Be Rude, but Not Insulting

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?

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

Just In