Be Rude, but Not Insulting

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The New Republic's editors write:

Nothing is harder to achieve in a time of turbulence than clarity. In an inflamed moment, there may be no greater public service than the drawing of a distinction... The one we propose [in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting] is: Incivility, yes. Indecency, no.

Since that is a distinction with very little difference, I don't think drawing it rises to the standard of a great public service. A few lines later, though, we have a clarification:

[T]he sermonizing left is failing to acknowledge that political debate ought to be intense, tempestuous, and even rude, while the complacent right... is refusing to take any responsibility for rhetoric that goes perilously far into the realm of insult and innuendo.

Ah. So political debate ought to be rude, but not insulting. (As for innuendo, quite beyond the pale.) Well, that's great. Thanks.

In my previous post I quarreled with Jack Shafer. The distinction he suggests is: Vilification, yes; violence, no. That is clear, at least. I disagree with him because vilification encourages violence and militates against the compromises which any successful order has to come to terms with. It debases political debate and shuts down communication. Democracy needs those things. Of course, some ideas are so odious that they may require both vilification and even violent opposition, but the views of the US left and right on, say, health-care reform, do not fall into that category. So I think Shafer is wrong--vilification should not be welcomed as routine political discourse--but I thank him for saying something I can understand.

Incidentally, what is wrong with "Disagreement, yes. Incivility, no"? What exactly is the problem with that?

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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