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Columns

Tony Scott: Kifowit made a gaffe, but the social media onslaught was just as bad

Wait... what did she say?

That was my first thought after viewing the video of State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, making a statement on the House floor directed toward outgoing State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard.

The House was debating a measure that had been vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner that would increase the cap on payouts to anyone who sues the state and wins. The legislation, which originally passed the General Assembly last spring, was directed at the families of victims of the Legionella outbreak at a downstate veterans home. The House eventually overrode the governor’s veto.

During the debate, Breen was arguing that the state couldn’t afford to increase the cap on the payouts. Then, Kifowit tried to make a point. And failed.

“I would like to make him a broth of Legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved one, so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting aspirin instead of being properly treated and ultimately die,” Kifowit said.

Well, that was bad.

After a few (failed) attempts at clarifying her remarks, it seemed that she was trying to make the point that those arguing against raising the caps should empathize with the families of veterans and veterans’ spouses who died due to the mismanagement of the veterans home. Which is a very good point to make.

She could have made the point by saying, “I realize this could cost the state a lot of money, but imagine if your family had to go through what these veterans’ families have gone through the past three years.”

That didn’t happen.

Instead, GOP lawmakers seized on the opportunity of Kifowit’s gaffe and expressed their outrage at Kifowit’s statement. Breen took it as a personal threat to his family. State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, said, correctly, that what Kifowit said was “beyond reprehensible.”

“The threat of violence has no place in public discourse. Period. For a member of the General Assembly to explicitly state her personal desire to inflict fatal harm on the family of a colleague is beyond reprehensible,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Both the Illinois GOP and the Kendall County GOP called for Kifowit’s resignation.

Kifowit, quite obviously, made a huge mistake. I don’t know if she has staff to look over her prepared statements and review them. If she does and they did, they failed her big time. If she doesn’t, maybe she should look into hiring someone.

But to ignore the elephant in the room, so to speak, is to make an even bigger mistake. The right has made a cottage industry out of outrage, both faux and real. Politicians in the conservative vein both current and former have made loud, rude and angry the thing to do, including, dare I say, the president of the United States. And yet, there are often no consequences. Life goes on, the news cycle continues to spin, and we wait for the next outburst or gaffe.

Our social media atmosphere is filled with ugliness, day in and day out. Both sides need to be called out on said ugliness.

Will the same politicians who excoriated Kifowit do the same when someone on their side makes despicable, violent statements? Will we see the Democrats who criticize Trump, etc., do the same to one of their own? Will Republicans and social conservatives openly criticize their colleagues who go too far in public and on social media?

And will they be able to criticize their colleagues in a mature way, or will the criticism be worse than the original offense? As an example, look at a few of the responses Kifowit received on her social media channels even after she offered an apology:

There’s this one: “May that room be filled with smoke and you die a painful death. You disrespectful lowlife scumbag POS.”

And another doozy: “You should be drop off in IRAN and watch them f—ing a– rape you. Liberal trash like you is the reason I Voted for TRUMP.”

And yet another still: “I hope your family puts rat poison in your breakfast.”

I wonder if the people who wrote these comments get the irony that they are criticizing someone for vile language using that same vile language?

Probably not. And the cycle keeps on spinning.

• Tony Scott is the news editor for Record Newspapers.

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