Friday, February 26, 2010


Via Newsweek's Lisa Miller, here's a pearl of wisdom from Lanny Davis, who's teamed up with a former Mitt Romney campaign aide, Mark DeMoss, on the Civility Project, which is trying to get our political culture to be nicer:

... Would a more civil public conversation get us to where we need to go? If a big alien ship descended to earth and removed Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow from the planet, would Congress finally be able to pass health care?

Davis says yes. "If Obama and the Republicans could be Mark DeMoss and me, we could listen to each other. We would mix and match, and find an incremental solution that may be 25 or 50 percent away from where we want to be. Perfect is the enemy of the good."

Er, no. It's a bit like the belief that arresting drug dealers will decrease the demand for drugs -- it never does. If political-anger dealers were removed from society, new dealers would step up to take their place. We like political anger.

Miller, naturally sees an equivalence between left and right anger-mongers -- ignoring, as all conventional-wisdom purveyors do, the fact that the thirteen highest-rated cable news shows are all on Fox and the fact that the nine most influential radio talkers are right-wing. There's an imbalance -- obviously.

And yet the imbalance in conventional wisdom goes the other way: left-wing anger is sometimes believed to exist on its own, and is deemed unspeakably awful (Cindy Sheehan! Michael Moore!), but right-wing anger is never believed to exist independently -- it's always part of a generalized incivility. When right-wingers are angry, it's everyone's fault! That, at least, is the CW in the rare moments, like now, when CW purveyors are forced to admit that right-wing anger even exists.

And, of course, Beltway journalists would really, really prefer not to acknowledge right-wing anger at all. Perhaps you've seen this Washington Post article about the Coffee Party movement, which is a small, loose agglomeration of pro-Obama types who want the discourse to be a bit more civil so something can get done. We know the Coffee Partiers want civility because that's a stated goal of their movement; Dan Zak of the Post,faced with this fact, feels the need to insist that tea partiers also want civility ... because, well, they say they do:

"We have to relearn how to talk to each other, to deliberate," says [Annabel] Park, driving west on I-66 to the Coffee Party meeting in Manassas. "It's also about regaining confidence that we can come together, that we can come to the middle and agree on things."

The Coffee Party believes the middle is consensus. The Tea Party believes the middle is the Constitution.

"People are scared on both sides about the financial stability of the country," adds [William] Temple, the Tea Party activist, on the phone from Brunswick. "There are people who get angry. I remind people, 'Hey, settle down. The sky's not gonna fall.' ... We need to reassure them that there's hope. We're not about to launch a French Revolution here. We can vote and we can talk and we can do it civilly."

Yeah, just trust him when he says that! After all, the tea partier came unarmed -- this time. (Temple, of course, attends tea party events wielding a musket.)

Ultimately, I don't have a problem with political anger. Our political anger problem in this country is this: right-wing elected officials are allowed to respond to it when it's on their side, and they're not called extreme when they do; Democrats aren't supposed to respond to the anger on our side (and many Democrats agree with that statement), and yet they're called extreme even when they don't. It's a subset of the larger problem, which is that Republicans get to win when they win -- i.e., they get to govern as they choose -- but Democrats aren't supposed to.

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