Respectful Insolence

I was disappointed to find an approving link from a fellow ScienceBlogger to this sort of rant by Matt Stoller:

We all know that winning this election is not enough. It’s just not. It’s not even close. This is the most unpopular President we’ve ever had and our opponent is a crazy cancer-ridden dishonest madman. Our nominee should crush this guy.

“Crazy cancer-ridden dishonest madman”? Nice. I wonder if Matt spit out the term “cancer-ridden” with the same amount of contempt and venom while typing as he did when he spit out the terms “crazy,” “dishonest,” and “madman.” I wonder if he thinks “cancer-ridden” is just as bad an insult as the other terms.

As a cancer surgeon, I found that bit about “cancer-ridden madman” to be a truly despicable rhetorical gambit, not to mention irrelevant. John McCain had melanoma. He was successfully treated for it, and has been cancer-free for seven years, making the likelihood of a recurrence very small. Whatever reasons one might have for not wanting him to be President, even if his having survived melanoma is one of them (an aspect of the overall package that, in McCain’s case, I rank pretty darned low on the list of reasons not to vote for him, given the low likelihood of his tumor recurring), using the term “cancer-ridden” as part of a string of disparaging adjectives gives the impression that the vile moron who wrote the above sentence views being a cancer survivor as something to be ashamed of, something on the same order of being dishonest, crazy, or a madman.

And this blogger is not alone. For example, here are some other similar, equally vile, descriptions of John McCain:

Nice to know these bloggers and commenters apparently think that having had cancer makes for a term of disparagement worth throwing in with all the other insults. Yeah, I’ll point out again that I’m a cancer surgeon, and I may be a bit more sensitive about this sort of crap than John Q. Public, but to me it doesn’t matter what you think of John McCain politically or personally. As I’ve said before, I lost my enthusiasm for him after he decided to start kissing up to the religious right in the wake of the election of our current President. What matters to me is that there’s no reason to throw around the term “cancer-ridden” in describing McCain as though it were an insult. Ditto on all the age-based insults as well. Throwing around such rhetoric reveals far more about the bloggers who use the term “cancer-ridden” with the same contempt that they use terms like “cheater,” “madman,” “troll,” and “loon.”

And none of what it reveals is good.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    August 22, 2008

    Orca, you’re completely correct here. Such usage is really not acceptable. That similar language (and worse language) is used by some anti-Obama bloggers and writers is no reason to stoop to their level.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    August 22, 2008

    I noticed that and cringed. I am a McCain hater and there is a LOT negative to say about the guy’s judgment, temperament, knowledge, character and fitness for office (which I sometimes do), but this is not one of those things – I agree with you on this 100%.

  3. #3 KeithB
    August 22, 2008

    But what about this other article that Mad Mike referenced here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2008/08/former_vietnam_pow_on_the_irre.php

    That says that former POW’s have lower life expectancy than the average population?

    Is there any science to back that up?

  4. #4 Keenacat
    August 22, 2008

    This is disgusting. I could rant about how “cancer-ridden” people I take care of during my side job as a nursing help (and those I meet due to being a med student)are mostly ones who learned a good load about humility and how to appreciate life in general, but I won’t.
    Anyone with even the slightest trace of humanity and empathy left doesn’t need ranting to get the point.

  5. #5 Orac
    August 22, 2008

    That says that former POW’s have lower life expectancy than the average population?

    Is there any science to back that up?

    None that I’m aware of. It’s just that guy’s unscientific opinion.

    Using 2004 actuarial tables, I see that the life expectancy of a typical 73 year old male is 11.4 years. There’s no strong reason to suspect that McCain will not fall make it through one term at least if he is elected.

  6. #6 Missy
    August 22, 2008

    Yeah, if that’s the worst they can think of about him, they aren’t really trying.

    Quite a bit of ranting about mental illness there, too. Nice.

  7. #7 Marilyn
    August 22, 2008

    As a breast cancer survivor, I thank you.

    I’m a lawyer, and one of my own siblings recently subjected me to a “joke” that involved a story about running a lawyer over with a truck. Ha ha.

  8. #8 Chris
    August 22, 2008

    And a typical 73 year old male doesn’t own 7 houses and have the best doctors in the country breathing down his neck, so McCain’s odds are probably even better than that.

    It’s the things he will *do* during that term that are good reasons not to vote for him.

  9. #9 Karl
    August 22, 2008

    You said: “I lost my enthusiasm for him after he decided to start kissing up to the religious right in the wake of the election of our current President.”
    So how do you feel about Obama now that he is doing the same thing?
    ” During a campaign stop yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama told the audience that he believes he “can have everlasting life” because Jesus Christ died for his sins.”

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 22, 2008

    Echoing Bora, Missy, Josh, etc. There’s no call for this. Cancer survivors are not off-limits for legtitimate criticism of policy and corruption, but their cancer survival is not a reason to attack them. My mother was a survivor (she died of unrelated illnesses) and she would have made an excellent president.

    I think it far better to call for an investigation into McCain’s ties with Georgia, his inability to understand the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, his lack of economic expertise, his misrepresentation of tax advantage to the wealthy of the Bush administration, his failure to do anything about the corrupt and murderous contractors in Iraq, his failure to stand up to the Bush administration on torture and his inability to relate to the working class.

  11. #11 Orac
    August 22, 2008

    So how do you feel about Obama now that he is doing the same thing?
    ” During a campaign stop yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama told the audience that he believes he “can have everlasting life” because Jesus Christ died for his sins.”

    You’re not a regular reader, are you? :-)

    This is what I thought. Watching Obama supporters come in and try to rationalize how really, truly this wasn’t that bad was alternatingly depressing and hilarious.

  12. #12 Dan
    August 22, 2008

    Having my mother die of melanoma was for me the worst day of my life. She died in her early 40s when I was 21. I now exceed her age, I am 47. She was diagnosed 5 years earlier and was thought to have been successfully treated. After 5 years it reoccurred and she was diagnosed again, 6 months later she was gone. That said, I agree with your post, the main reason I will not vote for McCain is the I see him as Bush Jr. Like PZ Myers I do not like seeing Obama go after the religious right, but I understand his reason for doing so.

  13. #13 D. C. Sessions
    August 22, 2008

    So how do you feel about Obama now that he is doing the same thing?
    ” During a campaign stop yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama told the audience that he believes he “can have everlasting life” because Jesus Christ died for his sins.”

    Doesn’t bother me in the least — what bothers me is when office-holders decide that it’s part of their jobs to underwrite my “everlasting life.” Or their own, by sacrificing me.

  14. #14 Sid Schwab
    August 22, 2008

    It’s interesting that so many used the term “cancer-ridden.” Just like “elitist” (among others) on the other side.

    Of late, McCain’s mouthpieces have taken to using his POW years as justification for every gaffe, every flaw. For that reason, I’d say that’s a legitimate subject for exploration. And more fertile.

    As quick as shrinks of every stripe are to appear as talking heads to analyze from afar any criminal, any strange actor (in the sense of one who acts strangely), I’m surprised that none has floated any theories about McCain’s hair trigger, bellicosity, anger, black and white thinking, even his evident diminished memory, as they relate to his years in Hanoi. (I have a few thoughts, but in deference to Orac, I’ll keep them to myself.) That experience seems to insulate him from any questions, and has been a large part of the free pass he’s been given by the press for his whole career. And yet in my mind it ought to raise red flags. Much more than a history of melanoma or speculation about what’s going on in his left parotid gland.

  15. #15 a lurker
    August 22, 2008

    You said: “I lost my enthusiasm for him after he decided to start kissing up to the religious right in the wake of the election of our current President.”
    So how do you feel about Obama now that he is doing the same thing?
    ” During a campaign stop yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama told the audience that he believes he “can have everlasting life” because Jesus Christ died for his sins.”

    Wow. I can name 42 presidents who given at least lip service to religious belief. That statement is nothing more than elaborate way of saying he is a Christian. If that is all Obama said or done then I would have no problem whatsoever as lip service is meaningless.

    Orac is of course correct in pointing out that Obama’s proposal for faith-based programs is rather disappointing.

    However we can’t forget that it is nothing compared with what McCain would do. Also the justices that Obama is likely to nominate for the Supreme Court are unlikely to allow it (and I suspect Obama knows it). It is a bit of pandering. Regrettably, it is impossible to become president if you pander to no one.

  16. #16 IBY
    August 22, 2008

    I am not a Mc Cain fan, but I agree that using “cancer ridden” as if it was some kind of insult is unacceptable. I don’t know why people write that as if getting the disease is something to be ashamed of. It is not like people ask for it.

  17. #17 Karl
    August 22, 2008

    Orac:
    You said: “You’re not a regular reader, are you? :-)

    This is what I thought. Watching Obama supporters come in and try to rationalize how really, truly this wasn’t that bad was alternatingly depressing and hilarious.”

    Even if I were a regular reader, I’m not a very good rememberer.

    I followed the link and reread that blog and all the comments.
    I think my point goes beyond FBI. I am now concerned about naked religiosity – even more am I concerned about naked Christianity.
    As an atheist, and a member of AU and a board member of ACLU-Oklahoma, I am extremely distressed that campaigning for President of the United States now consists of trying to show one’s credentials as a “true” Christian.
    It is as if Article VI no longer exists. And, if the President can ignore that, he may feel that he can ignore anything else he dislikes in the Constitution.

  18. #18 JThompson
    August 22, 2008

    “Crazy cancer-ridden dishonest madman” sounds an awful lot like something Rush Limbaugh would say.
    Tossing “cancer-ridden” into an insult pretty much brings the person doing the insulting down to his level.
    A level no one should want to be on.

  19. #19 travc
    August 22, 2008

    Agreed. Drop the ‘cancer-ridden’ and replace with something like ‘not in the best of health’. Doesn’t have the same rhetorical cadence, but makes the actual relevant point much more accurately.

  20. #20 Alan Kellogg
    August 22, 2008

    For those of you worried about McCain’s life span, keep in mind that his mother is still alive, and active.

    Obama and McCain are products of their environment and upbringing. They are also politicians, which is another method of crippling a person’s ethos society uses. Politics is an example of how harmful mutations can come to dominate when there is nothing that can take advantage of the weaknesses.

    No history of cancer in my family. There is a history of mental illness, and I may have another condition I’ll be looking into (it’s amazing what you miss when you think of it as being something other people have.) I have known people with cancer, and just recently was taken along as a couple of bloggers wrote about their experiences with colon cancer.

    Demonizing the cancer victim is vile and stupid. It further shows me that the person in question cannot be trusted, and is best avoided if at all possible. If that is not possible, then I recommend going armed at all times, and what ever weapon one chooses, having a good grounding in it.

    Yes, there are bastards in all walks of life, even in fields that do good all in all. Remember the Geek Fallacies, and don’t be afraid to apply their lessons.

  21. #21 anonimouse
    August 22, 2008

    I certainly don’t think we should call McCain “cancer-ridden”. But I still think it’s ok to call him crazy like Anne Heche.

  22. #22 mandrake
    August 23, 2008

    I’m assuming that what they’re doing is using “cancer-ridden” as an emotionally-laden way of saying “gonna die soon” or “is going to be in such poor health that he will be unable to run the country effectively.” They’re using the adjective “old” in the same way, and “old” shouldn’t be a slur either. It’s not implying that cancer victims are ethically suspect, it’s just an easy way to evoke the fear of premature death. McCain’s statistically probably more likely to die of heart disease, but “clogged-artery-ridden” doesn’t have the same ring.

  23. #23 Dawn
    August 23, 2008

    What ever happened to getting a president in for all of the right reasons – the things that the people care about? The presidential election is a total joke! It is not about being a good candidate, but whoever doesn’t run out of money in the end!

  24. #24 storkdok
    August 23, 2008

    Cancer-ridden madman? Sounds like they are getting desperate to use a stupid statement like that.

    Orac, my dad was a GYN oncologist. I take my hat off to all of you cancer surgeons!

  25. #25 Dawn
    August 23, 2008

    O.k. storkdok…does that mean that you are kissing Orac’s butt or just making a statement? “Cause right now in my book, Orac is a jerk” who does not deserve any recognition.

  26. #26 Jen
    August 23, 2008

    Thanks. I’m not a McCain fan and wouldn’t vote for him (although I’m Canadian, so it really doesn’t matter), but language does matter. I’m incredibly proud of my 12 year old, cancer survivor daughter, and my mom’s battle with melanoma lasted 14 years which she lived with grace, joy, and dignity.

    Anyone who thinks that “cancer-ridden” is an insult should look a bit more closely.

  27. #27 The Ridger
    August 23, 2008

    A candidate celebrating his religion is not the same thing as a candidate being required to be religious. THAT would be violating the Constitution. This “I ain’t votin’ for no atheist” feeling has been around a long damn time, and it’s no surprise that candidates will try to appeal to that demographic; it’s huge. The worry is what they do beyond talk.

    And like much else about Obama, it takes a seat in a bus four states away from anything about McCain…

  28. #28 The Ridger
    August 23, 2008

    ps – isn’t “crazy madman” a bit redundant?

  29. #29 penn
    August 23, 2008

    Stoller has responded here. His main point at the time was about McCain not releasing his full medical records like he did in 2000. He thinks that McCain is hiding something.

    Also, McCain himself has talked about running for only 1 term, so he his opening up questions about his fitness to serve long term. If you don’t think you can make it eight years, why should we think you are up to the first four?

    Finally, isn’t there are great deal of evidence based medical research to show mental decline with age? Why should age be out-of-bounds?

  30. #30 Heraldblog
    August 23, 2008

    ” During a campaign stop yesterday in Greensboro, North Carolina, Senator Obama told the audience that he believes he “can have everlasting life” because Jesus Christ died for his sins.”

    That’s mainstream view among the majority of Americans that doesn’t depend on hatred or bigotry for its affect. Now if Obama said “I can have everlasting life because I’m not a Muslim,” then he would be a Republican.

  31. #31 Harry Eagar
    August 23, 2008

    ‘That says that former POW’s have lower life expectancy than the average population?’

    Notoriously the case for Americans held prisoner by the Japanese. See Gavan Daws, ‘Prisoners of the Japanese.’

    However, if McCain was going to die prematurely because of abuse in captivity, he’d have done it already.

  32. #32 Orac
    August 23, 2008

    Stoller has responded here. His main point at the time was about McCain not releasing his full medical records like he did in 2000. He thinks that McCain is hiding something.

    Oh. My. God. Stoller’s so full of shit that he burps farts.

    He utterly missed my point, quote-mined me as much as he accused me of quote-mining him, attacked a huge straw man, and threw in a couple of really dumb additional statements as well (that bit on global warming was truly brain dead). Hell, he willfully ignored my point. Even some of his commenters are pointing out how dumb his response was, which is nice to see.

    Too bad I don’t have time to give him the response he deserves today. Maybe tomorrow or Monday. Almost definitely tomorrow or Monday. In the meantime I have more important things to do. Like mow my lawn.

  33. #33 Dianne
    August 23, 2008

    McCain’s history of melanoma could be relevant. For example, if he is one of the unlucky minority of people who have late recurrences, it would be important to know that. (Not that he might not be able serve his term anyway: cures of recurrent melanoma are rare but possible, depending on the site and extent of disease). If he had a recurrence or a second melanoma, and is again apparently cancer-free, it would be important to know that as well, primarily for what it says about his character that he should hide relevant information. But “cancer ridden” as an insult–and an insult to someone who is probably cancer-free? Yech!

  34. #34 penn
    August 23, 2008

    I want to clarify that I agree with your specific criticism about the use of “cancer-ridden” in a string of insults.

    I do think McCain’s fitness and age are open to questioning, however.

  35. #35 Aldi
    August 23, 2008

    Sadly, the general ScienceBlogs atmosphere openly encourages such hateful language, as long as the object of the venom is a Known Republican. That alone makes me come around to SB a lot less often than I otherwise would.

    Too much P, not enough S, in other words.

  36. #36 Tatarize
    August 23, 2008

    the comment was in bad taste.

    Though, he hasn’t been cancer free for 7 years. He actually had it as late as a year or so ago. After his medical records were made “public” for a few hours before a long weekend.

  37. #37 Dianne
    August 23, 2008

    Sadly, the general ScienceBlogs atmosphere openly encourages such hateful language, as long as the object of the venom is a Known Republican.

    Scratching head vaguely over this since Orac is, or at least until recently was, a Republican himself.

  38. #38 Green Eagle
    August 23, 2008

    “a crazy cancer-ridden dishonest madman….”

    I guess the cancer-ridden part was hitting below the belt, but I hope you don’t have any problem with the crazy dishonest madman part. That seemed pretty much on the mark to me.

  39. #39 Jim Lippard
    August 23, 2008

    I’ve previously called out Matt Stoller for explicitly advocating demonization of his opponents at the YearlyKos in 2006.

  40. #40 Orac
    August 23, 2008

    Oh, I plan on responding to Stoller’s idiotic response (unless something else catches my interst. I just don’t feel like doing it tonight. Instead, I’ll probably kick back with a nice beer and watch a movie. Even a manic blogger like myself needs a rest from time to time.

    But thanks for some ammunition. :-)

  41. #41 Alan Kellogg
    August 24, 2008

    Orac, would you say that Stoller is so full of shit he pees brown?

  42. #42 Edmund
    August 24, 2008

    This is all so gay.

  43. #43 Keenacat
    August 24, 2008

    That response hit me pretty hard… So presidential candidates have to make their medical records avaliable to the PUBLIC?? Really? WTF?
    *left speechless*
    What else? Are they required to, say, publish a photo of their genitalia or something?
    Medical records are SO personal.
    At least, this guy is grown up. So I would assume he’s at least capable of taking his own health into consideration when running for such an office.

  44. #44 SLC
    August 24, 2008

    Re Keenacat

    Contrary to Mr. Kennacats’ claim, the public is entitled to have all the information about a candidates medical condition.

    1. Let us recall that President Roosevelts’ condition in 1944 was hidden from the public when photographs taken at the time demonstrate that he was in no condition to exercise the office and, in fact, his physicians were well aware that he, in all likelihood, would not survive to complete his 4th term in office.

    2. Similarly, President Kennedys’ medical condition should have been made public. He not only was afflicted with Addisons’ Disease but was also subject to severe back problems which required large doses of pain-killing drugs, delivered by a feel good physician which could very well have affected his judgment.

    3. President Nixon, during the Watergate scandal, was observed to be drinking heavily. This was a serious concern to his aides because he was notorious for not being able to hold his liquor.

    When somebody will have his finger on the button, we are entitled to know everything about his medical condition and that includes both Senator McCain and Senator Obama. Even though the latter is only 46 years old, given the experience with President Kennedy, who was even younger, we cannot assume that he is totally healthy.

  45. #45 Keenacat
    August 24, 2008

    Well…
    I understand fully that the public wants to know if someone is physically capable to hold such an office. As far as this is concerned, I understand that its necessary to publish such conditions. But in most cases, medical records contain a whole lot of diagnoses that are completely irrelevant concerning this point.
    What if such a person had contracted a STD like gonorrhoea or had experienced an episode of a major depression in the past? This is completely irrelevant to the question of physical capability but could be used for some serious smear campaigns.
    Is it really of public interest if a presidential candidate had, say, a colonoscopy following the finding of blood in his faeces? This provides no useful information, in a best case scenario, it only embarrasses the person in question. In a worst case scenario, someone could make up colorectal cancer claims. Back to the “cancer-ridden madman”.

    See, I was born and raised in a land that is obsessed with private sphere. I simply did not anticipate the possibility of such extensive invasion into someones privacy.
    So I learned something new today.
    Consider it my personal opinion that absolutely nobody regardless of what he is and does should be exposed in this extensive way. Publishing the whole medical records to a billion people, gosh!

  46. #46 SLC
    August 24, 2008

    Re Keenacat

    As President Truman said it well, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Where would Ms. Keenacat draw the line as to what parts of a candidates medical history should be off the record? Somehow, given the past experience with previous presidents (let’s don’t forget President George Herbert Walker Bush who, apparently, required doses of halcion to sleep at night), I don’t trust them to decide what information is relevant and what isn’t.

  47. #47 Keenacat
    August 24, 2008

    I had a second thought on what I said and I came to a conclusion that would suit my internal ethics most.
    When I started attending med school classes that involved handling patients and when I started my side job as a nursing help, I was required to attend the medical officer of my university and the medical officer of the clinic I started to work at. They did a check up and a substantial medical history. Then they filled in a form stating there were no medical concerns against employing me.

    Why won’t we simply require candidates for whatever office to attend a medical officer who’s capable of examining their physical fitness and of deciding whether they should be allowed to run for office? There would be no need to expose the whole medical history to a public that consists mostly of people with no or very few medical skills and therefore lack the ability to decide wether a candidate is healthy enough to run for office.

    This should be sufficient if health is the only concern. But many people seem to make points out of medical records that have no bearing on health but merely on demonization.

  48. #48 TomJoe
    August 25, 2008

    Matt Stoller is an idiot.

  49. #49 Paul Murray
    August 25, 2008

    Yes, it’s dispicable. I would suggest that “cancer-ridden” is a codeword intended to mean “old”.

    Beats me why the author thinks that one is acceptable when the other is not – seems to me that accusing the candidate of being “old” is actually relevant. Remember Ronald Reagan?

    Come to think of it … not being a medical professional, when I think cancer, I think cigarette. Smelly, dirty, unfashionable (isn’t everyone trying to quit, these days?), … and a variety of other cognates. So maybe the author is trying to hook into those themes.

  50. #50 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2008

    A belated and safely ignorable comment, but one I can’t resist: what does Orac (or anybody else here with an oncological background) think of this?

    Last week, when I got the letter from Robert Greenwald talking about John McCain’s refusal to release his medical records to fair scrutiny, the fact that there are 1,000 pages of them (I create medical records for a living, 1,000 pages is EXTREME), and the news that he has had malignant melanoma, deep primaries with removal of lymph nodes, my immediate thought was “Then he’s dying.” If he were to be elected, he’d have an almost 2 out of 3 chance of having a recurrence if he doesn’t have one already. This is not the kind of cancer you count on escaping from. This is not Stage II, as it has been reported: Stage II by definition does not have lymph node involvement. By definition, it must be either Stage III or Stage IV.

  51. #51 Orac
    September 20, 2008

    The guy has no clue what he’s talking about. He also references Matt Stoller, who is an equally clueless idiot. For one thing, he’s dumb enough to conclude that because he had lymph nodes removed McCain must have had lymph node involvement. He did not. The staging was accurate, and this guy is a moron.

    It’s highly tempting to go back into the breach against the this guy and the ever-vile Matt Stoller. If you read today’s post, you know I probably won’t vote for McCain and have lost pretty much all the respect I used to have for him, but this cancer idiocy coming from some left wing morons is really starting to irritate me.

  52. #52 HCN
    September 20, 2008

    It also annoys me, and I am clueless about cancer stuff!

    Actually, I was going to give McCain the benefit of doubt based on his past record. I do not care about the party, but about the person (note I cheered when the Supreme Court ruled for the new “Top-Two Primary” our state has, even though a college friend argued against it!). That sentiment changed with choice for VP (are there not any other competent conservative women in this country?).

    By the way, I was a Republican until Pat Buchanan decided to run for president. I was very annoyed at his supporters who showed up in our house for the neighborhood Republican caucus meeting that we hosted.

    When I get phone calls from either party I am tempted to just tell them what to do with the nether regions of their anatomy. I just tell them I refuse to participate in political surveys.

  53. #53 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2008

    Thanks for the correction/clarification!