We’re now seeing all of the civility trolls coming out of the woodwork. If by civility, one means “not engaging in violent eliminationist rhetoric”, well, then I’m all for it. But what I’m concerned about is that honest criticism will be silenced. While I’m not as sanguine about political rhetoric as, let’s say, Jack Shafer, the fact is a lot of people in political life are habitually…counterfactual. That is, they’re liars. Others are ideologically blinkered, while yet others, sadly, are either just kinda dim or else stone-cold ignorant.
We do ourselves a disservice when we treat these ideas and their purveyors seriously. Obviously, some concepts are difficult and are prone to sincere misunderstandings or honest differences of opinion. But is saying repeatedly that Obama isn’t an American citizen, or that the recent healthcare legislation, which is very similar to legislation proposed by the Heritage Foundation and was passed in Massachusetts by conservative Republican Mitt Romney, has ‘death panels’ and other absurdities worthy of respect?
There are only so many times one can and, for that matter, one should seriously engage such lunacy. At some point, just as most around these parts would do for creationist claims, this has to be viewed as either willful ignorance or cynical lying.
The political press corps also plays a role in this too. When conservative politicians repeatedly make inaccurate claims, even about something as mundane (although important) as healthcare budgets, they need to be called out. Reporters are actually providing misinformation when they fail to do so. And when the political press fails to ‘provide context’–that is, call bullshit–then the rest of us are forced to do so, once again (and again, and again…).
Finally, when one has a track record of making loathsome statements, it might just mean that he or she is a loathsome person. By way of Digby, consider what Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks, who is now aghast over the Gifford shooting, said at last year’s How to Take Back America Conference:
Obama’s first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers’ money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries…there’s almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn’t be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can’t do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity.
I have a hard time reconciling that with what Ezra Klein wrote Sunday (italics mine):
A lot of the attention focused on Sarah Palin’s call to “Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: Don’t retreat, Instead — RELOAD!” That was linked to a map in which gunsights were placed on the districts of various vulnerable Democrats. One of them was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s. “It’s time to take a stand” was written across the top of the map. But Palin wasn’t alone in using violent imagery and rhetoric to rouse her supporters.
Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R), in a January radio interview, warned that “if Congress keeps it up, people may find themselves resorting to Second Amendment remedies.” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) said she wanted Minnesotans “armed and dangerous” in opposition to cap-and-trade. Jesse Kelly, who ran against Giffords in 2010, held a gun-themed fundraiser. The pitch read: “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly.”
I’m not suggesting that any of these individuals really meant to advocate for acts of violence. In fact, I’m sure all of them are sick to their stomachs tonight.
I do not believe that last sentence. Not at all. After a decade of demonization, stretching back to the run up to the Iraq War, I’m not sure. After mimicking the rhetoric of the most violent-sounding anti-abortionists–and meeting with them–I’m not sure at all. After repeatedly being called unpatriotic and not being considered ‘real’ Americans, I’m not sure at all. And here are some more examples of right-wing vitriol. And I believe those too.
As I’ve said before, words do have meaning. Words should have meaning: if they don’t, then do us all a favor and shut up. I believe Representative Trent Franks. I believe them when Rush Limbaugh and his millions of regular listeners believe we’re the problem. And the anti-abortion movement has shown what happens when people post cross-hairs over people’s names.
So let’s not be so concerned with civility, but instead demand honesty and accuracy. That will serve us far better.