Going too far

One 2008 Nevada initiative petition has died without ever getting started. Plans by the state teachers’ lobby to circulate a ballot petition to raise money for education by raising gambling taxes has been withdrawn after the teachers and the casinos reached an agreement on a joint effort to hike room taxes instead.

This is an encouraging development. Initiative petitions are a terrible way to govern, and they have created more problems than they have solved. It is also encouraging because two interest groups engaged in negotiations and reached an agreement—just the kind of thing our increasingly mean-spirited and gridlocked political system is supposed to do.

But before the teachers’ petition fades into history, there is one more thing that needs to be said.

While the petition was still alive, well heeled opponents were circulating material attacking the measure, both in print and on television. So far, so good. That’s the way the process is supposed to work.

But the television spot went too far.

Sociologists have a term called “the other"—a reference to a propaganda technique of portraying a whole group as separate from the rest of us and then vilifying and demonizing it, turning it into “the other.” This technique has been used on Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, socialists, labor unions, radical thinkers, liberals, dissenters of all kinds and even lines of work, such as trial lawyers. It is an ad hominem technique, an appeal to emotion that is devoid of intellectual honesty. It’s cheap, and it’s hateful, and it’s low.

That’s what the televison spot tried to do to teachers. It used language about how, if voters enacted the measure, money would be taken “out of Nevada’s economy” and put into “the pockets of teachers.”

This notion that the state’s teachers are not a part of Nevada or its economy is offensive. Our teachers come from the ranks of all of us. When a teacher uses her own money to purchase school supplies not covered by the public budget—a happening familiar to all too many teachers—they are a part of our economy. When teachers must take summer jobs, they are a part of our economy.

Teachers are the people in whose care we place our children for a significant part of their lives, and the children are nearly always safe in that care. They are our neighbors, the people who use the same grocery stores and dry cleaners we use. They are active in Nevada’s community groups from YMCAs to animal shelters. They attend the same churches and theaters. They are Nevadans.

The printed matter that attacked the teachers’ petition made it clear that there was a reasonable case to be made against the petition. Opponents should have stopped there instead of going on to portray teachers as aliens in our state. It was they, not the teachers, who were acting unlike Nevadans.