What a party that must have been!
I’m speaking of the time that Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray hopped into their Hot Tub Time Machine and journeyed to 2011 to listen to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and get brainwashed into entering the assassination game.
That scenario is not so far-fetched for those who are rushing to declare the recent Tucson shooting rampage the fault of (take your pick) the Tea Party, conservative talk radio, FOX News or negative campaign ads.
Suddenly “civility” groupies are bemoaning “vitriolic rhetoric,” “hate,” “anger,” “bitterness,” “rancor,” “extreme ideologies” and “verbal savagery.”
I agree that politicians, commentators and voters should be ashamed of rumor-mongering, deliberate distortions of the truth, and knee-jerk auto-pilot opposition to everything the other party proposes – but beyond that, we do a disservice to our forefathers if we insist on playing the child-pacifying game “Tiptoe, Tiptoe, Quiet As A Mouse” around so-called hot button issues.
Is political discourse in 2011 something unique in history?
Returning Vietnam War veterans were taunted as “baby killers.”
An infamous 1964 campaign commercial strongly implied that challenger Barry Goldwater would plunge us into nuclear war.
The Copperheads thought Abe Lincoln a bloodthirsty tyrant.
One of Thomas Jefferson’s supporters branded John Adams “a hideously hermaphroditic character.”
Since 1776 this republic has survived with the option of placing the opposition in the hot seat.
Apparently now our only option is to reenact Monty Python’s version of the Spanish Inquisition. (“Congressman, we have evidence that you lied about your military record, engaged in insider trading and practiced serial bigamy. We have no choice but to subject you to the COMFY PILLOW!”)
Sarah Palin and others have been scrutinized for using provocative “gun imagery” (say it with the same venomous tone as “kitten bludgeoning imagery” for the proper effect) in campaign material.
Sure, let’s focus on the few hypothetical nut jobs and not on the millions of citizens who see “gun imagery” but don’t take violent action.
Let’s self-censor and “tone down” and mollycoddle and hope that some psycho doesn’t still use the generic phrase “throw the bums out” as a license to push opponents out of an 8th-story window. (And what about deranged fans, who might take rosy descriptions as an invitation to dispatch their idol to a Better Place?)
The squeamish think that tossing around the magic words “esteemed colleague” and “distinguished gentleman” through clenched teeth will make us safer and more productive, as if a bandit’s demanding “Your money or your life—PLEASE” somehow leaves us in better financial shape.
They think that a curtailment of “negative” campaign ads will leave us better informed.
If they get their way, ads will leave the electorate with information such as “Them lollipops, rainbows and pink unicorns sure are purty!”
Pundits have warned that the current level of political discourse turns people off from voting – as if making passionate issues such as abortion, gay rights and illegal immigration boring doesn’t discourage people from voting.
We have been lectured that free speech comes with consequences.
Let’s not forget that neutered speech comes with consequences as well.
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Perhaps it’s time to update that to “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to give a wimpy response.”
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.