Ethics Dunce, Ethics Hero: Name Calling and One-Way Civility On the Left

John Boehner was just like this during debt ceiling negotiations. Well, sort-of. OK, he really wasn't like this at all, but I don't like him, so it's not uncivil for me to say he was.

The popular Democratic, progressive, liberal and news media (I know I’m being redundant here) slur for the Republican House and its Tea Party warriors during and after the budget ceiling debate was “terrorists,” suggesting an analogy between the GOP insisting on major expenditure cuts in the budget as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, and political and religious extremists who threaten to kill people if they don’t get their way. Needless to say, it’s a disgraceful, dishonest, illogical and slanderous comparison. Whether the GOP’s negotiating stance was fair, reasonable or right can be debated; that the intent of the strategy was to strengthen the nation’s financial health is not.

To many of the Republicans involved, incurring more debt without a guarantee of serious deficit and debt reduction in the future was more dangerous than allowing the nation to default on its obligations. Add to that the fact that many in the Tea Party  leadership believe that the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling was overblown, and it is clear: the Republicans were using their control over the immediate fate of something progressives  wanted more than conservatives as a bargaining chip in a political disagreement. It may have been irresponsible; it may have been a risk; it may have been a bluff. But it was not terrorism. It was politics. Hardball politics no doubt, but well within accepted standards

Oh, I forgot: there is another reason the Republicans weren’t acting like terrorists. They weren’t threatening to kill anybody, and they didn’t kill anybody.

Just few short months, partisans on the Left had proclaimed that a Congresswoman—“their” Congresswoman—had been shot in Tucson in part because “hateful” and “eliminationist” and “violent” rhetoric from the crazy Right had created a culture of incivility. President Obama, in one of his finest speeches, called for everyone engaged in political debate “to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” “Let’s remember, ” Obama said, “that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy (it did not), but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud…”

I wrote at the time, as did others, that the media-driven accusation that conservative voices, especially Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, were somehow prime offenders in the incivility wars was nothing more or less than a disingenuous effort to muzzle criticism on the Right while Democrats, progressives and left-leaning pundits could continue to be as harsh as they pleased. This took no special perception and foresight on my part, and as soon as they were indignant, angry, or passionate enough, many of those on the Left calling for civility promptly began name-calling and courting hate in their writings, postings and on-air rants, as long as the targets were conservatives, who, of course, deserve it. Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz; —Bill Maher, of course—Paul Krugman, Eugene Robinson, Thomas Friedman; and  numerous Democratic political figures all spewed ugly rhetoric, reaching a crescendo with the debt ceiling battle. Want to stir up hatred against the other side? Try Nancy Pelosi’s astounding cry, “What we’re trying to do is save the world from the Republican budget! We’re trying to save life on this planet as we know it today!” True, Pelosi avoided the precipice of incivility by leaning toward absurd hyperbole and jaw-dropping stupidity, but it’s easy to see how the terrorist line caught on. Earlier, the Democratic National Committee produced a TV spot graphically suggesting that Rep. Paul Ryan’s  cost cutting plan was the equivalent of murdering an old lady in awheel chair.

Let’s see…the Republicans want to kill people to  destroy life on this planet as we know it…why, they must be terrorists!”

Thus it was that many columnists and bloggers, as well as (perhaps) the Vice-president of the United States of America, started tarring the Tea Party and the Republicans with the T-word. Now let’s be clear. In a post-9-11 world, calling elected representatives terrorists is no better than calling them…

  • Nazis
  • Serial killers
  • Traitors
  • Murders
  • Criminals
  • Assassins
  • Butchers
  • Genocidal maniacs

And none of these terms are civil, by any definition. The words, any of them, demonize political opponents and abandon reason in pursuit of emotion. If anything, they are words that encourage violence far, far more than Sarah Palin’s little gun-sites on an election map.

Two of the liberal columnists that used the terrorist hate-speech to describe the House Republicans were New York Times op-ed writer Joe Nocera and Froma Harrop, who chairs the National Conference of Editorial Writers. When many readers, as well as respected conservative columnists like James Taranto and George Will, pointed out the facile U-turn made by pundits on the Left as soon as incivility suited their rhetorical needs, the two offending columnists split neatly into an Ethics Hero and an Ethics Dunce.

The Ethics Hero was Nocera, who acknowldegd his hypocrisy and apologized for it in a column this weekend. He had ended an earlier column accusing Republicans of being “at war with America” with this:

“For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.”

Nocera called an ethics foul on himself yesterday, writing,

“The words I chose were intemperate and offensive to many, and I’ve been roundly criticized. I was a hypocrite, the critics said, for using such language when on other occasions I’ve called for a more civil politics. In the cool light of day, I agree with them. I apologize.

                                                                                             Good for him.

Froma Harrop, the Ethics Dunce, took a different approach….the cowardly, embarrassing, dishonest one. In a column entitled “Am I uncivil?” (the answer is “yes,” by the way), Harrop, whose organization operates a civility project, claimed that her calling Tea Partiers the equivilent of  “al-Qaeda terrorists” wasn’t uncivil:

“I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece. It’s not about offering strong opinions. If someone’s opinion is fact-based, then it is permissible in civil discourse.”

And I see the moon as being made of marzipan, Froma, but that’s not what the moon is, and your convenient if vague definition isn’t what civility is, either. Civility is keeping the rhetoric and language used in debate and argument genteel, fair, truthful, and respectful. It means avoiding hateful language, insults, and ad hominem attacks. It means that you can say a decision or a statement is idiotic, but not that the person who did it or said it is a moron. It means that you can argue that a proposed policy endangers the public, but not that the policy’s advocates are murderers. It means means “talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” Ring a bell?

You run a civility project, and you have no idea what civility is!

Harrop, in her  initial column, wrote, “Make no mistake: The tea party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States–threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate.”

That’s “fact-based”? Here is when saying that someone “has engaged in economic terrorism against the United States–threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want” is “fact-based”—when they engage in economic terrorism against the United States–threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And it is civil to compare them with al Qaida if they act like al-Qaida in the manner that most readers associate with al Qaida. For example, it is deceitful to compare them to al Qaida because they brush their teeth (Hmmm. Do al Qaida terrorists brush their teeth?). People don’t think of tooth-brushing when they think of al Qaida; they think of an organization murdering innocent civilians. And that’s exactly what Froma wanted her readers to think about. And that’s why it was uncivil.

Unfortunetely, Froma Harrop is the typical uncivil journalist, and Nocera is the rarity. She believes in civility toward those whom she respects and supports, but regards incivility to her ideological foes as legitimate and “factual.”

She is an uncivil, dishonest hypocrite and fraud. And that is “fact based.”

[Thanks to Ken at Popehat for finding the Harrop column. You will enjoy his typically adept take-down of her here.  Amusingly, Ken notes Harrop deleted critical comments from her post, thus not even meeting her own bizarre definition of civility, “letting other speak their piece.”]


Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Finance, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions, The Internet, U.S. Society, War and the Military

5 responses to “Ethics Dunce, Ethics Hero: Name Calling and One-Way Civility On the Left

  1. I’m not that familiar with Joe Nocera, Jack. But I am with Froma Harrop. Thus, I would have expected nothing less from her and, no doubt, did few others. To my view, having her as the head of an organization dedicated to “civility” is the rankest hypocrisy on the face of it. But in Harrop’s world, this is all a legitimate “ruse of war”. And war is what she’s waging, the aim of which is the total victory of the Left in America.

    From her perspective, nothing else matters. Facing a Marne-style defeat with victory so close that they can hear the churchbells of Paris, Harrop and others of her clique became unhinged. They sense that this, the Left’s third attempt at power, is the final throw of the dice. I see it that way, too. So do many. That’s why what we’ve seen here is only the first encounter- the taunts and the pounding of swords on shields- before battle is joined in 2012. That’s when it’ll really get ugly.

    • Never heard of her before, and glad of it. She’s a bad writer, a bad analyst, and dishonest. The fact that any organization of journalists would allow her to lead them tells us all we need to know about the state of journalism in the US.

  2. “(perhaps) the Vice-president of the United States of America,\.”

    Perhaps?? Is he a terrorist-caller or isn’t he. “Perhaps” isn’t quite fair, Jack.

    • He was reported to have said it, and his spokesperson denies it. The news source that reported the story stands by its reporting. I don’t trust the press, and I don’t think Joe knows what he’s saying half the time. “Perhaps” seems pretty fair to me, under the circumstances. I don’t know who to believe.

  3. Pingback: Ethics Dunce, Ethics Hero: Name Calling and One-Way Civility On the Left | TwitterTwit

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