Commentary Magazine


Topic: incivility

For Leftists, the Personal Is Still the Political

Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

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Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

3. There’s a cautionary tale in all of this, which is that the right shouldn’t become like the left. Leave the hateful attacks, the venom, and the name-calling to them. Conservatives don’t need it, we shouldn’t want it, and it’s not consistent with our best tradition. If the left wants to give refuge to the haters, then that’s up to them. The right, on the other hand, should be characterized by people who are principled, passionate, decent and who don’t (as Ronald Reagan used to remind his staff) consider our opponents to be our enemies. Some conservatives seem to make a rather good living on doing the opposite, on engaging in ad hominem and often childish attacks, and it’s discrediting to them and to the movement they claim to represent.

 

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Did Biden’s Incivility Work For Him?

The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.

But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.

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The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.

But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.

Democratic spinners will say he is a “happy warrior,” that his nastiness and aggressiveness bloodied the Republicans and that it doesn’t matter that the way he did it was embarrassing. They may have a point. People probably won’t decide not to vote for Obama because they think the giggling, smirking and interrupting was beneath the dignity of the office he holds. If Biden’s job was simply to rally the base and attack his opponents, then his arrogant condescension will help the Democrats regain their momentum after a week in which they’ve lost a lot of ground.

But it is also possible that a lot of those Americans who saw the debate, even those who are Democrats but especially independents and undecided voters, will not think much of a vice president of the United States acting more like a schoolyard bully than a statesman.

Many Democrats will applaud Biden’s buffoonery and falsely claim that it was no different from Romney’s demeanor last week even though there is no possible comparison. Republicans can console themselves that while Ryan did seem a little nervous at times, he wasn’t intimidated. Nor did Biden succeed in painting Ryan as the monster that the Democrats claim him to be. Ryan also passed the plausibility threshold as a potential president because of his strong knowledge of foreign policy.

The bottom line here is that neither side won or lost. But it is also possible that Biden’s misbehavior will be remembered with distaste long after this election is decided.

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