Last week I sent a copy of my paper to Sarah Palin’s former press secretary asking if he had any comments, since he is mentioned in an unflattering way. He went ballistic. He called me a “scumbag” who is “in the service of evil.” He said he would slap me if he ever saw me, and that in a former age he would have challenged me to a duel. And then, under the heading “Brad Scharlott disgraces your university” he sent that critique of me in an email to all my colleagues in my department. I’m guessing he was used to using strong-arm tactics like that in Alaska.
HS believes this reaction says something substantive about Scharlott’s allegations. Scharlott himself seems to think it has something to do with Alaska. But the weird thing is, I seem to read about these kind of tantrums on a regular enough basis to notice a pattern connected to politics. (Though not regularly enough to recall any specific example. Sorry.)
One advantage of having a blog is that I can express my opinions about other people in terms far less moderate than I would ever use in real life. Because in real life, people of my class and profession do not call each other scumbag. We have thought it about a lot of people. We may sometimes refer to each other in those terms. But directly picking a fight like that? Never mind colleagues; I’ve fought lawsuits with people with more restraint. I don’t want to claim any moral high-ground here: such restraint seems in my own self interest. Verbal escalation seems a way of getting in to serious trouble with no obvious upside.
But I wonder: what is it about a person that causes them to attempt basically junior-high-school level verbal bullying? Is it just a matter of class? Is it the personality type (or T-cell level) of people inclined to go into working politics? Does this kind of vituperation work often enough to make it a viable tactic on a routine basis?
But maybe I’ve just lead a sheltered life?