Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Good and Evil

David Kahane diagnoses the real reason why there's so little civility in our politics. Conservative troglodytes simply won't submit to their liberal betters and yield to their higher wisdom and goodness. Addressing his epistle to the benighted right, Kahane, who, in case you can't tell, is actually being facetious, opens with this (pardon the language):
His Exalted Majesty Barack Hussein Obama II, Lord of the Flies, Keeper of the Hoops, and Protector of the Holy Cities of Honolulu and Chicago, is right. It’s time for a new tone. A kinder, gentler tone, just like the one Daddy Bush was talking about right around the time he tried to upend Saddam Hussein back in the day. A tone of sweet reasonableness, of civility in the way we interact with each other, an Athenian level of discourse that would make Pericles proud.

If only you bastards would let us do it.

Taking my cue from such exemplars as Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, I’m talking about a whole new way to look at political speech, one that combines First Amendment protections — which of course we could not possibly respect more — with a living-and-breathing constitutional view that above all prizes personal responsibility for public utterances, lest some wingnut loon or right-wing goon be driven into a homicidal fit of rage by Sarah Palin’s recipe for moose stew.

In other words, shut the hell up.
The rest of his column is pretty good. Give it a read. Meanwhile, savor the irony of Chris Matthews berating conservatives for an entire segment of his show for their lack of civility then in the next segment slurring tea-partiers with the much-cherished "nazi" insinuation.

I should point out that there's nothing wrong, at least in my opinion, with calling someone a nazi, or a racist, or a liar provided one offers solid evidence to support the charge. If the allegation is made without giving any explanation as to why the charge is justified then the claim is irresponsible, uncivil, and detestable. If one engages in such behavior while at the same time criticizing others for doing the same thing then that individual is either risibly inconsistent or, if consciously aware of what he or she is doing, shamefully hypocritical.

People like Matthews seem to do this a lot, but I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that I don't think they're aware of it. It's just that they have, or seem to have, a subconscious conviction that the political right is inherently evil and the left is inherently good. Some liberals see everything within this interpretive matrix, and without even thinking about what they're saying they just assume, without the need for evidence even faintly occurring to them, that anyone who is upset with liberal economic and social policies must have evil motives, if not be completely racist or sympathetic to nazi ideology.

Let's not be afraid to call things as they are, but if doing so is unflattering or insulting then we have an obligation to justify the charge. Otherwise it's just childish name-calling.

Inciting Violence

Liberals are rightly upset by an article in a conservative magazine in which a prominent tea party leader declares that in order to bring about real change tea party members should resort to violent riots:
“Local protests have to accumulate and spread — and become more disruptive — to create pressures on national politicians. An effective movement of the Tea Party will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece. . . .”
Liberal opinion shapers are pointing out that since the riots in Greece have been violent, and people have died, the Tea Party is inciting violence and should be condemned by all Americans along the entire length of the political spectrum. Such recommendations coming from prominent leaders are incredibly irresponsible, it is justly noted, and will lead us down the path to social chaos. The tea party will have blood on its hands.

We can all agree that good, sensible people should condemn this kind of rhetoric and dissociate themselves from anyone who utters it. Encouraging violent protest has no place in our politics nor in our country.

Sadly, though, liberals haven't shown much evidence that they're actually upset by the call for violence, perhaps because it didn't appear in a conservative magazine, and it wasn't a tea party spokesperson who uttered those words. They were spoken by Francis Fox Piven, an editor at the leftist magazine The Nation in an editorial on December 10th of last year. The quote is accurate except that she used the word "unemployed" where I substituted "Tea Party".

Piven is a leading socialist intellectual who has been said to have been influential on President Obama's political development. Since Piven is a lefty, though, the media has been pretty quiet about her call to emulate the riots in Greece. Somehow the call for violent riots, a call that would be loudly, energetically, and correctly condemned if it had emanated from the right, is considered righteous when coming from the left.

Good thing for Ms. Piven she isn't Michelle Bachman urging her listeners to be "armed" with information on pending legislation, and "dangerous" to their political opponents. If she were, the media would have committed the journalistic equivalent of water-boarding on her by now.