Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Liberals and Civility - Why Bother If the Other Side Doesn't

So spot on.
(by Thomas Frank, Wall St Journal) Now that their summer of bluster is over, conservatives may congratulate themselves on a job well done. The stout-hearted defenders of freedom declared that government could never work, sometimes citing examples of misgovernment drawn from periods of conservative rule to make their case.

They deplored the prospect of government intrusion into the economy, ignoring the fact that our current troubles are the consequence of government's withdrawal from the economy. They insisted that every government action, due to some mysterious law of freedom physics, produces an equal and opposite diminution of personal liberty.

Although these accusations were often crudely posed, conservatives deserve credit for showing up to the debate. The same cannot be said of the Democrats.

In truth, there has been no better time for a vindication of activist, Rooseveltian government since the 1930s. The laissez-faire faith lies in pieces around us. Conservative dogmatism lay behind many of the Bush administration's worst blunders, including some of the monumental screw-ups to which conservative pundits point when denouncing government generally.

But that is not how the Democrats have chosen to respond. Instead, they pine for civility, pretending that the argument comes down to the scary rhetoric issuing from the right. "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week. "This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place."

I have concerns about the rhetoric being used as well, and about the louts and the bullies who use it. But it seems clear that Mrs. Pelosi's aim is to avoid debate when she ought to be wading into the thick of it. Her team has the arguments; it has the facts; it has gale-force historical winds at its back: Why not give back as good as you get? Why not simply beat the other side instead of complaining tearfully that they play too rough?

Besides, retreating into some imagined genteel tradition offers little safety. For one thing, it goes against the old rough-and-tumble image of the Democratic Party and confirms instead the effete latte-and-sushi stereotype of recent years. For another, thanks to the 1960s and the Clinton presidency, morality and civility are concepts the right believes it owns. Republican legislators can heckle the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress and this will not change. No contradiction is stark enough to budge conservatives from the point: In fact, during the nation's last civility panic, even Ann Coulter was able to get in on the deploring.

President Obama, talking about his own civility concerns in an interview with CBS's Bob Schieffer on Sunday, said he understands that the health-care debate is a "proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy." What's strange is that he apparently doesn't believe he needs to take a side on those broader issues. Instead, he used his many interviews on Sunday to dodge those issues altogether, to insist that he isn't really proposing a grand scheme of government involvement at all, that those who worry about such things needn't be concerned.

Mr. Obama is probably the greatest orator my generation has produced; he swept into office last year with more of a mandate than any president since Ronald Reagan. Mrs. Pelosi commands a large majority in the House of Representatives. Both are talented politicians at the zenith of their careers. Facts and stories that make the liberal case are conveniently at hand—in every paper's headlines, in every voter's personal experiences.

Their opponents, meanwhile, have responded to the economic crisis by doubling down on the bad ideas that got us here in the first place. Their most prominent representative is the conspiracy-minded TV weeper Glenn Beck.

The health-care showdown should have been a one-sided blowout. And yet it is the Democrats who are running to the playground monitor and watching their support drain away.

Why? Because from the beginning they have understood the problem primarily as a technical consumer issue, not a bid for social justice in a manifestly unjust time. In their criticism of the insurance industry they have largely avoided terms like "profiteering" in favor of dry talk about lower costs and more competition—hardly an ideal platform from which to launch a crusade.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have been crusading nonstop since the days of Barry Goldwater. Every economic issue is a grand moral issue for them—this particular one, even in its lukewarm Senate Finance Committee version, is "a stunning assault on liberty," according to Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.)—and until liberals are prepared to contest those terms, they will have to live with a little incivility.


T. Paine said...

This is so laughable in nearly every sentence! Pelosi is a congenital liar. She is the poster-girl for incivility. It was she that was accusing those speaking up in town hall meetings as thugs and dangerous fringe right-wing extremists.

I guess we forgot that it was patriotic to speak up in dissent against the government like during the Bush administration. Now, evidently to do so is tantamount to racism by greedy conservatives.

And to correct a historical inaccuracy, WWII is what ended up bringing us out of the great depression. Rooseveltian interference inarguably prolonged it.

Dave Splash said...

If Nancy Pelosi actually said or did 5% of what you righties claim she did, I'd hate her. But it's just not true. The right has tried tirelessly to make Nancy Pelosi a target for more than five years, and it has not worked. The wingnuts still hate her, but you guys did from the start. Bottom line is that she is an effective leader for the Democrats, and that is what you guys hate. You want everyone on the left to be some DINO who acts like a Republican and treats GOP talking points as gospel. Pelosi doesn't, so you guys can't stand her. Truth be told, she is the most effective Speaker since Tip O'Neill, and she ain't going nowhere! Deal with it.

The right's fake outrage over being called out on their extremism is what is laughable, my friend. Can you cite a single incident where liberals came to a townhall meeting with President Bush and brought guns? Of course not. For one, Bush never spoke before any crowd that was not 100% RNC lackeys with pre-screened questions. But putting that aside, where was the shouting down of Congressmen from the left? Where were the threats of violence? Where were the lefties spray painting swastikas on Republican's offices? Where was the 100% made up bullshit like Obamacare = euthanasia nonsense from the right? And hell we had way better reasons to be upset with the Bush Administration!! Two wars started - one based on lies - and neither one won. Our economy going off a cliff due to inadequate regulation and non-existent enforcement of the few laws that remained. The politicization of the Justice Dept, the blatant war profiteering from Bush friends like Haliburton and Blackwater. Exactly how many billions were given to Cheney's old company for their shotty work? How much just lined the CEOs pockets.

Again, I find the right wing outrage a joke, and your attempt to blame the right's thuggery at townhalls on Nancy Pelosi is 100% detached from reality.

Speaking of detached from reality, "Rooseveltian interference inarguably prolonged" the Great Depression? What sort of revisionist history are you peddling there, Paine? WWII helped, but without FDR and the new deal, we might never have recovered from Hooverism and the conservatism of that period. The New Deal rules prevented another major catastrophy from happening, and wouldn't you know it, as soon as Reagan and his ilk started dismantling those rules, we have one major financial/banking crisis after another.

Seriously, man, WTF.