Toning down the rhetoric is not a fifty-fifty thing, in my view. The
right has a particular fondness for gun metaphors, and should curb it.
If Sarah Palin isn't ashamed of the cross-hairs on Giffords's district,
she should be. (Gun owners are supposed to be responsible and temperate,
aren't they?) But the "climate of hate" that Krugman complains of is a
much broader thing and has been formed by non-compromisers on both sides
(not least by Krugman himself, whose seething contempt for
conservatives is celebrated across liberal America).
At the core of the far right's culpability is its
ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government--a venomous campaign
not so different from the backdrop to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Then it was focused on "government bureaucrats" and the ATF. This time
it has been more about Obama's birth certificate and health care reform.
In either case, it expresses the dangerous idea that the federal
government lacks valid authority. It is this, rather than violent
rhetoric per se, that is the most dangerous aspect of right-wing
Yes, I agree that this is a dangerous idea. But
didn't many liberals accuse George Bush of lacking "valid authority"
after the Supreme Court declared him the winner of the 2000 election?
For eight years, didn't they say he stole the presidency? Of course, say
liberals: because it was true! Well, whatever the rights or wrongs of the
Supreme Court decision, once it had ruled, the matter was decided under
the law, and to continue complaining that the Bush presidency was
illegitimate was reckless in just the same way that the views Weisberg
attacks are reckless. There's a more general point. The right's views on
federal authority parallel the left's opinion of states' rights.
Exactly how the constitution divides--or ought to divide--powers between
the federal government and the states is a matter of ongoing debate. On
Weisberg's view, it should be a "dangerous idea" to dismiss every
assertion of states' rights as a mere expression of racism, bigotry or
other forms of backwardness--as many liberals are prone to.
Shafer has some puzzling opinions. This one threw me completely.
Any call to cool "inflammatory" speech is a call to police all speech...
What? Surely we can manage subtler distinctions than
that. You know, "persuade" is not the same as "command"--that kind of
thing. Still, he is right that you cannot legislate civility, and that
it would be wrong (as well as plainly unconstitutional) to try. His big
mistake, I think, is to see ceaseless anger and contempt as the formula
for a healthy polity. Spirited, he calls it.
The problem with anger is that it makes it harder to think clearly.
It's just bad practice. You might not want to outlaw it, but it can't
hurt to understand the drawbacks. Also, in the end, we have to get on
with people whose views we do not share. If we work ourselves up into
mutual loathing, or antagonize the other guy to the point of
incoherence, then we are unable to communicate. We cripple our ability
to govern ourselves or live together happily. Even if the result is not
physical violence, it is exaggerated political turbulence and
discontent. Shafer seems to want as much of these as we can get, without
actually coming to blows. Those African countries riven by tribe?
They're so spirited! Basically, aim for civil war, then pull it back
just a notch.
It doesn't sound like "a more perfect union" to me.