Fallows offered some really wise words on how to criticize people in print, the gist of it being, "Speak to those you would criticize as though they were standing right there."... It's fun to be mean, and it makes your side howl - and sometimes it's even necessary. But my game is as follows - stating my opinions directly, clearly and without equivocation and without undue malice. I am not a violent writer. Fuck Pat Robertson was cool. But that's a small part of me, that I am endeavoring to make even smaller. When it starts becoming larger, I need to go do something else.
I veer toward the Fuck Pat Robertson model myself. This isn't because I think being rude is somehow acceptable. I'm generally polite if blunt in real life (my life's too short for bullshit). Online, I adopt a bit of a debating persona, the way politicians do in, say, the House of Commons. What Cameron said there to Brown's grimacing face for five years was beyond rude and very colorful, deeply personal and often cheap. But when you saw the campaign debates, it was a much more Fallowsian discourse. This is because there is a convention that parliament is all fun and games (no blood, no foul), and venting in the House is part of the rough-and-tumble of democratic accountability. More to the point, the rudeness is a plus: it helps air stuff that polite people are unwilling to air. It can get to the real point more quickly. And airing stuff is more important in politics than permanent decorum.
The blogosphere is too new to have truly established conventions. But I really want to resist any creeping tide of civility and politeness. Raspberries matter in Anglo-Saxon political life; and if the gap between how we debate in public and how we talk in private gets too large, something else will give. I think the informality of the blogosphere is a perfect place for such venting - and has a different set of expectations than print media.
That said, I am deeply grateful for the thoughtful engagement of my esteemed colleagues.