Every so often, politicians and pundits go on a “civility” binge. I don’t mean that they become more personally gracious toward others. Hardly. I mean that they stick their noses in the air and demand that we, the Great Unwashed, conduct our political discourse in a more polite and proper fashion.
It happens every few years; members of the elite demand that we stop yelling and yapping and cussing and name-calling. They tell us to make nice when expressing our political opinions.
Calls for civility arose after last summer’s angry health-care town hall meetings. They intensified when a member of Congress had the temerity to call Barack Obama a liar. The calls took on a wistful air after the deaths of several old-line newsmen and political commentators. Members of the dying mainstream media frowned at rowdy bloggers, new-media columnists, and online forum participants and mourned the loss of pure old niceness.
And they were scared.
Wrote Thomas Friedman in the liberal New York Times: “I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.”
Echoed conservative Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal:
“There are roughly 300 million people in America. Let’s say 1% of them, only 1 in 100, are composed of those who might fairly be called emotionally unstable—the mentally ill, those who have limited or no ability to govern their actions, those who act out, as they say, physically or violently. That’s three million people. Let’s say a third of them are regularly exposed to political media rants from right or left. That’s a million people.
“What effect might ‘they want to see you dead’ and ‘the Republic is falling right now’ have on their minds?”
Yes, that’s right. Our rudeness isn’t merely, well, rude. It’s dangerous.
Noonan also wept that, with the death of so many of journalism’s “tribal elders,” there was no one left to teach proper behavior to the youngsters of the blogosphere and the upstart online media.
Well, boo hoo hoo. You know what? I’m glad our would-be “betters” think we’re so impolite. I’m glad they’re getting scared of us. In fact, I wish We the People were a lot less polite and a lot more scary.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was raised by my Mamma to be a nice little girl. Even as I grew up to kick political backside, I still cherished a love of the elegant use of words. It’s far better to slice an opponent with the scalpel of well-stated truth than to chop him with the crude verbal ax of name-calling or lies. A commentator myself, I’m sometimes horrified at the shoddy thinking (and even shoddier spelling, inarticulate blathering, and bad grammar) that passes for a lot of political commentary today.
I agree with Robert Heinlein, who wrote, “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
But. Bad political manners from the grassroots isn’t the cause of cultural death. It’s a symptom—and one that our self-appointed betters insist on misinterpreting.
Friedman of the Times lamented, “There is no more ‘we’ in American politics at a time when ‘we’ have these huge problems—the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—that ‘we’ can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective ‘we’ at work.”
But who is this “we” supposed to be? Does Mr. Friedman mean that he and Obama and Pelosi and their ilk should listen to “We the People” and be our representatives? Not on your life. He means we should get behind people like him—and shut up and follow.
In other words, every call for civility is really a call for servility.
And frankly, we’ve given Our Glorious Leaders enough of that.
You damn betcha there’s no “we” in politics any more. That’s because “We the People” have—finally, belatedly—figured out that “they” the politicians are a force against us, not for us. A government that lies to the people cannot be a government of the people. A government that takes from Joe and Josie Sixpack to give to Goldman Sachs is not a government by the people. A government that passes so many bogus laws that the average citizen commits at least three federal felonies a day* is not a government for the people.
It’s funny, though. The elitists in politics and the media don’t get it. They don’t get that if they really want us to be civil, all they have to do is be both civil to and honest with us. They don’t understand that the Internet, with its uncensored flow of information, has raised the bar—not for our behavior, but for theirs.
The Internet—the source of much of the rowdiness they regret—may be a big, unruly mess. It may be a rumor machine and a free-for-all forum for a world full of loonies. But it’s also a truth machine for those who choose to use it to best advantage. It’s a place where we can learn for ourselves the facts behind world events, the reality behind every claim. It’s a forum where we can read in detail scientific studies that the media merely quotes (and distorts). It’s a bulletin board where dedicated researchers can post documents that governments try to hide. It’s a place where no political claim goes uninvestigated or unchallenged.
What politicians and their media servants really don’t get is that once people start expecting truth—and are able to ferret it out for themselves, even if they have to dig through piles of garbage to get it—you can no longer placate them with lies and half-truths.
Instead of recognizing this new reality, those frightened elitists keep trying to peddle the same old Big Lies. Then (talk about uncivil!) they, they, call us names when we don’t buy what they’re selling.
Example: Downtown Washington, DC fills with hundreds of thousands—perhaps more than a million—protesters opposing the current regime. The mainstream media reports them as “a few thousand” right-wingers, possibly racist. But we can see the photographs for ourselves. Those streets were jammed with Americans of all stripes, all races, and a panoply of views.
Example: Protesters show up in Phoenix, Arizona, openly and legally carrying firearms near a forum where President Obama is speaking. The media crops in tightly on one carrying a “deadly assault weapon.” Again, they cry “Racist!” But we can see for ourselves, via the uncropped YouTube video, that the anti-Obama “racist” in question is…oops, black.
Example: Article after article in the mainstream media claims to “Debunk the Myths” surrounding the safety of the swine flu vaccination. But these articles invariably present no facts, nothing verifiable at all. Instead they offer meaningless platitudes: “The secretary of Health and Human Services has determined that the vaccine is perfectly safe” or “The vaccine is manufactured just like the annual flu vaccine.”
Meanwhile, a cautious public asks hard, intelligent questions like “Where are the clinical studies and what are their results?” “Are there toxic substances in these vaccines?” and “Who’s making a profit off this vaccine campaign?” What’s the response from the elite? We’re all just ignorant victims of rumor and myth! And millions of us stand and wonder, “Why won’t they just give us straight answers to straight questions?”
The more access we have to facts, the more the political elite of all parties insist that we accept deception and gloss. The angrier we get, the more stubbornly they sneer at us. The more we learn, the less they want us to know. The more we investigate, the more determined they are to view us as ignorant fools.
The more they treat us like idiots, the more we hold them in contempt.
So we’re not polite? No, we’re not. And let’s hope we won’t be. Aggressive power can never be stopped by polite requests. When enough of us get roused, we cease being the passive, servile “good little citizens” who can be easily manipulated. We become a mighty force for a day of reckoning. And the Thomas Friedmans, Peggy Noonans, Barack Obamas, Ben Bernankes, Charles Schumers, and Nancy Pelosis of the world know that in the darkest chambers of their very dark hearts.
Let’s keep ’em scared.
* Estimate by civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate, from the title of his new book Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.