Written by Jeff Johnson on October 9, 2011. Posted in General

If you can’t say something nice…

I had a chance on a couple of occasions to speak to the Midwest Leadership Conference this weekend – a tremendous gathering in Bloomington of about 800 Republican activists from all over the Midwest.  On one of those occasions, I referred to the Occupy Minnesota protests being held at the Hennepin County Government Center – my workplace – and made the following unscripted remark (as hastily reported by both the Star Tribune and MPR):

“Because of you, I don’t have to spend my Friday afternoon with 1,000 or so clueless, obnoxious and frankly, very messy anarchists, socialists, flower children … or whatever they call themselves. Instead, I get to spend my Friday with 1,000 or so patriots.”

Some might argue it was not my best moment (and I would have to agree).

I made the comment off-the-cuff in a joking way to a group of conservative activists. And while it was not meant for public consumption, when I read it in print later it certainly came off as rather mean and obnoxious (to use my own term).

I try to teach my two boys not to live their lives in different “boxes” where they act one way in one setting and completely differently in another – maybe saying something to friends or on Facebook that they wouldn’t think of saying at home or in church. Obviously, I wasn’t practicing what I preach as I wouldn’t have used terms like that, even in jest, in any other public setting.

Now, let me say, I have read what are purported to be some of the “demands” of the Occupy Wall Street crowd – which is the genesis of the Occupy Minnesota crowd – and I couldn’t more vehemently disagree with many of them (universal government healthcare, free college education for all, completely open borders, trillions in new spending, elimination of secret ballot votes in union organizing campaigns, etc).  And I frankly get very annoyed at the propensity of some to blame our greatest problems on the free market or successful businessmen and women rather than on government policies and the politicians who have gotten us into this massive mess.

Nonetheless, going for a little cheap applause by calling people names isn’t the way to respond.

I’m never afraid to take on anyone’s argument when I disagree – and that will never change – but I have always tried to keep political disagreements from turning personal and have worked hard to listen to and work with those whose views might be quite different from mine.  I probably didn’t represent that philosophy very well on this one.

I haven’t received much response from the media coverage – just a handful of emails.  Some have been thoughtful and reasonable, others have been rather vulgar and profane.  I intend to spend a little time on the Government Center plaza on Monday if the protestors are still around (as I had intended to do all along).  I’m truly curious to find out what it is these folks want ?  Based on the interviews I’ve seen from New York and D.C., I’m pretty sure we’ll have fundamental disagreements about what is right for America. In fact, it’s quite possible I will talk with some protestors I would deem to be socialists … or anarchists … or flower children.

But I’ll keep that assessment to myself this time.

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