Commentary Magazine


Topic: political civility

Conservative Vulgarity Isn’t Cool

Conservatives have had good reason to cry foul in recent years about the way liberals and Democrats have treated them. Though liberals still speak as if incivility in politics is a Republican invention as well as something they have a monopoly on, the instances of Democratic demonization of their opponents are numerous. Liberals such as Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz blamed conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic on a climate of right-wing intolerance. Liberals have likened the Tea Party to Hezbollah, opponents of new gun-control measures to murderers, and reform-minded governors like Scott Walker to Hitler. They also demeaned 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a sexist manner that would have been considered a hate crime had it been done to a Democrat.

So when Democrats cry foul over attacks on their leaders, most conservatives are inclined to ignore it or to merely say something about hypocrisy and payback. That’s a mistake. Call me old school if you like but I’ve always felt that part of being a conservative was an expectation that those who take part in public life should behave like ladies and gentlemen. So don’t count me among those who are snickering at the outrage being expressed by some liberals about a Breitbart ad campaign that superimposes the face of Nancy Pelosi on a photo of Miley Cyrus in a bikini doing her twerk thing. I think Pelosi represents just about everything that is wrong about the contemporary Democratic Party and its congressional leadership, but the picture is vulgar and crosses a line that serious people shouldn’t approach let alone leap over.

Though this hardly rises to the level of a national crisis, I’m always troubled when conservatives succumb to the temptation of sinking to the level of their opponents because of the way it lowers the tone of our already vulgarized popular culture. But it is also a mistake for anybody on the right to feed into the Democratic playbook about sexism and the faux “war on women” they have used successfully to scare female voters into opposing the GOP.

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Conservatives have had good reason to cry foul in recent years about the way liberals and Democrats have treated them. Though liberals still speak as if incivility in politics is a Republican invention as well as something they have a monopoly on, the instances of Democratic demonization of their opponents are numerous. Liberals such as Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz blamed conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic on a climate of right-wing intolerance. Liberals have likened the Tea Party to Hezbollah, opponents of new gun-control measures to murderers, and reform-minded governors like Scott Walker to Hitler. They also demeaned 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a sexist manner that would have been considered a hate crime had it been done to a Democrat.

So when Democrats cry foul over attacks on their leaders, most conservatives are inclined to ignore it or to merely say something about hypocrisy and payback. That’s a mistake. Call me old school if you like but I’ve always felt that part of being a conservative was an expectation that those who take part in public life should behave like ladies and gentlemen. So don’t count me among those who are snickering at the outrage being expressed by some liberals about a Breitbart ad campaign that superimposes the face of Nancy Pelosi on a photo of Miley Cyrus in a bikini doing her twerk thing. I think Pelosi represents just about everything that is wrong about the contemporary Democratic Party and its congressional leadership, but the picture is vulgar and crosses a line that serious people shouldn’t approach let alone leap over.

Though this hardly rises to the level of a national crisis, I’m always troubled when conservatives succumb to the temptation of sinking to the level of their opponents because of the way it lowers the tone of our already vulgarized popular culture. But it is also a mistake for anybody on the right to feed into the Democratic playbook about sexism and the faux “war on women” they have used successfully to scare female voters into opposing the GOP.

One can defend the Breitbart ads, which also spoof Jerry Brown and Mark Zuckerberg with similarly foolish photoshopped images and are intended to promote their new West Coast politics site, as being all in good fun. The site’s founder, the sorely missed Andrew Breitbart, sought to boldly challenge the left on its own cultural turf with envelope-pushing work that sometimes raised eyebrows but always had a strong political point. Moreover, as many on the right have pointed out, a similar and perhaps even more vulgar depiction of House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Michele Bachmann was used in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last year lampooning the government shutdown starring none other than the same Miley Cyrus. The silence from the left about that travesty was deafening.

The impulse to fight fire with fire with such things is understandable, but if conservatives wish to preserve what is good about our society and to turn back the efforts of the left to further degrade our culture and civilization, it’s hard to see how putting Pelosi’s face on Cyrus’s body advances that goal.

As for the political impact of any efforts by conservatives that feed into the false narrative of a Republican war on women, there’s no doubt that a double standard is at play here. The same people who think nothing of degrading Palin or Bachmann immediately shift into full outrage mode when someone does the same to Pelosi. But that doesn’t give anyone on the right license to behave in a similar fashion. Respect for women and disgust at attempts to demean them with highly sexualized images should be integral to the conservative worldview.

Efforts by conservatives to compete with the left for the hipster vote are bound to fail. Even worse, they feed the same cultural trends that conservatives should be resisting rather than mimicking. As Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld points out in his new polemic Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You, the impetus to be “cool” undermines the conservative values that are the foundation of American greatness. He’s right about that. Call me square if you like, but I think conservatives should be equally appalled about trashing Pelosi in this manner as they were about the liberal assault on Palin.

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Can MSNBC Clean Up Its Act?

The low level of political discourse is a favorite topic for pundits who want to trash our political class. That is especially true on the left, which has often taken the position that conservatives and Tea Partiers are most to blame for coarsening political discussions and demonizing President Obama and liberals. But as anyone who regularly monitors the cable news channels knows, it’s easy to see that this assumption is largely a fiction. MSNBC, which has become the avowed home of leftism on television, has become notorious for having hosts like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton who regularly plumb the depths with the sort of invective that would embarrass even most gutter politicians. But last Friday, Martin Bashir topped them with a scripted rant that was extreme even for him.

Reacting to a comment by Sarah Palin about the mounting national debt sentencing future American generations to the moral equivalent of “slavery,” Bashir went off the deep end. An argument can be made that slavery is, like the Holocaust, something that should not be treated as a political metaphor but rather a unique crime to which nothing—other than actual enslavement—should be compared. But Bashir wasn’t satisfied with merely reproving Palin or calling her a “dunce,” which he has done before. Instead, he dug up a historical text about the way slaves were treated in the 18th century and said Palin should be subjected to the same atrocity: to be defecated upon and to have someone urinate into her mouth.

Not surprisingly, Bashir’s crude threat did not set off much of a media firestorm. That is due, at least in part, to the low ratings of his show, but also to the notion that Palin is the sort of person about whom one can say virtually anything with impunity. But the protests that did come in forced Bashir to apologize yesterday on his program. As apologies go, it was quite satisfactory. Rather than the usual weasel words about being sorry that someone was offended, Bashir acknowledged not only that he was wrong but also that he was guilty of contributing to all that was wrong about our political system. Fair enough, but what we’re still waiting for is an apology from his network.

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The low level of political discourse is a favorite topic for pundits who want to trash our political class. That is especially true on the left, which has often taken the position that conservatives and Tea Partiers are most to blame for coarsening political discussions and demonizing President Obama and liberals. But as anyone who regularly monitors the cable news channels knows, it’s easy to see that this assumption is largely a fiction. MSNBC, which has become the avowed home of leftism on television, has become notorious for having hosts like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton who regularly plumb the depths with the sort of invective that would embarrass even most gutter politicians. But last Friday, Martin Bashir topped them with a scripted rant that was extreme even for him.

Reacting to a comment by Sarah Palin about the mounting national debt sentencing future American generations to the moral equivalent of “slavery,” Bashir went off the deep end. An argument can be made that slavery is, like the Holocaust, something that should not be treated as a political metaphor but rather a unique crime to which nothing—other than actual enslavement—should be compared. But Bashir wasn’t satisfied with merely reproving Palin or calling her a “dunce,” which he has done before. Instead, he dug up a historical text about the way slaves were treated in the 18th century and said Palin should be subjected to the same atrocity: to be defecated upon and to have someone urinate into her mouth.

Not surprisingly, Bashir’s crude threat did not set off much of a media firestorm. That is due, at least in part, to the low ratings of his show, but also to the notion that Palin is the sort of person about whom one can say virtually anything with impunity. But the protests that did come in forced Bashir to apologize yesterday on his program. As apologies go, it was quite satisfactory. Rather than the usual weasel words about being sorry that someone was offended, Bashir acknowledged not only that he was wrong but also that he was guilty of contributing to all that was wrong about our political system. Fair enough, but what we’re still waiting for is an apology from his network.

As both Mediate’s Joe Concha and Fox News’ Howard Kurtz have written, imagine what would ensue if either Neil Cavuto or Jake Tapper—Bashir’s time slot competition on Fox and CNN—had suggested that Hillary Clinton should be treated in this matter. It’s also hard to believe either would have kept their job or avoided a long suspension. Moreover, any other network would have thought they had no choice but to apologize abjectly regardless of the mea culpa offered by the person who said the words. This is not a minor point because Bashir’s attack on Palin was not an offhand remark but a prepared monologue read off a teleprompter that had to have been viewed by a producer.

So rather than merely a minor kerfuffle, Bashir’s offensive behavior illustrates that there is a double standard by which liberal pundits and networks believe they can be judged.

Oddly enough, as Kurtz pointed out, actor Alec Baldwin has been suspended by MSNBC for his latest public antics in which he uttered a gay slur at a reporter. But if you slime a conservative like Sarah Palin you don’t lose a day of work even if you use language that marks a historic low for political attacks. It should be remembered that not everyone who works at MSNBC is a guttersnipe like Sharpton, Matthews, or Bashir. No matter what their politics might be, those who still hold to some standard of integrity there must be wondering exactly what has happened to their profession? Although we would hope to never hear another MSNBC rant about conservatives’ lack of civility. But even after Bashir’s apology, you know we will.

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Will the Left Pause After DC Shooting?

After virtually every shooting attack in which a gunman took the lives of innocents in this country, the instinct of the mainstream media and the liberal chattering classes has always been to look for a reason to blame conservatives. Whether it was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, the initial assumption by many has been that the violence was the result of incitement or direct involvement by members of the Tea Party movement or other conservative groups. In each instance, the accusations or insinuations have had to be quickly, though often grudgingly, withdrawn when the shooter turned out to be either mentally deranged or devoid of political intent. That leaves us wondering what those who have been so quick to use these tragedies as political soapboxes to denounce conservatives or to promote liberal patent nostrums will say after today’s incident in Washington.

Only the heroism of a security guard who was wounded prevented the shooting attack at the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank devoted to promoting social conservatism, from turning into a massacre. The shooter who barged into the group’s headquarters expressed disagreement with their policies and began shooting. Fortunately, the guard was able to disarm the perpetrator before he could do more harm. His avowal to police that he was there to oppose the FRC’s stands makes it clear that this is an open and shut case of domestic terrorism. The fact that he was carrying a bag from a Chick-fil-A restaurant — the chain that has come under intense fire from left-wingers because of its founder’s public opposition to gay marriage — should cause those who have been working overtime to demonize conservatives to do the same sort of soul-searching liberals ask the right to perform because of gun violence.

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After virtually every shooting attack in which a gunman took the lives of innocents in this country, the instinct of the mainstream media and the liberal chattering classes has always been to look for a reason to blame conservatives. Whether it was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, the initial assumption by many has been that the violence was the result of incitement or direct involvement by members of the Tea Party movement or other conservative groups. In each instance, the accusations or insinuations have had to be quickly, though often grudgingly, withdrawn when the shooter turned out to be either mentally deranged or devoid of political intent. That leaves us wondering what those who have been so quick to use these tragedies as political soapboxes to denounce conservatives or to promote liberal patent nostrums will say after today’s incident in Washington.

Only the heroism of a security guard who was wounded prevented the shooting attack at the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank devoted to promoting social conservatism, from turning into a massacre. The shooter who barged into the group’s headquarters expressed disagreement with their policies and began shooting. Fortunately, the guard was able to disarm the perpetrator before he could do more harm. His avowal to police that he was there to oppose the FRC’s stands makes it clear that this is an open and shut case of domestic terrorism. The fact that he was carrying a bag from a Chick-fil-A restaurant — the chain that has come under intense fire from left-wingers because of its founder’s public opposition to gay marriage — should cause those who have been working overtime to demonize conservatives to do the same sort of soul-searching liberals ask the right to perform because of gun violence.

Let’s specify that blaming the act of this individual on those activists and writers who have publicly opposed the Family Research Council’s stands is simply wrong. Debate is integral to democracy and it is just as much of a mistake to blame all liberals for the violence of a single leftist as it is to blame all on the right for anything done in their name but without their consent.

But liberals who have often jumped to the conclusion that all Tea Partiers are violent racists because of stray comments from extremists need to remember that such tactics cut both ways. Those who have repeatedly cautioned conservatives to mind their tongues and be careful about using language that would delegitimize their opponents now must think about what they have been saying in recent weeks and months about the so-called “war on women” or supporters of Chick-fil-A. If they thought violent rhetoric emanating from the right was a problem that could be linked to violence, then they must understand that incitement against conservatives is just as noxious. That is all the more true because almost all of the accusations of right-wing involvement in violence have been proven false while the Washington gunman’s statements make it clear that he was motivated by left-wing politics.

Civility is important and the need to speak with respect for one’s opponents and their positions is a lesson that both sides of our great political divide should heed. But as we learned today, it is not one that should be limited to just the right.

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Ryan Unleashes Liberal Incivility

With the heightened focus on the Republican vice presidential candidate, it was only natural that the Democratic incumbent in that office would say something to get a little attention for himself. Vice President Joseph Biden, the gift that keeps giving to Republicans, wasn’t content to merely criticize Republican policies at a campaign appearance in Danville, Virginia; he claimed the GOP would revive slavery. As the Weekly Standard noted, affecting a drawl for the benefit of his south Virginia audience, Biden lambasted the idea that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would free up Wall Street to create more prosperity:

“Look at their budget, and what they are proposing,” Biden said. “Romney wants to let–he said in the first hundred days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They going to put y’all back in chains.”

While Democrats may defend this as just another Biden exaggeration, this is a clear-cut case of racial incitement. After all, unless he is referring to Jews being returned to slavery some 3,500 years after the Exodus from Egypt, the only possible allusion here is to the enslavement of African Americans in the south. This is more than just garden-variety political hyperbole. It is an unfortunate example of just how desperate Democrats are to scare voters into backing the president’s re-election.

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With the heightened focus on the Republican vice presidential candidate, it was only natural that the Democratic incumbent in that office would say something to get a little attention for himself. Vice President Joseph Biden, the gift that keeps giving to Republicans, wasn’t content to merely criticize Republican policies at a campaign appearance in Danville, Virginia; he claimed the GOP would revive slavery. As the Weekly Standard noted, affecting a drawl for the benefit of his south Virginia audience, Biden lambasted the idea that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would free up Wall Street to create more prosperity:

“Look at their budget, and what they are proposing,” Biden said. “Romney wants to let–he said in the first hundred days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They going to put y’all back in chains.”

While Democrats may defend this as just another Biden exaggeration, this is a clear-cut case of racial incitement. After all, unless he is referring to Jews being returned to slavery some 3,500 years after the Exodus from Egypt, the only possible allusion here is to the enslavement of African Americans in the south. This is more than just garden-variety political hyperbole. It is an unfortunate example of just how desperate Democrats are to scare voters into backing the president’s re-election.

We can expect Democratic spin masters to excuse this as merely Joe being Joe, the crazy uncle of our political system whose excesses should be tolerated if not smiled at. But what is on display in this video is a willingness to demonize opponents that eclipses the routine nastiness we’ve become accustomed to during elections. Biden’s comment is at the level of 9/11 truther–let alone an Obama birther. But this is more than just another example of how hypocritical mainstream liberal complaints are about civility in politics.

The Biden blast shows that in this election, there is literally nothing to which the Obama campaign would not stoop in order to besmirch their opponents. If, as Seth wrote earlier today, liberals are prepared to call Romney and Ryan “murderers,” why wouldn’t they claim the GOP is in favor of slavery?

While some conservatives are guilty of uncivil behavior, the Biden gaffe (and it will be interesting to see if liberals are prepared to admit it was a gaffe rather than a justified comment) points out commentator Dennis Prager’s insight about the difference between the left and the right. Most conservatives merely think liberals are wrong. Most liberals really believe most conservatives are evil.

While it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable — a character trait for which Ryan is well-known — to expect civility from someone who thinks his opponent is beyond the pale is to demand more than a partisan such as Biden can manage. As long as liberals are prepared to demonize Republicans in this manner, we must expect more of this kind of despicable behavior from Democrats this fall–if not far worse.

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DNC Chair Learns the Quality of Mercy

We don’t often have occasion to say anything complimentary about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In her designated role as President Obama’s attack dog, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made a specialty of taking cheap shots at her opponents. When not attempting to demonize Republican positions on the deficit and entitlements, she has even stooped to blame conservatives for the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. But as unfair as she has been to those on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t justify treating Wasserman Schultz or anyone on her staff in a similar manner. And that is exactly what happened to Danielle Gilbert, a DNC staffer who has been pilloried lately for some silly pictures she posted to her personal Facebook account six years ago when she was in college. But despite reports of pressure from the White House, Wasserman Schultz has refused to dump Gilbert. To that we can only say, good for her.

It is true the picture in which Gilbert is seen kissing money and referring to herself and some friends as “Jewbags” was in poor taste. But the posting by Gilbert, who is the daughter of prominent Jewish contributors to the Obama campaign and now works as the DNC’s outreach liaison to the Jewish community, was a joke and nothing more. The existence of the photo didn’t merit a story. Nor did it justify subjecting a young woman who has done nothing wrong to the sort of humiliation that is part of being the subject of even a minor political dust storm such as this one.

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We don’t often have occasion to say anything complimentary about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In her designated role as President Obama’s attack dog, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made a specialty of taking cheap shots at her opponents. When not attempting to demonize Republican positions on the deficit and entitlements, she has even stooped to blame conservatives for the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. But as unfair as she has been to those on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t justify treating Wasserman Schultz or anyone on her staff in a similar manner. And that is exactly what happened to Danielle Gilbert, a DNC staffer who has been pilloried lately for some silly pictures she posted to her personal Facebook account six years ago when she was in college. But despite reports of pressure from the White House, Wasserman Schultz has refused to dump Gilbert. To that we can only say, good for her.

It is true the picture in which Gilbert is seen kissing money and referring to herself and some friends as “Jewbags” was in poor taste. But the posting by Gilbert, who is the daughter of prominent Jewish contributors to the Obama campaign and now works as the DNC’s outreach liaison to the Jewish community, was a joke and nothing more. The existence of the photo didn’t merit a story. Nor did it justify subjecting a young woman who has done nothing wrong to the sort of humiliation that is part of being the subject of even a minor political dust storm such as this one.

Wasserman Schultz’s instinct to back her aide is laudable. As she rightly points out, it is important for young people (as well as not so young people) to understand that anything — whether innocent jokes or not so innocent behavior captured in a photo or video — they publish on Facebook or Twitter is a matter of public record and can come back to haunt them at any time in the future. But destroying the budding career of an otherwise blameless youngster over such nonsense is both unjust and unethical.

In the no-hold-barred world of political combat in which both parties and their respective journalistic cheering sections are constantly engaged in the business of embarrassing each other, it sometimes feels as if anything is fair game. Far worse things than the Gilbert photo — such as, to take just one egregious example, the unsubstantiated innuendo masquerading as investigative journalism alleging infidelity on the part of then Republican presidential candidate John McCain published by the New York Times in 2008 — easily come to mind. But politics and journalism ought to be better than that. We hope the next time a similar alleged youthful indiscretion about a politician or activist is unearthed, journalists will choose not to go down this same road. We also hope Wasserman Schultz will remember this the next time she is inclined to indulge in uncivil rhetoric herself.

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Thug Democracy on Display in Wisconsin

Liberal conventional wisdom claims the rise of the Tea Party has put an end to any hope of civility in American politics and that the political right is a stronghold of intolerance that makes reasoned debate impossible. That’s the line President Obama and the Democrats have maintained while trying to portray the Republican Party as being in the grip of extremists. However, events in the battleground state of Wisconsin have once again given the lie to these liberal myths.

Just as unions and their liberal and Democratic allies sought to use physical intimidation to prevent the state legislature from considering or voting on measures they didn’t like, similar behavior is part of their effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. Politico reports that Governor Walker revealed that his family has been subjected to various forms of intimidation tactics during the past year with his children and elderly parents being harassed at a supermarket. His children were also targeted on Facebook.

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Liberal conventional wisdom claims the rise of the Tea Party has put an end to any hope of civility in American politics and that the political right is a stronghold of intolerance that makes reasoned debate impossible. That’s the line President Obama and the Democrats have maintained while trying to portray the Republican Party as being in the grip of extremists. However, events in the battleground state of Wisconsin have once again given the lie to these liberal myths.

Just as unions and their liberal and Democratic allies sought to use physical intimidation to prevent the state legislature from considering or voting on measures they didn’t like, similar behavior is part of their effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. Politico reports that Governor Walker revealed that his family has been subjected to various forms of intimidation tactics during the past year with his children and elderly parents being harassed at a supermarket. His children were also targeted on Facebook.

The Wisconsin recall is being seen as an indicator of how the fall presidential election may go. Given that polls there show the race to be dead even, perhaps that is right. But the conduct of Walker’s opponents ever since he took office last year has demonstrated that the notion of liberal civility is a fallacy. Union thugs sought to physically harass legislators and the governor last year while the Democratic minority in the state house took to hiding out in another state in order to prevent the democratically-elected majority from holding a vote on issues where they disagreed with Walker.

Like the Occupy Wall Street protesters who pose as the guardians of democracy but instead actively seek to suppress the free speech of their opponents, the Walker-haters are not content with a mere discussion of the issues. So it is hardly surprising to learn that Walker’s family is being treated with the same lack of civility.

Neither side in our political battles has a monopoly on virtue or good behavior. But the assumption by the left that only the right engages in bullying can only be preserved by willful blindness. The good name of the trade union movement has been tarnished by conduct in Wisconsin that blurs the line between bad manners and criminal harassment. We suspect the voters of that state will be more influenced by the spectacle of anti-democratic conduct by the left than they are by liberal demagoguery against Walker’s prudent attempt to reform the state’s finances.

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