The fact we’re living in a coarser society is proven every time we venture out to the store, ride public transportation, watch TV, hear hate-talk radio, listen to pre-teens converse with each other or go to a sporting event. I don’t like it. You don’t like it. But it’s there.

Add to that the background of our current deeply divided nation, the bitterness found in our fractured and ineffective congress, a Republican presidential race populated by too many fools saying and doing too many foolish things, a right-wing Hellbent on political “purity” and you have an idea why some people who should be speaking out are afraid to do so.

That became apparent in a story written this week by CNN Senior Producer John Schoen. The headline says it best: “Political rancor stifling economic policy debate.” That news may not be exciting to most people but it is catnip to us political camp followers.

Schoen writes that, while high unemployment and a sluggish economy are the two big political issues of our day, many experts we should be hearing from – economists among them – are reluctant to speak out. And, sometimes, it goes beyond reluctance to outright refusal.

“Because of the political atmosphere and polarization we’ve seen, and the climate of distrust of expertise, economists are leery of … talking about proposal A or B,” said Dr. Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian. “There’s a feeling that you can’t have a needed, healthy intellectual debate over what priorities we need. And that’s essential right now.”

Schoen contacted a number of economists for their insight and was turned down by nearly every one. He noted “One Ivy League professor begged off citing ‘crank e-mails’ that followed an interview he gave on the GOP candidate’s economic proposals. ‘I don’t need that kind of grief,’ he said..”

Then there’s Dr. Michael Frane, head of government studies at the very conservative Heritage Foundation. “The striking thing is you don’t have a Nelson Rockefeller debating a Barry Goldwater. There’s no real broad ideological spectrum in the Republican Party because they’re all very similarly situated comfortably to the right of center.”

I’ve always thought of most economists as people with an impossible task. Any three of them can work from the same set of statistics or circumstances and come up with four scenario’s. They could all be right; they could all be wrong. Still, we voters really have no other place to turn for help understanding matters of the economy. We need some guidance before we mark up our ballots. We need to hear differing, independent views from experts trained in such matters.

So what does it say about our course society, our bitterly divided political parties, the small-minded ideology of a few bringing our national congress to a standstill that some of the voices we need in public discourse are being intimidated and are reluctant to speak for fear of intimidation? What has become of our vaunted acceptance of “freedom of speech” and “expression of differing views/opinions?”

Anyone who publically expresses professional views these days seems to be fair game for every anti-intellectual nut job with access to the Internet. Trust me. I know. So do many others whose professions take them into the public consciousness. The anonymity afforded ideologically-challenged hate-mongers using the Internet and abusing the true intent of talk radio has created an electronic challenge to those speech freedoms and the open exchange of differing ideas. As some of these economists have learned. The hard way.

The legal-but-tragically-wrong insertion of anonymous dollars by the hundreds of millions into our national politics is contributing to this. The well-paid broadcast voices of division get part of the blame. An ill-prepared and too often irresponsible stable of presidential wannabes, lacking basic understanding of the civic structure of this nation, have great responsibility. Those media organizations who prostitute their requirement to “operate in the public interest” share in these changed conditions as well.

When professional voices with something to contribute to the nation’s dialogue are afraid to publically offer their trained opinions because of ridicule and abuse, the coarseness – the incivility – the baseless anonymous criticism have been allowed to go too far.

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