration. Election day became a time of tough choices.

Less than five years after registering to vote, I landed the job of Lifestyles editor at the Daily Telegraph and became the newest member of the paper’s editorial board. It was a life-changing event. Having the opportunity to meet candidates one-on-one, ask questions and grill them on issues changed my view on politics and the importance of voters’ roles in shaping the future of our counties, state and nation. I no longer felt an allegiance to one particular party; my vote went to the best man or woman for the job.

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Twenty-some years later, I’m still attending editorial board sessions, and still quizzing candidates on topics of relevance to residents of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. Many things have not changed during these years, including the plethora of candidates who have great sound bites but no substance when it comes to key issues.

Other things have changed greatly, most notably the anger and incivility that now dominates the airwaves and Internet during the campaign season. Thinking back to those kinder, gentler times during the 1980s, I have to ask what led our culture to devolve into an angry, venom-spewing electorate.

What brought us to the point of party-at-all-costs politics? What made us forget the rules of etiquette and polite disagreement our mothers taught us? We are humans, right? The cerebral species with opposable thumbs? We shouldn’t react to elections like dogs fighting over a bone — or Neapolitan mastiffs, still harboring a few anger issues over that whole war dog thing with Alexander the Great a few thousand years ago.

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After 45 minutes of barking I relent and pull out the bag of chicken treats. Pugs’ mood takes a 180-degree turn. My once angry dog is now a cheerful, slobbery, wrinkly bundle of fur. I shake my head while marveling at the change in his disposition.

In the background, I hear a campaign ad airing on TV. Quickly, I grab the clicker and hit the mute button. With more than a month to go until the election, I’m over it — already tired of the mud slinging.

At what point will we let the anger subside and get back to focusing on issues?

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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