No one objected. A Dan Rather said nothing—but tried to pass off forged documents to alter the election. A Bill Moyers piled on. There was no voice of “Now, wait a minute, this is going too far.” Did the Left assume that they were going to be perpetually bomb-tossers, forever on the outside of Karl Rove’s ballyhooed three-decades of Republican supremacy to come?
What Comes Around, Goes…
And then something strange and quite unexpected happened. The Democrats nominated a charismatic African-American, won the presidency, after obtaining large majorities in Congress, and suddenly became the Establishment, demanding respect for the Commander in Chief in direct proportion to their efforts to deny respect to his predecessor. Then just as suddenly two tropes appeared after January 20th of this year:
One—cannot we all get along? We deplore this resort to barbarism and crudity.
Two—if you dare sound off like we just did, then you are now a racist.
Not So Fast
The problem is that the public is not really stupid and has a long memory. It hates hypocrisy as much as it does crudity. Part of Obama’s decline is precisely because of this sudden disingenuousness in which one rises to the top on hardball, Chicago politics and playing identity politics (remember Rev. Wright, Ayers, “typical white people”, clingers, etc.), and then of course wants an end to the crudity (like hoping the music stops only when you have grabbed that last chair).
Or so Obama said that he wanted a sort of end to the acrimony. But once he was elected, we got Eric Holder slurring the nation, the President slurring the police, the environmental jobs czar slurring almost everyone, and a host of satellites like Charles Rangel and Diane Watson leveling charges of racism.
So where do go from here?
The standards of civilly, torn down during the 1960s, were obliterated completely after 9/11 (hours after, actually, when Michael Moore (Jimmy Carter’s hero) wished a red-state had been hit instead). We have no more “Wise Men” in Washington and New York, but rather graying children of the Sixties, aging badly. A large segment of the left—from Code Pink and Moveon.org to Acorn and the unions—believe that they really can smear and defame and then retreat to mythical standards of decency when they are now on the receiving end. Does anyone believe that the amateur hit journalists who caught Acorn red-handed used tactics any different from Mike Wallace and the 60 Minutes team?
Back to Corfu
The historian Thucydides has a wonderful chapter in his third book on the stasis at Corcyra on all this. In short, he says when rules, decorum, respect, and commonly accepted behaviors are jettisoned for short-term advantage, then the thin veneer of civilization, in other words the law, is scratched away and we peer at our natural Rousseauian selves below. And quite a scary sight that is, natural man without civilization.
Even more brilliant is the historian’s irony. When those on the outs, who excel through seeking the ends by any means, soon find themselves as the establishment, they want no more like themselves. (I don’t think First Lady Michelle now wishes anyone to charge her nation with being a mean country, or would want any guest to her White House to tell her that he is not proud of suddenly liberal America; cf. Obama’s sudden distrust of the community-organizing Tea Partiers and Town Hallers who are out-organizing Acorn).
But too late. Once the walls are stormed, and ramparts of decency in rubble, it is very hard to rebuild the stones to fend off the barbarians, given the power of natural coarseness, and the problem of legitimacy and irony (Why should we believe that you are shocked at Joe Wilson now, when you booed George Bush not long ago?)
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.
In the short-term it is a losing political formula for conservatives, but in the long term it is the only way to restore sanity and a winning strategy. The New York Times is moribund for reasons other than the Internet. Most (I have not bought a copy in 5 years) won’t read it because of the vitriol of a Maureen Dowd or Frank Rich, and the crass editorials disguised as news accounts on the front page. Obama’s ratings have dived because of the Gates mess, Van Jones, and the Chicago political style. Even Oprah is having problems, once America’s sweetheart went out in a fury on the campaign trail, and used her stature to play on identity politics.
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. The point is not to ostracize or point fingers at others in moralistic fashion, but just simply say, “That’s not my way.”
Otherwise, we won’t have a tennis match, an awards ceremony, a Presidential speech, a congressional debate—much of anything without some hysterical rant from the unhinged.