Indiana State Representative candidate on poor people: “No one has the guts to just let them wither and die”

JohnJohnstonA candidate for Indiana State Representative has found himself at the center of a national firestorm after saying that no political candidate has the “guts” to let poor people “wither and die.

John Johnston is running for State Representative in Indiana’s 10th District, seeking to oust incumbent Chuck Moseley.  Johnston was participating in a discussion in the MAD MAC Facebook Group, and somehow, decided that typing these words were a good idea:

For almost three generations people, in some cases, have been given handouts.   They have been ‘enabled’ so much that their paradigm in life is simply being given the stuff of life, however meager.  What you see is a setting for a life of misery is life to them never-the-less.  No one has the guts to just let them wither and die. No one who wants votes is willing to call a spade a spade. As long as the Dems can get their votes the enabling will continue. The Republicans need their votes and dare not cut the fiscal tether. It is really a political Catch-22.

Johnston would backtrack on his remarks, saying, “I was not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings.  I saw the opportunity to say something. I think a lot of the poor have no way out, and there’s no motivation to improve your position. It’s like training a child, either you enable them or force them out at some point.”  He added that he didn’t support ending programs like welfare or food stamps.

What’s the lesson here? Normally, this is the part where I’d say “Let’s take Mr. Johnston at his word” and go from there.  Here’s the problem: His “clarification” doesn’t clarify anything.  He says he “saw the opportunity to say something.”  Well…duh.  That’s what you do when participating in an online conversation.  Johnston made an absurd statement, one that the vast majority of people disagree with, and then clarified it by saying that he was just saying something.  No kidding.  The lesson here is three-fold, as far as I am concerned:

  1. Don’t say crazy things in a Facebook conversation.
  2. If you say crazy things, make sure to clarify that you didn’t really mean what you say.  Johnston’s follow-up statement makes it sound like he meant exactly what he was saying, though his addendum that he didn’t support ending some safety-net programs is at least a little helpful.
  3. If you are a candidate for office, participate in online political debates with caution.  I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, using social media to discuss and explain your views is a good thing.  But, when participating in a broad-based debate, the conversations have a tendency to go down the rabbit hole.  People make absurd statements and you are forced to engage at a level of craziness that you never would otherwise in order to participate in the conversation.  This is a bad idea for a serious candidate for office.  Calm, rational discussions bout public policy are good.  Debating whether or not poor people should “wither and die” is not.

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