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Civility in Public Discourse

In the last few days, it seems every third liberal columnist and commentator has taken to libeling the Tea Party Movement, referring to it as (take your pick) terrorists, suicide bombers, hostage takers, the Hezbollah faction of the GOP, traitors, nihilists, anarchists and people suffering from halitosis. (The last reference is made up; the rest of the descriptions are real.) Even a few politicians are getting into the act.

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” Representative Mike Doyle said in a recent meeting between Democrats in Congress and Vice President Biden. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.” And according to several sources in the room, Biden added his two cents, saying, “They have acted like terrorists.” (Biden denied using the “terrorism word” to CBS’s Scott Pelley. His role was to act as group psychiatrist. “I just let them vent,” Biden claims.)

All of this is terribly confusing to me. After all, during President Obama’s Tucson speech-qua-sermon, he told us that in the aftermath of the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords it was important that “we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” We need to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.” And then there was this: “We can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country.”

I don’t know about you, but it’s not quite clear to me how accusing one’s (law-abiding) fellow citizens of being terrorists and part of the “Hezbollah faction of the GOP” helps us to heal and sharpens our instincts for empathy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say those words are meant to wound. You might even conclude from what liberals are saying the Tea Party Movement is comprised of people who aren’t simply wrong but who don’t love their country.

But saying that would be wrong. Why on earth would liberals do something like that? After all, they care– deeply care – about civility in public discourse. I know because they tell me that all the time. But perhaps I should amend that last statement. Liberals –not all of them but more than a few of them – tell us of their concern about civility in public discourse, but only when it works to their political advantage. So they hyper-focus on rhetorical decorum when it’s part of an effort to implicitly blame conservatives for an awful shooting spree that killed six people and badly wounded 13 others, including a member of Congress, even though there was not a scintilla of evidence the person who pulled the trigger was a conservative or was acting out of conservative principles.

Some people might call this slander.

But no matter; it was a political opportunity to seize, and Lord knows political opportunities shouldn’t be lost.

At some point, though, the cynical game being played by the left might become so transparent, so obvious and so self-indicting it not only doesn’t work; it ends up damaging those who use it. It makes them look two-faced, duplicitous and even a bit fraudulent. And that could be especially dangerous for a movement whose leader promised to “turn the page” on the old brand of politics, who promised us “hope and change,” and who declared, “If you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.”

When Obama said those things in 2008, he was running against Republicans. Now it appears as if he was running against his party and his future self.

 



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