Varifrank has an excellent post today about the minimums of civility that should be observed when commenting on people's blogs, especially when commenting on something you don't agree with. As he puts it, it's the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable, between showing a basic degree of respect and not, and I think he's spot on. This is why I've never believed in commenting anonymously on blogs. I think it keeps you accountable when you know you can be tracked back to your e-mail address, even if it's a hotmail account and they can trace you no further.
However -- to scale this up a bit -- I'm also concerned about the lack of basic respect on a much larger scale, up to the office of President of the United States. Shall we talk about that? Oh, let's!
Let me add in passing, though, that in this crucial election, national security has to be held as the most pressing and urgent issue. So I was greatly heartened to read two articles by the extremely bright centrist commentator Michael J. Totten. He gave himself two very difficult assignments, to make the hawkish case for Kerry and the liberal case for Bush. They are both excellent pieces, and give me reason to hope that no matter which way the election goes, it will not be a national security disaster for the country. Recommended!
Okay now, I'm old enough that I can remember (barely) the assassination of President Kennedy, so I've seen 'em come, and I've seen 'em go. But it seems to me that it's only the last couple of administrations which were seen by their opponents as not just regrettable errors on the part of a duped electorate (the losing side always feels that way), but as outright illegitimate.
This seems new to me. I certainly remember the Reagan years vividly, and there were plenty of people who were appalled at the idea of a retired actor as president, and who despised and even feared his policies. But no one questioned his legitimacy, especially as he won both times so decisively, and he was always shown basic respect, even by those who virulently disagreed with him. (In fact, that was one of the few things that could get his goat. You could disagree with, even make fun of Ronald Reagan all you wanted, and he'd laugh along with you. But a show of disrespect towards the President of the United States was one of the few things that could make him lose his temper in public.)
With the election of Bill Clinton this seems to have changed. It wasn't just that the Republicans hated having lost the election. It was that they just could not accept the idea that That Man was in the White House. That bubba, that snake-oil salesman, that liar, that cad, that . . . Well, love him or hate him, you know the list.
Likewise after Bush was elected in 2000, it became the Democrats who just could not accept That Man being in the Oval Office. That moron, that chimp, that sock puppet, that warmonger, that . . . Again, why go on? Of course, the election mess in Florida exacerbated the problem, but I'm not sure it created it.
And so here we are again, mere days from another election, one which looks like it may be another squeaker. If Bush wins by a hair, not much will change. Those who couldn't accept him before will still not accept him. But if Kerry (supply your own epithets) wins by a hair, will we just see the "could not accept" baton passed to the other team yet again? I read a lot of political blogs and websites, and the virulence aimed at Kerry by many conservatives is just amazing. I truly worry that a lot of them would be unable to accept a Kerry presidency. What is most disturbing is the hint that in the "can not accept" camp might be a substantial amount of the U.S. military.
This is dangerous, goddammit!! And I'm far from the first to notice it. Back in July Dean Esmay asked if conservatives would take a pledge he himself was prepared to take, to vow to support the president, let him truly be "my president," no matter who won. It sparked a lot of discussion on his blog, including a sorrowful comment by one guy who feared that the days of respecting the office are over.
I really don't want to see three presidents in a row of both major parties seen as unacceptable and illegitimate by the losing side. If we get out of the habit of thinking that the president you opppose really is the president, and must be respected as the president, even as you work your ass off to make sure he only serves one term, then we will have lost something very valuable, and precious to the successful functioning of our country. And it will be very hard to get it back.