Gauthier: Fine reason to whine

Deborah E. Gauthier

It's distressing, sometimes, to read responses to my columns, especially those I've written on the war and the economy. One gentleman has, on a couple of occasions, called me a "whiner."

It's not whining. It's empathy for those who, through no fault of their own, have little or nothing to fall back on when disaster calls. In particular, I have empathy for the children in those families.

For most of us, the journey through life is filled with bumps and bruises, and I don't think we'd enjoy the good times as much if we didn't also experience the bad. Those bad times, however, should never, in this rich country, lead to hunger and homelessness.

But it does.

I suppose that, for some, there's a fine line between an opinion and a whine. If my observations are, in the mind of the above gentleman, a "whine," so be it. At least his comments have been respectful, and I know his name. Unfortunately, not all responses are courteous. Empathy and respect for the opinion of others seems to be in short supply.

Perhaps that's because so much of the opinion we now share is anonymous. It takes an act of courage to claim an opinion, particularly if it involves a controversial topic such as immigration, Iraq and politics.

For years, this newspaper has featured a column called "Speakout" in which callers are asked only for their initials and hometown as identification. And with our new Web site, readers can anonymously comment on every story, column and letter posted on that site. Some of the comments are alarming, belittling and degrading, some - obvious lies or profane - are taken down.

And it's not limited to the Web.

A caller to a radio talk show on Saturday suggested that all "liberals" are "whiners." The show's host agreed and then played short sound bites of speeches given by Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Over and over again, I heard mostly Obama and sometimes Clinton say, "It's not fair" and the show's host repeated the phrase in a tone of voice more common in kindergarten. "It's not fair. It's not fair," she whined, mocking and degrading the candidates.

She never put those "It's not fair" statements into context, and she should have, because certain things challenging U.S. families today aren't fair.

Is isn't fair that CEOs earn millions of dollars a year while their employees struggle on wages that don't come close to meeting basic needs.

It isn't fair that stockholders of major corporations receive high dividends while employees of those corporations are told health care benefits will end.

It isn't fair that corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes.

It isn't fair that colleges sock away, for a "rainy day," donations totaling billions of dollars while the cost of a college diploma doubles.

It isn't fair that federal legislation can mandate state policy without backing up that mandate with funding.

It isn't fair that our elderly, after working their entire lives, are bankrupted by taxes and medical costs.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain says the government should stay out of it, thereby allowing each American to reach their full potential. How in the world can a child who is hungry or a student who knows college is financially beyond his or her grasp reach their full potential?

They can't. Not without our help. That's not a whine. It's a fact.

There are inequities in this world beyond our control, but without economic and social programs to soften some of the blows, we'll see hope sucked right out of life. Is that what we want?

"Liberal" has become a dirty word. But think about this. Without liberal, progressive thinking, women wouldn't be allowed to vote and blacks would still be slaves.

And that wouldn't be fair.

Disagree with me? Fine. Let me know. Courteously. And maybe if enough people who disagree discuss the issues with respect for one another, we'll find a compromise that moves every American forward.

I'd call that democracy.

Deb Gauthier can be reached at

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