Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Do we really need to be polite?

'...The solution, of course, is for the majority to simply say enough is enough, and declare a personal code of decency: “I will not stoop to smear and slur, won’t interrupt a speaker, won’t call anyone a Nazi, won’t do to others what they’ve done to me.” Only that sort of code will end the craziness...

...No one needs to become Pollyanna or shocked at occasional tough hits (I’ve been booed and shouted down at a few public lectures by mostly middle-class students parading as “the people” on the barricades), but instead simply refrain from calling your enemy a Nazi or screaming at an official in the middle of a speech, or, like Maureen Dowd, dreaming of kicking Dick Cheney at a reception...


In my mind, the essential element here goes back to an inter-blog discussion which was prompted by an email from a guy who went to a concert in New York; to his surprise he had to sit through a twenty minute rant by the conductor damning President Bush. He felt it was a completely inappropriate use of the public space, but also felt completely constrained to do anything about it. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit tartly observed that he would have booed. Without having seen Glenn Reynolds comment I said pretty much the same thing here.

There seems to be two distinct schools of thought here- the Victor Davis Hanson dignified silence and the Glenn Reynolds 'yell right back' approach. Knowing as I do the robust and noisy nature of much democratic 'debate' in America historically, I find it hard to agree VDH's contention that to be civilised we have to sit still and listen quietly while people rant and tell lies. The Westminster parliament is an example of a 'debating chamber' where great amounts of scorn have been heaped, interruptions are a constant, and biting sarcasm is the delight of onlookers. I don't think there has EVER been a time when it was a quiet, genteel meeting house for the polite exchange of opinions, and pray God it never will be. Perhaps being conditioned to approve of my own parliament, I can't understand this business of not shouting out 'you lie' if someone is, well, lying. Actually, calling another Honourable Member a liar is forbidden by the Parliamentary rules, but its happened zillions of times anyway.

But it is a vestige of a certain kind of American gentility to wish to debate politics only in the most bloodless and unconfrontational ways possible. And to look down with haughty disdain on the more anglo saxon and rumbustious debaters and debates. I feel Mr Hanson also conflates at least two things- roughhouse debate, and the creepy, disturbing murder-fantasies that progressive Americans indulge in towards their political opponents. And I'm not talking about a few fringe nutters off in their skanky bedrooms, but high-profile pundits, filmmakers and politicians. Calling Republicans 'assholes' like Van Jones did is of absolutely no consequence in my view; whereas fantasising murdering George W Bush is not far from a certifiable psychosis.

There is no sliding scale that starts off with yelling out during a public meeting, and ends at pulling the trigger of a snipers rifle. The people who yelled at the Town Hall meetings yelled because they had the profound sense that their elected representatives were not listening to them; that polite queries and requests to change course over long periods of time had yielded absolutely no acknowledgement, let alone response. You could feel the frisson of reasonable people driven to unreasonable lengths to get their views listened to. The eloquence may have suffered somewhat from the nervous tension and the long-term build-up of irritation, but the utter authenticity was unquestionable.

My already extremely low opinion of the Democrats shot down to vasty subterranean depths when they began to blackball the Town Hallers and the Tea Partiers. But I also felt that it was a fatal mistake, one which electorally they will regret for a LONG time. People who got up in public for the first time in their lives to express their outrage at what the lefty ideologues were doing to their country, only to be slandered by the President, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will not be assuaged. Their wrath will last for many day. And their friends and neighbors wrath too, I'm guessing. 2009 could be a really really bad year for the Democrats, even if Saint Obama did take over in the White House this year.

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