Monday, October 18, 2004

The Costs of Incivility

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.


Harry said...

There many excellent reasons why Bush is excoriated. Let's see, over-reaching executive secrecy is a good place to start. There's also placing former industry bigiwgs as head of regulatory agencies overseeing their former industries. There's the insulation of the president from critics whenever possible. How about the use of loyalty oaths to keep protesters away from his rallies? There's the enormous deficit which cannot all be laid at the feet of 9/11/01, or the recession he inherited. There's his gross use of 9/11 as a campaign statement. There's the policy of never allowing photos of coffins returning from the war. There's Bush's refusal to admit mistakes, or maybe it's his bizarre claim that he can't remember any. There's also his utterly rotten leadership when things like Abu Ghraib rise out of the ground like the hand at the end of "Carrie." Why has no one been held accountable for that? Why did nearly everyone in the administration blame someone else for the 16 words that never should've been in the State of the Union Speech? The net loss of jobs; the ungodly tax cuts; the slap and tickle he plays with veterans' benefits and combat pay for troops now in combat.... I could go on. It isn't just that he's a republican. It's also that he has been a lousy president. He started out with barely any legitimacy, and hasn't done much since to add any. His "election" was a vote against the Clinton years.

Steve T. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve T. said...

[Note: I suppose it's a wise policy for Blogger to decree that no one, not even the blog owner, can edit posts, only delete them if sufficiently motivated. I may invite your comments on my blog, but that doesn't give me the right to re-write your words. So having totally blown my original attempt at reply, here's v. 2:]

I'm not sure about the last point. Now, Jimmy Carter's election certainly was a reaction against the appalling misdeeds of Nixon's administration, with poor Gerald Ford cast in the role of Nixon's effigy, to be strung up on his behalf. But Bush as a reaction against Clinton? I don't think so. Despite all the scandals, Clinton remains an incredibly popular guy, a fact that still makes the blood pound in the temples of those who hate him. Even with Monicagate, if he'd been constitutionally permitted to run for a third term, he might have won. The problem is that Gore turned out to be a shockingly bad candidate when thrust out into the spotlight on his own, with nobody's shadow to stand in. After all, the Florida debacle in 2000 would have been of merely local interest if he had been a stronger candidate everywhere else.

All that aside, you have a good list of points against Bush, and maybe one of the most damning is the one about accountability. Every administration makes mistakes, and if it's a placid time they don't matter much. But for an administration thrust into the crucible of history like this one, to make so many mistakes with historic consequences, and for us to see nobody's head going bounce, bounce, bounce down the White House portico steps makes one wonder. If no underlings are accountable, just who is in charge?

Greg D said...

I do not believe that Kerry is qualified to be President.

But, if he wins, he wins. By that, I means he wins in the voting, not in the courts.

However, unless he stabs his supporters in the back by actually fighting the war on terror, he will not in any real way be "my" President, and I will not respect him.

OTOH, I won't go around screaming looky-tune slogans for the next four years, either.

Greg D said...

Let me put it this way:

I'm a libertarian. I don't respect offices, I respect people. Kerry has done nothing to earn my respect, and many things to forfeit it. Bush, by effectively fighting the war on terror, has done a great deal to earn my respect. (No major attacks on the US since 9/11. I bet Putin wishes he could accomplish as much. The anti-US governments of Afghanistan and Iraq overthrown. Qadaffi cowed. Bush has done well.)

If Kerry acts like his supporters want him to, he will be a disaster for the US, and will not get my respect.