Jim Wallis at God's Politics blog grieves the regrettable nastiness of our current political rhetoric and offers readers a chance to sign a "Covenant for Civility" which I encourage our readers to check out.
Just a few months ago, a deeply concerned, veteran member of Congress called me to express real despair about the alarming level of disrespect, personal attacks, and even hateful rhetoric that was occurring among her colleagues - reflecting a degeneration of public debate in our national culture. This month, another member of Congress called to express real fear about threats of violence he and other elected officials had experienced against themselves and their family members. Political debate, even vigorous debate, is a healthy thing for a democracy; but to question the integrity, patriotism, and even faith of those with whom we disagree is destructive to democratic discourse, and to threaten or even imply the possibility of violence toward those whose politics or worldview differs from ours is a sign of moral danger, and indeed, a sign of democracy's unraveling.
I join with Wallis in lamenting the deplorable ugliness of much of our politics, but if we're going to change it we have to recognize what has engendered it. In my opinion, much of the ugliness is due to the refusal of many on the left to accurately characterize their conservative opposition. The attempt to distort in the public mind exactly what it is that conservatives believe goes back at least to the Robert Bork confirmation hearings in the 1990s and continues through contemporary depictions of the tea-partiers. Those who disagree with liberal philosophy and policy are often disparaged as "extremists" or, worse, "right-wing" extremists. And it goes without saying, of course, that extremists are ipso facto racists, bigots, and homophobes. After a couple of decades of listening to this sort of slander it begins to grow tedious.
One can only endure being called a lout for so long before one realizes that he is conversing with people who are either dishonest or who think only in stereotypes, and at that point dialogue just breaks down. Anyway, here's a little test to see if you fit the description, widely circulated on the left, of a right-wing, racist, bigot, homophobe (RBH) extremist.
You know you are such a creature if:
You believe that the Constitution matters and that it means what it says, not what creative jurists think it should say.
You think that people who come to this country should do so through proper legal channels, that we should control who comes in, and that we should give preference to those who have skills to contribute.
You believe that we should value life and that laws should err on the side of protecting it.
You think it is reckless and foolish to spend excessively more than we have - even if what we spend it on is a good thing - and to burden our children with a mountain of crushing debt.
You want the 47% of the households in this country which don't pay any income taxes to get out of the wagon every now and then and help push.
You believe that the best way to create jobs is to make it easier for businesses to make money and that the worst way is to shackle businesses with high taxes and onerous regulations.
You believe that everyone should be treated equally under the law. There should be no favoritism shown to anyone on the basis of race and that all people in any field of endeavor should be held to the same standard to which we hold those of the majority race.
You believe that the science regarding climate change has been politicized and is far from conclusive, particularly as it concerns both the causes and effects of global warming.
You believe that after thousands of years of settled opinion about marriage we don't need to tinker with it now.
You believe that much of the major media slants toward the political left and that this bias causes them to give a distorted, often unfair, view of politics and policy.
You hold religious convictions which you take seriously and which inform your views on everything else in your life.
You believe that terrorists are not criminals but deadly enemies who should not be accorded the same rights we give American citizens.
You believe that the problems in education are generally exacerbated rather than ameliorated by government bureaucracy.
You believe that the United States has been a force for good in the world, that we should continue to be, and that a necessary condition for remaining so is maintaining a powerful military.
You believe that big, bloated government is like a millstone around a society's neck, and that that government is best which is loath to extend its power unless a clear consensus exists that it is in the common interest to do so.
You believe that people of sound mind and body who are made dependent upon government for their needs and wants are generally hurt more than they are helped.
You take seriously your rights and obligations as a citizen to be involved in the affairs of your government and to hold your representatives accountable for the quality of service they render.
To the extent that you agree with these seventeen characteristics of "right-wing extremists," I'm afraid you are, in the eyes of many in our media and on the political left, a raging, hateful RBH and should be embarrassed to show your face in public.RLC