'Civil' Discourse: A One-Way Street?

In the wake of the attempted murder of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, and the murders of six of her constituents who went to see her at a local Safeway grocery store, the American people have been hearing a lot about the need to return to “civility” in our political discourse.

What exactly does that mean? It depends upon whom you ask.

Within hours after the horrific event perpetrated by Jared Lee Loughner, left-wing pundits accused Sarah Palin of being behind his lunacy -- because she (or her staff) had posted a map of Democrats who had voted for ObamaCare on her Facebook page. Each “offending” district on the map appeared to be marked by a set of crosshairs. To think that she actually wanted to have these individuals eliminated, not just voted out of office, is almost as crazy as Loughner’s act -- but that didn’t stop those who have had Palin in their own “crosshairs” from creating the connection.

With a majority saying that right-wing political speech had nothing to do with Loughner’s actions, the American people aren’t buying the spin. Unfortunately, those with the agenda are the ones whose voices get the airtime. And, of course, it’s morphed from just blaming Sarah Palin (who seems to have replaced George W. Bush as the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong under the sun) to blaming the Tea Party, conservative talk radio, and blogs.

And yet, despite evidence that politics had nothing to do with the politically unaffiliated Loughner’s hatred of Giffords -- which seems to go back as far as 2007 -- Palin has not only been pilloried for her so-called culpability in the case. Remarkably, she has also been attacked for inserting herself into the tragedy by defending herself against these public attacks. What was she supposed to do, bend over and say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?

Bingo.

Let there be no doubt: Whenever we hear about the need for more “civil” political discourse, it usually has to do with trying to stifle speech to the right of center. It’s all about shutting up the competition. Thus those who criticize Barack Obama are called racists -- one of the worst things one can be called in our society -- and charismatic conservative politicians are blamed for horrific acts of violence by deranged individuals.

But where’s the call for civility when conservatives are attacked by their liberal counterparts in the name of public discourse? Michelle Malkin put together a comprehensive list of much of the anger and hyperbole offered by the left over the last decade, and the Media Research Center has helpfully compiled a list of death wishes made by mainstream media figures against conservatives. This one in particular is a gem:

So, Michele, slit your wrist! Go ahead! I mean, you know, why not? I mean, if you want to -- or, you know, do us all a better thing. Move that knife up about 2 feet. I mean, start right at the collarbone. -- Montel Williams, talking about Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on Air America's "Montel Across America," Sept. 2, 2009.

Interestingly enough, when the left-wing blogosphere put Rep. Giffords in their own set of “crosshairs,” nary a peep was heard.

And where’s the outrage about the many recent wishes for Palin’s death -- natural or otherwise -- on Twitter?

Naturally, we are once again hearing calls for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine. Don’t forget, however, that both Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan had attempts on their lives under the Fairness Doctrine -- not to mention the murders of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Who was to blame then? No one, of course, except the ones with the twisted agendas who pulled the trigger.

I may not like what the likes of Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews have to say, but I would never suggest that they be prevented by legislation from shooting off their mouths. The answer to unsavory free speech is, naturally, more free speech. In fact, the father of the youngest victim in Tucson says that what happened to his child and the others on that day is the price of a free society. Do we really want to rush to the alternative?

Of course, a visitor from another planet might wonder, “Why Sarah Palin? Why is she getting blamed for all of this?” A caller to Al Sharpton’s talk radio show offered this keen insight:

Everybody do have to take some blame if somebody is going to take some blame, but Sarah Palin, no way! I think the reason why Sarah Palin taking all the blame is because they scared of her. There’s a possibility she could be president. Why, she’s public enemy number one to the left. Now for her to get all this attention, she must be top dog.

On January 25, President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address. I’m sure he'll touch upon all of the usual topics -- the economy, national security, and so on. Normally, these addresses are a bit stale and boring. But consider that in his first such address, Obama took a cheap shot against the Supreme Court by scolding the justices for their decision on campaign finance, causing some Democrats in attendance to stand up and applaud. As a captive audience in front of Obama’s bully pulpit, there was little the justices could do but sit there and take it (although Justice Alito was seen to mouth “not true” in response to Obama’s charge that the decision would allow foreign interests to influence our elections).

If Obama is willing to turn what is supposed to be a fairly non-partisan address into a partisan attack when the Supreme Court makes a decision he doesn’t like, I wonder what will he do in the wake of the Tucson memorial service (dubbed by critics a pep rally), where he said this:

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us 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.

After nearly a week of vicious, hyperbole targeting Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and other conservative figures, such words have questionable meaning. As Tammy Bruce remarked the day after the service,

Some have said their praise of tonight’s speech is out of deference to the families of the victims -- five days after a wholesale effort by the same people to use the victims and atrocity for political gain? Really? My respect has been since moment one -- and that respect continues in calling out those who use a horror like Saturday like they would a dirty dishrag -- something to be used and then tossed.

I know I’ll be watching this year’s address with more interest than usual. Is “uncivil” to be the new “racist” in our brave new world? With the 2012 presidential election cycle about to commence and the Oval Office to be held, we will soon find out.