Saturday, August 12, 2006

In Politics: Civility Is a Two-way Street

I don't understand the framing on the Lamont/Lieberman race in Connecticut. We are being led to believe that it's a test of partisanship versus civility in politics. Here's Dan Balz of The Washington Post:
Will Lieberman's campaign prove to be a forerunner for a message of civility and bipartisanship that emerges nationally in 2008, or simply be remembered as an obsolete refrain from a politician living in an idealized past and that serves only to deepen partisan divisions?

The Lieberman-Lamont primary became the latest stage for the politics of anger that has dominated since President Bush took office after the disputed election of 2000. Lieberman hopes to make the general election a template for civility in politics and a return to some measure of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

I don't understand this framing at all. Forget the Democrats and Lieberman's less than civil comments as he left his party. The right wingers who dominate Washington these days usually demand absolute obedience to the party and are doing their best to be uncivil to any Republican moderate (very few left by the way) or any ordinary Republican conservative who dares to suggest a different tack or that Congress perhaps ought to get its corruption under control. Under those conditions, civility is an illusion.

But let's go back a bit. When Bush was losing to McCain in the 2000 primaries, was there civility when Bush launched his smear campaign? When Bush was trying to stick Al Gore with Clinton's sex scandal was that civil? Merely hiring a smear artist like Karl Rove is somehow to be overlooked? The disenfranchised voters in 2000 tried to protest and they're called partisan for having their vote taken away?

Despite the nonsense of 2000 and eight years of uncivil behavior towards Bill Clinton by Rush Limbaugh and House Republicans, Democrats spent Bush's first two years trying to be civil to Republicans and particularly to Bush. What was the No Child Left Behind Act but a bipartisan effort? But then, what do we call it when Bush refused to fund that act? And what do we call Bush's manipulation of WMD intelligence just in time for the 2002 midterms but a stab in the back of Democrats?

Was the Bush Administration's outright lies about WMDs and Iraq's fictitious al Qaida connection an act of civility? Was the outing of Valerie Plame an act of civility? After nearly four years, is it an act of civility for Lieberman to keep buying into the nonsense?

Let's look at this another way. Is it an act of civility to tolerate the most failed presidency of our lifetime? If an obtuse president is out riding his bicycle or playing the guitar when an American city is being destroyed by a hurricane, are we supposed to call Miss Manners? Was Bush's behavior at the G8 summit this summer an act of Republican civility or one of just sheer embarrassment for the United States? Were we really supposed to say: good job, Mr. President?

Is it an act of bipartisan presentation for news organizations to put people on TV like Ann Coulter? Is her hatred for everything that doesn't match her very small version of the universe somehow civil discourse? Are neocons who openly advocate world war three and who have been spectacularly wrong time after time paragons of civility because they speak in soft voices?

Not counting Lieberman, who has made himself a special case, Democrats in Congress have been extraordinarily civil, perhaps too civil. When Jack Murtha was being attacked and smeared on the floor of the House, he handled himself with the utmost of civility. The Republicans were so embarrassed by how well Murtha handled himself that now they smear him behind his back. Is that civil?

Now look, in my opinion, some blogs were less than civil to Lieberman during the primary. But Lieberman only had to take lessons from Jack Murtha to go back to Washington with some degree of dignity. Many blogs, mine included, were largely silent about Lieberman though we have reason to be dissatisfied with him. Lieberman could have saved himself very easily simply by listening to voters, reaching out and simply admitting that Bush may not have all the answers. Waiting until the Sunday before the primary was about as dumb as a politician can be. Incumbents are not guaranteed a seat in Congress. It's called democracy for crying out loud.

Many bloggers, myself included, supported the war in Afghanistan but this country faces very serious problems emanating from a White House with very little integrity and very little competence. We have a broken government, one that sanctions torture, rendition, domestic spying, war without an honest case to justify it, a war that is gaining the United States no advantages whatsoever, a president who lies about Social Security, who has an enormous deficit, no energy plan, no environmental plan, no health plan, no economic plan and quite clearly no foreign policy worthy of the name.

I know many Republicans and I am on perfectly fine civil terms with them but what do good, honest Republicans have to do with the most crooked and incompetent bunch of characters to ever hit Washington? The crowd in Washington, though they wear the Republican mantle, are not even conservatives, but they have the best noise machine money can buy. Most of us are old enough to know what conservatives talk and look like and there aren't many to be found these days on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I and millions of others like me want to save this country before the right wingers in power drive this country off a cliff. We're not just partisan, we're patriotic: we believe there's a country and a future worth saving. When Republicans get around to reforming their party, and politics return to normal, we hopefully will see some degree of civility on both sides again. I look forward to that day.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I trace the politics of anger back to Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. It was during that campaign, in which the Christian right really began to flex its political muscle, that Republicans learned there was a large audience eager to see and hear the opposition being bashed and trashed. It became clear Democrats in general, liberals especially, should be treated not as people with different political ideas and priorities, but as enemies unworthy of engaging in civil discussions. Scorn, derision, name calling and dismissiveness were the order of the day. Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater were only too happy to deliver.

No, that sort of thing wasn't all one sided. Just heavily tilted, so most of it flowed from the right toward the left.

The process kicked up several notches in 1994. Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay rose to the top of an especially mean-spirited, vindictive crowd in taking control of Congress. Both assumed leadership positions having already earned reputations for being bomb throwers.

The 1990s was one long, ugly row of hate-driven Clinton bashing. The politics and surrounding events of 2000 were merely follow on.

"I know many Republicans and I am on perfectly fine civil terms with them but what do good, honest Republicans have to do with the most crooked and incompetent bunch of characters to ever hit Washington? The crowd in Washington, though they wear the Republican mantle, are not even conservatives, but they have the best noise machine money can buy."

Truer words were never spoken. I'm reading Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy." He offers revealing insight into the origins of Texas oil interests and the Christian right's highjacking of the GOP and, ultimately, of the country (see page 156, especially).

It's bitterly ironic we are in the control of this most unholy alliance, now including neocon whackjobs who dream of pan-Mideast conquest and world domination, all of whose components are distinguishable by overbearing certitude and holier-than-thou arrogance.

The one thing these people appear unable to take without coming undone is sustained political rejection. Better, of course, if that were to come because moderate Republicans have had enough. But if Democrats could just get their act together well enough, for long enough, and catch even a few breaks, deliverance might come sooner rather than later. Might come as a result of the political process working and not because the radical-right's excesses have driven the country off a cliff, with catastrophic consequences.

5:15 PM  

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