One of the guiding principles of this blog is the belief that we must turn down the anger level in our society.
It’s not only civil behavior, it’s sound strategy because few people were ever insulted into changing their minds. If you say in effect, “Look, you drooling moron, you better shut your mouth and start believing like I do,” your conversion rate will probably hover around zero.
That belief in civility–not just as a matter of “manners” but as a healing balm for our society– is probably one reason I find myself impressed by Obama even as I disagree with some of his policies (and have no clue as to others).
Spirited disagreement over issues is enjoyable and valuable; what’s ugly and might even be dangerous is the incendiary personal attack that’s become so much a part of the political wars in this country, the kind of mugging that’s made Ann Coulter and Bill Maher and the like into stars.
During my years as a two-time Clinton voter, I was routinely appalled, if that’s not an oxymoron, by the boundless hatred aimed at the Clintons. I lost count of how many times she was branded a closet dominatrix/lesbo, and how many times he was accused of aiding drug trafficking and even covering up murder in Arkansas.
Syndicated columnist Stanley Fish recently wrote a column on Hillary-hatred which he said drew more responses, many of them full of Hillary-hate, than he’d ever seen before. At one point, Fish noted the resemblance between the venom spat at Clinton and the venom spat at Bush. Because I’m as interested in the psychology of political behavior as I am the campaign details, I was intrigued when a number of people indignantly wrote to insist that while personal smear jobs on Clinton could have no defensible basis, similar attacks on Bush and Cheney made perfect sense and were actually rooted in reasonable objections to their policies. As Fish wrote,
In their view, the hatred they expressed was not irrational at all, but was provoked by a record of crimes and character flaws they are happy to rehearse. Their mirror image on the left objected to my saying that President Bush fills the same role for liberals that Clinton fills for her detractors. No, no came the protest. However free-floating hatred of Clinton may be, hatred of Bush is firmly grounded in the record of a disastrous presidency that has left us at war, in debt, and in bad odor throughout the world. The two groups differed only in the bad qualities they attributed to their nemesis. Bush haters derided him as stupid. Clinton haters complained that she is too smart (the word “brilliant” is used as a pejorative), seems to know it all, and makes those who hear her speak feel they are less intelligent than she is.
Call it Chronicles of Human Subjectivity #589.
I think there were and are real, substantive reasons to strongly dislike certain policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations. That is not the question. The question is whether good purposes are served, and thought and discourse elevated, when we assail our leaders with sulfuric contempt and showers of four-letter words, when we depict Hillary Clinton as an castrating shrew or Dick Cheney as not merely the architect of a botched war but a power-mad vampire smacking his lips in delight at the terror and bloodshed unleashed. I think not.
Check Fish’s full piece here if you like.