Editor's Column

"The superintendent is a moron. The county commissioner is an unethical liar. The folks who support hot lunches in schools are socialists. And you, my friend, are an idiot.Sound familiar? If you read letters to the editor in the Whidbey News-Times, you've probably seen this approach to public discourse.I've worked at newspapers in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, and I still find myself startled by the venomous nature of some letters to the editor that come to the Whidbey News-Times. Many North and Central Whidbey residents get hot about the collar when they sit down with a pen in hand.The issues that spark this intensity most often are taxes and the role of government. More specifically, the nastiest debate revolves around the Oak Harbor School District's request for a levy. Even more specifically, the debate gets really mean over hot lunches.That's right, hot lunches.On the one hand you've got letter writers who think parents should feed their own kids and who see hot lunches as the worst example of government playing a role it has no business playing. On the other, you've got letter writers who accuse the anti-hot lunch crowd of being the ultimate Grinches, depriving young children of their nutritional needs.The debate itself is fine. That's what the opinion page of a newspaper is all about, and I say let it rip.I would like to state a personal preference here, however. How about we let our opinions rip, but not rip each other?I'm referring to the personal nature of some of the letters that appear on these pages. For example, one letter writer supports hot lunches, another doesn't; the first writer accuses the second of being a greedy social security-sucking hypocrite, the second accuses the first of being a Clintonian socialist. And on and on.A letter writer in today's Whidbey News-Times, G.M. DiLabio of Coupeville, addresses the issue eloquently:In this season of peace and goodwill toward all, I am prompted to comment on the lack of civility demonstrated by some writers published in the letters to the editors in this newspaper, DiLabio writes. Personal attacks seem to characterize too many letters and, of course, detract attention from the issues the writers address.Well said.So if we're going to focus on our opinions, here's mine on hot lunches: It's an embarrassment that this community doesn't provide them for its school kids.Local hot lunch opponents may be surprised to know they're already paying taxes to support this program. Because America is a democracy in which the majority rules, and because the majority in this country supports providing hot lunches for school children, the federal government and Washington state both contribute to school districts which provide hot lunches. This comes in the form of grants, low-cost food and reimbursements. The hot lunch levy Oak Harbor voters will face this spring would only pay for the custodial services and staffing to run a hot lunch program. It makes sense to me to spend this local money so we can partake in the pool of state and federal hot lunch money - a pool that we're already contributing to.If you disagree with me, go ahead and rip my opinion. Just don't rip me, thanks. "

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