So-called conservatives don’t deserve civility

A nonpublic mailing list I’m on is discussing politics, and the subject of maintaining civil political discourse came up. I invested enough time and emotion in my contribution that I want to log it in public view. It’s just preaching to the choir here on Edgewise, but it gives me a URL to point my friends to, a place to edit in any URLs I turn up later, and perhaps a spot where likeminded folks can point out the screaming howlers in the midst of my rant.

First I wrote:

That Kerry would be a far better president than Bush is my opinion. That he lost in such a photo finish does not suddenly convince me otherwise or suggest that he was a poor choice to oppose Bush. Such a razor-thin election doesn’t tell us anything about the country or about the candidates that we didn’t already know. We have no precedent to hold it up to; from 1896 to 1996, we never had consecutive elections where the margin from first to second was less than 6%, but here we are with -0.5 and 3.1 in the two most recent. Remember, America isn’t red or blue; it’s purple. (Howard Kurtz is a hack, but even a hack gets it right sometimes.)

However, there is a division, and it does have its effects: I admit we need civil discourse, but liberals are not the source of the incivility and so cannot be the solution.

Because I’m a liberal, the right calls me a traitor, the enemy, a cancer in our country, someone who deserves to die. (I am not exaggerating; these are some of the exact words that the current administration’s highly paid mouthpieces have used.) My respect and tolerance toward those with differing beliefs, my time spent hearing out people from differing circumstances and opposite assumptions, is all being returned upon me as scorn, hatred, and threats.

I was writing level-headed op-eds about tolerance back when I was being shunned in my [then] own Baptist circles for campaigning for Carter against Reagan. But in those days they didn’t talk about withdrawing my right to speak, vote, or live.

I will not be civil with anyone who believes that people like Norquist, Delay, Rove, Ashcroft, and Dobson should be running the country. If the bare majority chooses as our leaders those who would eliminate me, don’t anybody expect me to be polite about it.

At this point, several people on the list asked something along the lines of:

How does it harm you to be civil to them (or those who think like they do)? Doesn’t being uncivil mean that they win? They’ve modified your behavior and made you less than you were.

The harm is, these people want me to be locked up, exiled, or killed. Literally, not some figurative use of these phrases. I can be polite to someone who disagrees with my opinion on whether we should have occupied Iraq, but I cannot do so with someone who believes that concentration camps or execution are appropriate responses to political disagreements.

There are far too many examples to list without a large paid staff. The politicians themselves dodge and weave so they can communicate their contempt for liberals to their right-wing following, while still denying any extremism to the rest of us. (More and more people, fortunately, are keeping us all alerted to this, but David Neiwert is the best.)

It’s inexcusible for serious ordinary citizens to equate political dissent with treason. But for the [just departed] Attorney General to say that opponents of the administration “only aid terrorists” and “give ammunition to America’s enemies” is a step toward fascism.

It’s disgusting, but legal, for ordinary Americans to say that everyone should get their religion, or at the least simply give in to those who believe in a ghost in the sky. But it’s worse–evil and frightening–for a Supreme Court Justice to ignore “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” and write instead that governments are anointed by God and that “people of faith” should combat claims to the contrary “as effectively as possible.”

In far larger quantities and far more explicit language, propagandists such as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly–far too many to name–label liberals as traitors, the enemy, the cancer, and are praised by Republican politicians for it. They all want to eliminate liberalism, and it seems easiest to them to do so by eliminating liberals. Most carry their bloodthirst overseas as well,
wanting to “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Many in government agree with Michelle Malkin, who argues that opposition to the so-called war on terror justifies roundups and concentration camps like those in WWII. James Dobson believes that opposition to “most of the things that conservative Christians stand for” means you hate those people. (Dobson and other notable rightists stood on the same stage and applauded Jimmy Swaggert’s announcement that he would kill any man who
looked at him funny; who’s hating here?) Human Events Online, “the national conservative weekly,” says it’s time to expel California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware from the U.S. (An appropriate response, full of vulgarity but also full of useful hyperlinks, is here.)

Thousands of private-citizen conservatives publically call for the execution of liberals, and they go uncriticized by conservative politicians. Famous right-wingers who make the same call (“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”) are justified by the right-wing mainstream media with the lie that it’s all in jest.

A vote for George Bush was a vote for all of this. I know that voting for a candidate doesn’t mean agreeing with 100% of what that candidate stands for, but death threats against political opponents are a category that may not be written off.

People who vote for this pogrom-to-come don’t deserve a patient hearing-out. I’d love to be polite, and I can be so long as politics doesn’t come up. But when someone—even my relatives—suggests to me that they’re breathing a sigh of relief because Bush skated by again, I say damn you and the hateful horse you rode in on. When you come to imprison me for my liberalism, be prepared for my rage.






One response to “So-called conservatives don’t deserve civility”

  1. Jim-Bob Burgess Avatar

    Pete, my dear, dear friend. I think the issue is not much more complex than this about the civil discourse issue. The decisive factor in the election was the vote of the “mostly apathetic, mostly not paying attention, mostly annoyed at the lack of civil discourse” people. When the non-conservative thinkers (really both middle of the road and liberal) fall into non-civil discourse they assist the process of getting the apathetic majority to vote against them. This is all part of the plan of the conservatives who know that these apathetics are blithely unaware of the non-civil discourse of the right, for the most part. The real problem, as I will say more in TAP in the next issue, is that we have VERY busy people, who also REALLY don’t care about politics. It’s amazing to watch them tune out. They really aren’t listening to either side, and they voted for Bush, mostly. It is a really complex problem (this is the part that is complex) to figure out how to (in the immortal words of the Mekons) “destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late”(from “Memphis, Egypt” and “Rock and Roll”, one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time). This link is cool in a Mekons anarchy kinda way that you get by punching that into Google:
    So, yes, really, screaming at people who are apathetic just makes them hate you, and vote against you. And turning the other cheek just continues to get them to ignore you. Classic rock and a hard place scenario, and that’s REALLY what is making you angry, isn’t it?