About That Call for Civility in Political Discourse

There are some statements made by politicians and political activists that I hesitate to comment on, particularly when they are distasteful and/or include wording I wouldn’t ordinarily want to highlight in a blog devoted to Biblical principles. Yet there are times when I feel somewhat forced to say something. This is one of those times.

Two recent rants come readily to mind. The first emanated from Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. In a speech just over two weeks ago, she railed against the Tea Party. Her precise words?

As far as I’m concerned, the Tea Party can to straight to hell.

Well, the positive side, I guess, is that she at least believes there is such a place. Or am I giving her too much credit for simply using typically inflamed rhetoric?

Civility is breaking out all over the place. Indiana congressman Andre Carson, about a week after Waters’s outburst, did his best to leave her heated rhetoric in the dust with the following analysis:

Some of these folks in Congress would love to see us [African Americans] as second-class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me . . . hanging on a tree.

This was a broadbrush swipe at a movement whose primary goal is to call the nation back to financial common sense. I’ve been around the Tea Party. I’ve spoken to these groups. Nothing I have ever seen or heard from them smacks of the least bit of racism. Yet when called upon to reflect on his statement and to consider whether he had gone too far, he said he would not take back his words.

Then there was Teamsters president James Hoffa, at a Labor Day rally where President Obama took the stage moments after Hoffa said the following about Tea Party/Republican members of Congress:

Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.

I have to give credit to a political commentator in the Los Angeles Times who responded in this way:

Let’s assume for a moment, that the son of the still-missing Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, who was taken out somewhere once never to reappear, was not suggesting the enthusiastic union crowd start dating tea party members. The living Hoffa’s statement doesn’t seem to quite fit Democrat Obama’s past pleas for and promises of a new civility in the nation’s political discourse.

Does anyone recall the feigned outrage over Sarah Palin’s map of America that showed certain districts “targeted” in the 2010 congressional elections. Does anyone recall how she was unjustly blamed for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last January? And finally, do we remember all the pious calls for civil discourse pouring from the lips of Democrat politicians? Well, I never took them seriously from the start. And now their hypocrisy is clearly revealed for all to see.

It is not hate speech to disagree publicly with this president’s policies. It is hate speech to tell one’s political opponents to go to hell, to threaten to take them out while using vulgarities to describe them, and to accuse them of wanting to lynch a race of people when there is no evidence of any such desire.

I agree with a call to civility in political discourse. But it can’t be one-sided. Both sides have to adhere to it.

The Civility Ploy

Tonight is the State of the Union Address.  I predict that the two words we’ll hear repeatedly are “civility” and “investment.” The latter has to do with more government spending disguised as “investing in our future.” The former is now the new catchword for politics.

I believe in civility. While I do have a sense of humor and like to poke fun at absurdities in our public life, there’s a line that should not be crossed. The problem is this—that line is subjective. For instance, is this cartoon uncivil?

Or is it simply illustrating the rather rabid rhetoric that has emanated from the Left, not just in the past few weeks, but ever since I can remember? Surely you recall all the Bush hatred, publicly stated. How about the pictures of Bush as Hitler? Go back to Ronald Reagan and we learn that he was a warmonger who loved to starve schoolchildren and throw old people out on the streets.

In the House last week, one Democrat representative made the Nazi connection again. Republicans, he said, are like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. In what way, you ask? Well, they are lying about healthcare, and that’s the same tactic that Goebbels used. Oh.

One of the positive things about being a historian is that I have studied the political rhetoric found in all periods of American history. What becomes painfully obvious is that the eras of the type of civility urged upon us now have been few. Read the newspapers of the 1790s, for instance, where you see George Washington being called a traitor to his country and accused of trying to set himself as a king. The vituperative language used against Abraham Lincoln is startling, particularly when you consider that a lot of it came from the North, not the South.

The issues I have with the current calls for civility are these: first, the astounding hypocrisy of those who are demanding it; second, the attempt to use that nice-sounding word to undermine genuine debate on the issues. Often, just disagreeing with President Obama makes one a racist or a “hater.” Yet we have to be able to say when we think policies are wrong. How would Patrick Henry fare today?

Kind of weak, isn’t it? I prefer the original.

So, as you watch the State of the Union Address [if you have the stomach for it], watch for those key words, but understand what’s really going on.

Repealing Obamacare

Finally. Debate began yesterday in the House of Representatives over a bill that would repeal Obamacare. Republicans ran on this message for the November elections, so they are holding true to their promise. They are doing what their constituents required of them:

The monster has not yet been fully implemented, so now is a perfect time to kill it [oops, I ventured into dangerous dialogue territory—please, don’t anyone take that too seriously. Remember, Sarah Palin is to blame for everything, not me.]

Democrats are declaring that this would be a big mistake because repeal would raise the deficit, while keeping it would reduce the deficit. Proof? Why, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says so. Yes, as long as it is constrained to use the phony numbers given to it by Democrat leaders. There’s a principle at work here:

It is true, though, that Republicans are going to have to be in this struggle for the long haul. Repeal is not going to occur soon:

Harry Reid has already promised that if the House passes the repeal bill, he won’t allow it to come to a vote in the Senate. If only all the Senate seats had been up for that last election instead of just one-third. I do believe in the Founders’ provision to stagger the Senate elections for the sake of stability, but sometimes it would be nice to have wholesale “repeal” of most of these senators:

But at least one thing will change. In light of last week’s call for civility, we can be sure that a new tone will be set in these debates, right? Right?

Sometimes, a public repentance isn’t what it appears to be. We’ll see.