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Maintaining perspective

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 27, 2005

In his letter criticizing Mark Roche’s now famous New York Times op-ed piece, Anthony Lauinger chose to quote and focus upon a passage of only 38 words. Three Notre Dame faculty members (Kommers, Hahn and McKenna) have separately taken Lauinger to task for being unfair. They do not seem inclined to defend the passage, but seem to adopt the attitude that a mere dean of a prominent college of arts and letters in a very high-profile essay should be accorded the courtesy of having at least that many ill-chosen words disregarded as inconsistent with the overall theme of his essay.

Lauinger’s critics choose not to quote any of Lauinger’s essay, except for the headline appearing above it (In my experience, including in the writing of this letter, headlines are written by newspaper editors). Thus, readers are left wondering just what words of Lauinger merit the rather harsh judgments of his critics. He “totally misunderstood” (Kommers). “Any cogent appeal that grows out of a sense of passion, conviction, insight, fairness and informed reason deserves respect and evaluation. Most unfortunately Lauinger’s effort fell short of this standard” (Hahn). “What Lauinger engages in is a quintessential example of a general and troublesome development in our country. It is a virus that has infected our civic and political discourse” (Hahn). It “must be described as a devious and inappropriate rhetorical strategy” (McKenna). It shows “to what extremes of misrepresentation the letter writer is willing to go” (McKenna). It “constitutes a tasteless effort and subverts the proper gestures of mourning” (McKenna).

Does it not occur to Kommers, Hahn and McKenna that, just as they think that Lauinger was being unfair to Roche, other readers, with arguably more justification, might think that they are being unfair to Lauinger?

James Rakowskiassociate professorEconomics and Policy StudiesOct. 26