The Age of No Civility
Such a weird era that was, when British liberals wrote letters to those in Ohio, beseeching Americans to vote against George Bush in the key battleground state. I recall an op-ed, widely circulated in 2004, in the Guardian by one Charles Brooker, with the infamous line, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley, Jr. — where are you now that we need you?” Did Oprah deplore that climate of violence? Was that “very disrespectful”?
John Glenn (“the old Hitler business”), Al Gore (“digital brownshirts”), and Senator Robert Byrd all evoked brownshirts and Nazis, in George Soros fashion, to demonize the president of the United States. Do we even remember how Cindy Sheehan and her rantings, often virulently anti-Semitic, were found useful by the Democratic Party? Hollywood made in those years a succession of money-losing, poorly scripted propaganda films on Iraq. Do we recall some of them (and why did the genre die after January 2009?) — In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, Redacted? Do we recall the legion of those who clamored to go into Iraq and in that era suddenly were blaming others for spoiling their three-week victory and not finding arsenals of WMD — as if the Congress had not voted for twenty-three reasons to authorize the war?
My god, I do remember 2007, when the New York Times gave a discount to MoveOn.org for the ad hominem “General Betray Us” ad. Hillary that day suggested the general’s testimony required a suspicion of disbelief. Barack Obama assured us the surge had failed, and Joe Biden lectured Petraeus on trisecting Iraq — in the days before Iraq became, in Biden’s words, “our greatest achievement.”
Yes, yes, I remember those eerie times well. There was Jonathan Chait’s New Republic essay about why “I hate President George W. Bush.” (Oprah, where were you?) Garrison Keillor was more clever in his hate of Bush’s Republicans: “brown shirts in pinstripes.” Howard Dean, likewise now angry over the incivility of today’s politics, in that era declaimed, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.” Do we recall the NAACP chairman of the time, civil rights movement veteran Julian Bond, saying of Bush & Co.: “Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side”? (Oprah, where were you?)
So yes, bring on the new civility. Let us by all means respect the president and his office, and focus on his policies, not the person, agreeing when we can, disagreeing when we must. But, please, let us also never forget that not long ago things were not as they are now. Not by a long shot.