Thursday, March 25, 2010

Incivility & Its Contents

Having lost the health care vote, congressional Republicans are throwing an extended tantrum this week. They're denying the unanimous consent requests traditionally used to conduct committee hearings, and, as a consequence, most hearings--some of which had been scheduled for months, and featured witnesses pulled in from all over the world--have had to be unceremoniously canceled, the plug pulled on some as they were actually underway. They've been attacking the bill containing health care "fixes," trying to tie it up by plastering it with irrelevant amendments, and the echoes of the announcement that the health care bill had passed hadn't even faded when Rep. Jim DeMint (Clown-SC) called for its repeal. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (Clown-TX) , a reactionary imbecile of the first order, screams "BABY KILLER!" at Bart Stupak while he was speaking on the House floor, then creates a Youtube video attempting to use the notoriety he gained from the incident to raise money.

That sort of thing, you see, is popular with the Republican base. It's the sort of thing that can really bring in the cash. Last year, when Rep. Joe Wilson (Clown-SC) shouted "YOU LIE!" at the Obama, right in the middle of a presidential address to a joint session of congress, he became a right-wing folk hero, and the money rolled in.

Sunday, Republican lawmakers egged on teabaggers protesting the health care bill. In much-reported incidents, teabaggers shouted "nigger" at black Rep. John L. Lewis (D-GA) and "faggot" at homosexual Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). While congressional Republicans launched daily rhetorical Armageddon against the bill and its supporters, their less stable right-wing followers, who are stupid enough to take their end-of-days rhetoric seriously, launched a campaign of vandalism, death threats, and intimidation against Democratic congressional supporters of the bill and their families. When it had reached the point that the FBI became involved, a handful of Republicans condemned the violence, but, in a manner all too familiar to those of us who have followed the fights over abortion over the years, simultaneously insisted on making excuses for the behavior as something to be expected. The clowns at Fox News took the same approach, taking it a step further in suggesting that Democrats are merely using this to gain political advantage, to smear conservatives, to marginalize opponents of the bill. Glenn Beck told his audience the Democrats are "begging for" violent reactions from opponents.

There are no responsible statesmen on the right anymore. No prominent Republican leader or anyone of any stature among the conservative elite has so far stepped forward to unconditionally condemn this sort of thing, or to do anything to try to defuse the mania driving it. No surprise, really--Republicans hope to benefit from the mania driving it. The right has, in fact, been whipping it up for years, now. They've portrayed the health care bill as a sinister socialist plot hatched by a Muslim socialist/fascist--who isn't even an American citizen--for the purpose of having the government take over health care in order to kill your granny, kill babies, and make you pay to take care of swarthy people with no papers and a shaky command of English. Those on the right stir up the sort of behavior we've seen over the last few days, they make excuses for it, they even justify outright violence, as Rep. Steve King (Clown-IA) did earlier this year when a man flew a plane into an IRS office full of people. When some crazed reactionary "patriot" picks up a rifle and decides to "save" the U.S. from the Kenyan socialist in the White House, the finger of each and every one of the conservatives who have, by words and deeds, brought him to that point will be on the trigger alongside his own.

Too many people, including far too many liberals, become tangled up in the matter of the "incivility" of the Republicans and the larger conservative movement. When it's merited, incivility can be a justifiable and even positive thing. The U.S. doesn't have a monarchy, and I see no reason at all to treat our elected officials with the sort of pompous imitation of reverence afforded to kings and queens. I'm also a firm believer in the idea that people shouldn't fear their government; governments should fear their people. That doesn't mean elected officials should be terrorized. It means they should receive exactly the species and degree of respect they earn. "Incivility" on the right isn't the proper focus for concern. When Joe Wilson shouted "YOU LIE!" at Obama in the midst of a presidential address, the prim and proper pundit class blanched at his lack of manners. Only a very few understood why that behavior was truly objectionable: it was Wilson who was lying. Obama revealed, on national television, that the health care bills didn't cover illegal immigrants. Wilson, like most of his party comrades, had gotten a lot of mileage out of falsely telling his uber-white base that Obama was trying to make them pay for health care for brown people with funny accents, and, seeing that talking point being taken away on nationwide television, he did what he could to buttress the fiction. Wilson's "incivility" wasn't the real issue. If the Obama truly had been lying, Wilson would have been entirely justified, civility or not.

Republican officialdom and the conservative elite aren't damnable because they sew "incivility." That this incivility is usually totally unnecessary makes it a bit of a mark against them, to be sure, but their real "incivility" problem stems from the fact that they've embraced, without reservation, the professional wrestling version of politics offered by Fox News and right-wing talk radio wherein literally everything is a big, loud morality play in which there are no shades of grey, no subtleties, and no honest disagreements, just pristinely good and blackly evil intentions, and no compromise allowed between the two. And certainly no civility. It's nonsense, a simple fairy tale designed to garner ratings by shoveling a certain segment of the population the bullshit it wants to hear. The segment in question is the least stable and most easily frightened--and thus most potentially dangerous--element of the conservative base. The increasingly dangerous atmosphere the conservative elite has created is a direct result of their intentional decision to forgo legitimate discourse in favor of one lie after another calculated to appeal to--and inflame--this element.

I fear these chickens will come home to roost in a savage, tragic, and most uncivil way.


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