Side-by-side at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson and Ruth Marcus present a strong contrast today, and there’s no doubt in my mind which outlook would be better for the country.
Marcus starts off decrying a “Tea Party” candidate’s campaign video in an Alabama congressional primary. (I’m still wondering how columnists so infallibly distinguish a Tea Partier from other populist types, but never mind.) The candidate thinks redistributionist welfare is slavery for the people who pay taxes, as he makes graphically clear, and he closes with a very, very brief image of a concentration camp – one of those “subliminal” images that Marcus, sitting on her high Washington D.C. perch, was nevertheless able to perceive all the way down in the fever swamps of scary, scary Red Alabama. (I’m still wondering how these subliminal images get detected if they’re so subtle. Do some people have no lives? Oh, never mind.)
She decries the video as sacrilege, unhinged and emblematic. She links it to conservative talk radio (which she hints she has spent some time listening to). She insinuates that there couldn’t possibly be anything slavish about the role of taxpayer because — hey! — this is a democracy with checks and balances, and the system we have was voted on by the people who worry terribly about the Tea Party.
Marcus closes throwing down a gauntlet for conservatives to join her in decrying such stuff.
Gerson takes up the gauntlet so firmly that Marcus may be sorry she asked. His first target: David Weigel (the reporter whose blogging got him his 15 minutes of fame — which, by the way, runs out very soon now).
When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, “I hope he fails.” Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire.” Opponents are referred to as “ratf — -ers” and “[expletive] moronic.”
This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.
Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck “do the honorable thing and blow his brains out.” … Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush.” Says John Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”
Yet Gerson acknowledges the problem on the right.
“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh,” Ann Coulter once said, “is he did not go to the New York Times building.” … Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: “We Came Unarmed (This Time).”
Gerson then ties things up a bit, beginning:
The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.
Such sentiments have always existed. But the unfiltered media — particularly the Internet — have provided both stage and spotlight. Now everyone can be Richard Nixon, threatening opponents and composing enemies lists.
The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent … I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.
Marcus hears no enemies of civility on the left. (What! Did she go expatriate during the Bush years?) Gerson correctly sees really bad polarization with crazies at both the red and blue ends of the spectrum.
Anyone foolish enough to follow this blog faithfully will suspect that I think the country may be too far gone for rehabilitation by either the Ugly Party or the Grown-Up Party. But if we’re going into the tank economically, I’d rather go into it with people who realize that virtually all of us were complicit in bringing it about — and that no scapebillies deserve to be hung by the testicles or scapenannies to be raped and put naked on display.
I resolve to try to remember that in future posts, and I regret any dehumanizing in former posts. My intent is always “what fools we mortals be,” but blogging can be intoxicating (as David Weigel found), and I may have said some things that sounded more like “kill the creeps.”