Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming
In September, 2012, I became a regular conservative voice on the PennLive/Patriot-News Opinion page. If readers’ validations are writers’ rewards, in two years, I’ve become wealthy indeed.
Positive feedback is gratifying, but so can be emails from civil critics, one of whom wrote, reluctantly, "Not bad… I (almost) agreed with some of that one."
One letter to the editor made my day: "Oh where is Santa? All I wanted for Christmas was to see Jerry Shenk disappear from the Patriot News opinion page. But on Dec. 26…there he was again…"
You know you’re over the target when you’re taking fire – and I do.
But angry emails, largely incoherent, sometimes vulgar, even vicious personal attacks unsubstantiated by honest readings of the material, often underscore the points and unwittingly validate the content of columns critics dislike.
I’ve written that the American left has debased public discourse by substituting insults for argument, that "…one cannot question liberal orthodoxy in America today without consequences," and concluded: "Though they are never at a loss for words, the American left is effectively out of arguments. The manner in which they respond to simple disagreement is the proof of it."
Critics who imagine that nasty e-mails settle disagreements never make real arguments. Those who demand "fairness" show none. And attempts to bully a conservative voice into silence complete a perfect Trifecta of underachievement.
Although commitments to oft-alleged colleagues – the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch, Darth Cheney, et al – limit my time, I answer emails, usually respectfully.
But, despising gratuitous malevolence, I sometimes disregard perfect civility, mostly in response to baseless, objectionable accusations of "racism."
One reader demanded, "Why not just … say what you mean — Communists! Socialists!" I responded: "Thank you for your interest in my column… [h]owever, from your email, it’s difficult to tell whether you agree or disagree with its content."
This was memorable (unedited): "Jerry,Jerry,Jerry you stupid jerk how dare you even to in your stupid corrupted rant even to allude to 9/11." My reply: "There’s nothing about 9/11 in the article. Where did you learn to read — the same place that failed to teach you…manners?"
So was this: "That stink you smell is your own brain rot, nitwit." That one stumped me.
Concluding a dose of condescending, marginally-insulting prolixity, one correspondent speculated: "I’m sure you have something intelligent to say. Give it a shot." I’ve since fired about thirty additional "shots" – and counting.
Answering one writer who countered criticism of the president by inviting commentary on his predecessor and, later, Congress, I wrote: "Normally I wouldn’t respond a second time to a reader…who is clearly hostile for no apparent reason, but your last email — a second attempt to change the subject — made me laugh. Thanks…"
After denouncing one column at length, a writer concluded: "We are probably closer in our thinking on most issues." Color me skeptical.
A self-identified liberal female academic "read" an emoticon into something I wrote and warned me against doing that as "…unbecoming of someone your age." I replied:
One astonished emailer shouted: "HOW IN THE HE[CK] DID YOU SNEAK THAT ONE PAST MICEK?" My response: "I credit [Opinion Editor] John Micek for encouraging…content which crosses…the political spectrum. Perhaps I appeal to John’s left-wing sense of anarchy."
E-mail reactions usually run heavily in favor, but two columns stood out.
The first was entitled "Who will stand up for the Old White Man?"
The lead: "Sure, most of us vote ‘wrong,’ but when and how did peace-loving, law-abiding, elderly, white, conservative, heterosexual males become politically disreputable?"
That column was linked, reprinted, and netted emails from as far away as Montana, Alaska and California – all positive.
The other was linked to or reprinted by other outlets and elicited dozens of emails, all but three of which, surprisingly, contained the words "thanks" or "thank you."
In it, no value judgment was made about the central subject’s personal opinions. It only defended his right to express them, and inquired "How "hurtful" can a reality show, off-camera, Corinthians-quoting duck hunter really be?"
It’s deplorable that aggressive left-wing cultural activists have so intimidated them that decent Americans are moved to express gratitude when someone writes something they themselves are afraid to express.
That’s just one more reason to keep writing…