Tag Archives: civility

Our Fake Discussion on Civility: A Reader Responds

John takes issue with my prior post.  He begins by with my assertion of what we know about the shooter:

‎”We pretty much know at this point that the suspect in the shootings had no political views…” No, at this point we don’t know if he did or didn’t. To assess culpability OR inculpability based on what we (don’t) know is a mistake.

He is correct.  We don’t know all of the story yet, and it was wrong on my part to assume until we know all of the facts.  For that, I apologize. 

But then John starts engage in his own assumptions of the situation:

Therefore, for the most part, I can only consider the rest of the article as moot – as well as any direct condemnation of specific public figures assessed blame in this tragedy. It’s all hinging on the secondary issue of Loughner’s motivation. We don’t exactly know what that was. That means direct blame cannot be assessed, but neither can blanket absolution.

I still have not seen a response to my observation that, with all the over-the-top rhetoric from the left, Republican’s aren’t or weren’t being shot. When I submit a google search of “the last republican Federal official shot” and my first result was a suicide in 1987. Just submitted as a fact available from which to draw our own conclusions.

Failing to discuss broader issues that can logically, albeit generally, associated to the shooting is as misguided as drawing forgone conclusions.

I kinda don’t get this.  John chastizes me for jumping to conclusions and the starts talking about how few Republicans have died because of over-the-top rhetoric from the left. 

Aren’t we being a bit hypocritical here? 

And no, I don’t think the rest of the post is moot.  I’m all for civility and for calling people out when they aren’t being civil.  But there is calling for accountability and there is scoring political points.  I think a lot of the talk of the last few days has been more about scoring points than it is about restoring some sense of decorum. 

I also think that those on the left that always shout “civility!” to those on the right have to be willing to look at their own rhetoric and examine how civil they are to others.  Yes, I think the right has been incredibily uncharitable and need to be called to account for that.  But for folks on the Left to talk about civility and not practice it themselves is hypocrisy and I tolerate hypocrisy about as much as I do incivility.

Part of me doubts that John will listen to this since judging from his comment he seems so sure of his own righteousness.

Our Fake Discussion on Civility

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, there has been much talk about our civil discourse, or our lack thereof.

I’m someone that has always thought civility was a virtue that we need to strengthen more in American society.  I welcome a discussion.

That said, I have no desire to enter the discussion by many on the Left and Center about civility in the days after the tragedy in Tuscon.  I’m not taking part of it for a few reasons.  First, it seems a bit tacky to bring up this issue when inflamed rhetoric had nothing to do with this shooting.  Second, the discussion is dishonest.  It’s a fake argument that is designed to shame and blame on particular side (in this case, the American right) and to clothe themselves in righteousness.

We pretty much know at this point that the suspect in the shootings had no political views, but had some serious mental illness issues.  We could have a good argument about guns laws in America or even about how we deal with the mentally ill.  But instead, we have made the focus on “tone” and make calls for civility.  The Left and the Center in the United States have used the issue to basically thump the Right. 

No, the Right is hardly innocent in this matter.  I do think the American Right have engaged in some pretty shameless and insentive speech and I think they have done it in greater proportion than the Left or the Center.  I don’t have a problem calling someone on their crap; I just don’t like when people use a tragedy to further their argument.

Mark Thompson wrote a brillant post that sums up the silly argument that goes around and around:

The trouble with incivility and complaints about incivility is that it is an endless downward spiral and cycle.  If Team Red attacks Team Blue in what Team Blue perceives (rightly or wrongly) to be an uncivil manner, Team Blue will respond in kind, regardless of whether it responds in degree as well.  Such a response will be justifiable as self-defense, except that act of self-defense will not be perceived as an act of self-defense by Team Red, but instead as an act of aggression.  And so Team Red will respond in kind, regardless of whether it responds in degree.  Often, Team Purple will help make things worse by throwing a sucker punch and blaming it on someone else by pretending to be neutral.

After a point, Team Blue or Team Red will start complaining about the other team’s low blows, and the other team will justify those low blows on the grounds that they’ve taken their share of low blows as well – regardless of whether those low blows are objectively equal.

And then six innocent people were killed by a madman who doesn’t belong to any of the teams in the fight.  Before we knew he was a madman with nothing to do with any recognized team, we understandably sought explanations.  Clues in those first few hours strongly pointed towards someone on Team Red, and Team Red briefly started giving itself a hard look.

But then those clues turned out to be wrong.  The narrative initially put forth by Teams Blue and Purple, however, changed only slightly.  For the most part – albeit with some definite exceptions – they backed away from suggesting that Team Red’s prior bad acts inspired and directly caused this horror.  But they only retreated so far as to say – without any direct evidence – that the killings could be blamed on the “rhetorical climate,” which of course was primarily in their view a function of Team Red; somehow they failed to see how this was indistinguishable from blaming Team Red for the tragedy.  They demanded that Team Red put an end to its ways even as they largely or half-heartedly declined to acknowledge their own role in creating the “rhetorical climate.”  In the alternative, they insisted that this attack was simply an example of what could happen if Team Red didn’t change the “rhetorical climate,” ignoring of course their own contributions to that climate and placing the responsibility for correcting that climate solely on Team Red.

Mark writes a wonderful post and he said it better than I ever could.  He sums it up by saying that civility starts at home:

If we in fact are interested in improving the quality of tone and debate in this country, then we have to first commit to improving the quality of our own individual tone and debate rather than demanding that everyone else first do the same, and definitely rather than demanding that everyone else accept blame for everything they’ve done in the past.

As much as there has been a lot of ugliness on the Right, I’ve seen incivility accross the politial spectrum.  I’ve seen conservatives who are the salt of the earth, and I’ve met liberals and centrists who are basically a**holes. 

Civility is important but for us to create a more civil climate, it has to begin in each of our hearts.  It has to begin with us seeing each other as human beings regardless of party.

So, I urge my colleages in the Center and my friends on the Left, let’s take the log out of our own eyes before we start looking at the speck in the Right’s eye.

PS: Mike at the Big Stick also has a good take on this.

Stop Making Sense

The fallout from the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others on Saturday has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch. 

It’s been fascinating because the gun barrels had yet to grow cold when people starting pointing fingers and assigning blame.  It’s frustrating because we seem to be more interested in blame than in stopping for a moment and simply mourning the loss of life.

Since Saturday, everyone has been trying to offer some explaination about what happened.  The one issue that keeps coming up again and again is the tone of political rhetoric in our daily disc0urse.  The more nakedly partisan among us dig up maps used by Sarah Palin and point to the former governor and the larger conservative movement as the problem.  The less partisan bring up calls for more civility.  More than one fellow pastor has called for our political speech to be more charitable.

All of the folks in question swear up and down that such speech is not what killed six people and injured 13 others, but in reality, that is exactly what they are saying.  They are saying inflamed speech, such as the use of crosshairs on an ad by a certain former Alsakan governor, is what lead to the massacre in Tuscon.

But the reality is, we really don’t know why Jared Loughner decided to open fire at a Safeway.  We have a lot of odd writings that don’t seem to make sense.  On Saturday, James Fallows admitted that many an assasin has shot someone for motives that really had nothing to do with anything:

– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

And Ross Douthat’s  Monday column shows that the assisnation of John F. Kennedy was not due to the anti-Democratic climate in Dallas at the time:

When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

I think part of the reason there has been all this talk about cooling our political speech is because we want to find some answer for this tragedy.  We want to make sense of the horror.  What better way to make sense of this all than to pin the blame on something or someone else?

But can we really blame it on inflammatory speech?  Crosshairs aside, was anybody really calling for the assasination of Representative Giffords?  And if the culprit is speech, then how in the world do you “cool down” down the rhetoric?  Is this simply a moral problem that can be solved by faith communities or is it something that requires the state to take part?

People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like.  It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts.  But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on.  We want to, but  we don’t.  There is no easy answer to this situation. 

And that scares us.  Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason.  We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.

There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so. 

What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did.  Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds.  Many people think he might have saved her life.

Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting.  As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.   

The book of Job is a biblical account of a man who goes through immense suffering.  He loses everything- including his children and is visited by his three friends.  Later on, the three friends try to offer reasons for Job’s sufferings, which were never much helpful.  At the beginning, though, they met with Job and just sat with him. 

Sometimes, in times of tragedy, nothing needs to be said.  We just need to sit, mourn and pray for those lost.  We don’t have to make sense of everything.

The Saving Grace of No Labels

Cathy Young notes that despite all of its weaknesses, the new centrist group No Labels is needed if for one thing:

Each side shows a remarkable capacity to see bad behavior only in the opposite camp. Right-wing bloggers clucked their tongues at an email list on which liberal journalists heaped abuse on conservatives and fantasized about a painful demise for talk show host Rush Limbaugh — yet dismiss as mere entertainment equally vile stuff dished out by Ann Coulter in print or Michael Savage on the radio. Liberals lament vicious rhetoric on the right but forget the bizarrely misogynistic tirades hurled at Sarah Palin in left-wing publications such as Salon.com, or the smears of racism directed at opponents of racial preferences in higher education and public services.

There are reasons to question whether No Labels is a good remedy to the ills it identifies. For one, in today’s decentralized media environment, setting boundaries for acceptable discourse is (for better and worse) harder than ever. Good luck censuring Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore for demonizing opponents: they’ll cry all the way to the bank.

No Labels also tends to equate civility with centrism and bipartisanship. Yet it is no less important to be able to have strong disagreement, even conflict, without demonization. Perhaps “No Hate’’ would be a better slogan than “No Labels.’’

Yet, whatever its weaknesses, No Labels is at least trying to address a very real problem: the debasement of our political culture to something between a playground squabble and a war zone. Columnist George F. Will, who mocks the No Labelers as would-be “national scolds,’’ argues that democratic politics are driven by “intensely interested . . . partisans of various causes.’’ True; but No Labels co-founder John Avlon, a former speechwriter for Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is also right to stress that “our domestic political opponents are not our sworn enemies.’’ If we cannot agree on at least this, we are on a dangerous path.

I might doubt the power of No Labels when it comes to ideas, but I do think there needs to be away of disagreeing with others without seeing them as devils.

The act of confession is not done much my religious tradition, but in some more liturgical traditions in Christianity, this is included in the act of worship.  Confession is away of checking ourselves- in seeing that it’s not just the other person that has issues.  Confession reminds us that we are not perfect, that we can be just as narrow-minded and uncharitable as the next person.  In short, confession reminds us that we are human after all.

This act of self-examination is sorely missing from our political discussion.  We tend to ourselves as being on the side of angels, while our opponents…aren’t.  As Young notes, there are a lot of people in society today that make a nice sum demonizing folks.  Maybe we can extend a bit of grace to each other.  Maybe we can realize that we aren’t perfect, that our ideas might be wrong and that other person’s ideas might make some sense.  Maybe we can realize that the other guy loves their country just as much as you do.

I’m cynical as to whether or not No Labels is going to bring about major change, but we need to do something that tones down the need to be right over being graceful to each other.  If we can’t learn to get along in spite of our differences, then I fear for the future of our democracy.

Everybody, Take a Breath

The Fountain of Wisdom known as Facebook has been gurgling furiously the past few days.  My fundamentalist friends (yes, I still have some) being more righteous than most of us, seem to feel an uncommon freedom to share their opinions on sensitive subjects.

This coy, faux-subtle, post in the wake of the health care legislation seemed particularly disturbing:

Prov 28:15, Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people.

It was followed by the mandatory serious of escalating comments comparing the damage done by traitorous Democrats and RiNOs to that inflicted by terrorists, along with innuendo about the President’s secret birthplace and Muslim sympathies.

Nice.  Good times.

First of all, whenever affluent, white, Southern, religious folk gripe about their oppression my irony meter goes whizzing. But for people who lack a sense of irony – or history – this kind of talk is well beyond funny.  For some time now our political discourse has been drifting into dangerous territory.  Short of bombs going off, there is no bright line or siren that defines for us when things have gotten out of hand.  We must have the good sense and character to do that for ourselves.

Perhaps this political defeat can provide an opportunity for us all to check ourselves, take a look at where we are, and re-calibrate our language.  More of us need to speak out forcefully against those who have lost their sense of measure and reason.  We can dial down the rhetoric.  We can restore basic civility to our politics.  We can understand why we fight while also remembering what we all cherish in common.

The republic still stands.  Let’s keep it strong and united.

Jules, from Pulp Fiction has some fine wisdom we can use in a situation like this (Earmuffs!).

We’re all gonna be like Fonzi, here.  We’re gonna be cool.

Be cool, Hunnybunny.

The Right and the President

From the blog Bipartisan Rules:

I genuinely don’t believe that Barack Obama is Muslim, Marxist, a Manchurian candidate, anti-American, or a man who wishes to take away your guns and weaken our military. I believe he was born in Hawaii, is a Christian and yes, like most liberals, loves his country. I suppose I’m in the minority when I say that the president seems like a reasonably nice man who loves his family (after barely knowing his own father) but is simply wrong. He was wrong about the stimulus, he’s wrong about “health care reform,” he’s wrong about deficit spending, and he’s just flat-out wrong about the proper role of government…

I’ve found that my take on the president is shared by virtually no one: He is flat wrong on almost every policy initiative, but he’s not an evil guy.

I suppose that puts me in a lonely place.

Read the rest.