Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Tom Friedman Awakens to the Dangers of Incivility

You can add Thomas Friedman to the long list of pundits who are now quite concerned about the state of political discourse in America and of critics of the president who question his legitimacy. Friedman worries:

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. . . . [We face] a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest. We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

I’ve written before about the importance of civility in public discourse and the need for what has been called the “etiquette of democracy.” One question, though: When George W. Bush was being routinely savaged by those on the Left—including prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Harry Reid—where were those Friedman columns of ringing condemnation? I don’t recall them; perhaps you do.

When there was actually a movie made about the assassination of President Bush (Death of a President), I don’t recall Friedman writing about “creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.”

When Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker declared that Bush’s “legitimacy is hard to accept,” I don’t recall Mr. Friedman worrying that Bush was having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the Left (adding a mild line of criticism against liberals now, in order to gain the patina of fair-mindedness, simply underscores that Friedman was AWOL when it counted).

I should add that when Jonathan Chait of the New Republic published a piece in 2003 that began, “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it,” one admirable New York Times columnist did speak out. His name is David Brooks. (“The quintessential new warrior scans the Web for confirmation of the president’s villainy,” Brooks wrote. “The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.”)

Most of us struggle with the temptation to employ double standards, to cloak political agendas in the language of moral concern and outrage. Some individuals do an admirable job resisting that temptation. Others, like Tom Friedman, do not. He would have a lot more credibility now if he had actually spoken out before.


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.