Why Vitriol Matters

by Patrick Appel

Susan Herbst new book takes a hard look at incivility in politics. Molly Worthen finds a weak link in Herbst's argument:

The real dangerand the real cunningof “incivility” such as Palin’s is that it exempts her from dealing with complicated issues head-on. Her healthcare rhetoric shut down serious debate of the issue before it could begin, and implanted in her followers’ minds an immutable image of a threat that does not exist (compounding the already considerable confusion of Americans, 39 percent of whom believe that the government should “stay out of Medicare,” according to a recent poll). Palin trades in images, not facts. What Herbst perceives as her clever balance of civility and rudeness is better understood as an imagistic shufflingfrom “Sarah the hockey mom” to “Obama the socialist murderer”of tropes that avoid the messy business of the truth.