Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Origin of Our Political Incivility

From whence cometh the gross incivility of American politics? Who is at fault for the rancor and the vitriol that has made American politics into gladiatorial combat?

The mainstream media, unfair and unbalanced as always, tells us that Republicans incite violence and that Democrats, especially Barack Obama, are models for moderation.

Some liberal pundits have suggested that Obama is too sensible, too mature, and too adult to deal with the obstreperous adolescents who call themselves Republicans.

Whatever liberals lack in intelligence they make up for in gullibility.

Among New York Times columnists, Joe Nocera is hardly the most liberal. Yet, he is considered to be a liberal, because he once compared Tea Party activists to terrorists.

When called out on the slur, Nocera did something that his colleague Krugman has never done: he apologized.

In itself, this speaks well for his character. Next to Krugman Nocera looks like a moral giant.  Yes, I know: next to Krugman anyone would look like a moral giant.

Friday, Nocera wrote a column about the incivility that has infested American politics. Specifically, he addressed himself to Times-reading liberals who tend to take it as an article of dogmatic faith that Republicans are the fons et origo of all that is uncivil about American political culture.

Looking back into history, Nocera discovered that while Republicans have not exactly been models of decorum, modern political incivility was invented by liberal Democrats in 1987.

When notable moderate Lewis Powell announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, President Reagan nominated Robert Bork.

Faced with the spectre of Robert Bork, American liberals lost it. Having long suffered from conservativophobia , they went completely berserk. 

Overcome with terror, they took leave of their rational faculties and decided that the stakes were so high, and the threat so grave, that would have to do whatever was necessary to defeat Bork.

In classical ethics, good behavior involves tempering one’s emotions. There is no redeeming moral value in saying that you feel so strongly about an issue that you need not obey the rules of courtesy and civility.

Liberal Americans indulged their strong feelings and let fly. They did not seem to care that someone might think that their emotional incontinence was a sign of feeble mindedness.

Their behavior set the moral tone and established a moral example.

To contrast the liberal reaction with reality, Nocera reminds us that Bork was eminently qualified for the Court. He had taught at Yale Law School, had served as solicitor general of the United States, and was a sitting federal judge.

Of course, he was a constitutional originalist, a man whose opinions were consonant with those of Antonin Scalia. As it happened, Scalia had been confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 1986.

Nocera offers a summary of Bork’s philosophy: “Moreover, Bork was a legal intellectual, a proponent of original intent and judicial restraint. The task of the judge, he once wrote, is ‘to discern how the framers’ values, defined in the context of the world they knew, apply to the world we know.’ He said that Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, was a ‘wholly unjustifiable judicial usurpation’ of authority that belonged to the states, that the court’s recent rulings on affirmative action were problematic and that the First Amendment didn’t apply to pornography.”

“Whatever you think of these views,” Nocera adds, “they cannot fairly be characterized as extreme.” Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg has questioned the way Roe v. Wade was decided.

Liberals are supposed to be a fount of deep thought. They pride themselves on being more rational and less emotional than the yahoos who live in flyover country.

If those had been their defining qualities, they would have relished the chance to debate the merits of the Bork nomination. They could have used the occasion to raise salient issues in judicial philosophy and constitutional law.

They concluded, however, that that they could never prevail on the merits, so they shifted gears. Believing that they had to defeat Bork, and basing their actions, Nocera explains, on the immoral principle that the end justifies the means, they decided to assassinate Bork’s character. .

Sen. Ted Kennedy led the charge. Never having demonstrated any moral character of his own, Kennedy was well qualified to demagogue the issue.

Nocera reminds us of that appalling moment: “The character assassination began the day Bork was nominated, when Ted Kennedy gave a fiery speech describing ‘Robert Bork’s America’ as a place ‘in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,’ and so on. It continued until the day the nomination was voted down; one ad, for instance, claimed, absurdly, that Bork wanted to give ‘women workers the choice between sterilization and their job’.”

The speech was as memorable as it was infamous. The morally challenged Ted Kennedy was the right hit man for the job. 

Heaven knows why people still admire Ted Kennedy. If we are serious about wanting to restore civility to our political culture, we should stop lionizing people who have no moral character.

Nocera concludes, strikingly: “The next time a liberal asks why Republicans are so intransigent, you might suggest that the answer lies in the mirror.”

Way to go, Joe. 

No comments: