Bush 41: Incivil Politics ‘Just Not Right’

President George H.W. Bush says presidents are “entitled to civil treatment and intellectual honesty when it comes to critics” and that harsh criticism “should not be par for the course. To the degree it turns off one student or one person from serving that’s bad.”

Now, I fully agree that the 24/7/365 political combat that is the byproduct of cable news (or, as Bush puts it, “the cables”) and the Internet has corrosive effects.  So, too, does the permanent campaign that grew out of that environment. He’s right, too, that it this poisonous atmosphere has likely turned some good people away from public service.

I’m not sure what to do about any of this, however.  The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to free political expression and the nature of instantaneous communication free of gatekeepers is such that incivility is almost a given.  And, surely, the fact that some student — or, even, lots of them — will shy away from politics isn’t sufficient reason to regulate speech.

So, if Bush the Elder is merely expressing his frustration at the way things are — or even calling on people to think about the effects of their style of communication — it’s all well and good.  If he’s saying government should “do something” about it, I respectfully disagree.

MSNBC video via The Swamp

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I think the operative words were “it’s not just on the right.” I think the former President wanted to make sure the headlines coming out of this were not that “Bush 41 down on Uncivil Republicans.”

    I think this in part because Maddow highlights Bush’s “call for civility” re. egg throwing.

    Now ;-), how successful was his spin? Did he make anti-Obama incivility into a discussion of “liberal incivility.” He’s not a skilled politician, not at all …

  2. odograph says:

    BTW, Dems really need to get over Willie Horton. That ad worked on a non-racial basis, that it worked on a racial basis also is perhaps unfortunate (in some sense) but it was never the core of it.

    You could do the story, calling him William Horton, and without a picture and it would still show how messed up Mass. was at the time. They gave a murderer a frickin’ day pass, and he assaulted and raped while free.

  3. Pug says:

    …how messed up Mass. was at the time

    Texas and many other states also had prison furlough programs. Not that they were right, but they were common back then.

    Bush hired Lee Atwater. That’s all you need to know about his high regard for civility.

  4. odograph says:

    How common were furloughs for those sentenced to “life without possibility of parole?”

  5. Our Paul says:

    For those with limited time, Rachel Maddow interviews Ron Suskind concerning this brouhaha will prove of interest. Starts at 5:36 in the video, and ends with brother Ron saying “this is a dangerous trend”. He is right in his analysis, which deserves a look see… Meanwhile, Odograph, never one to mince words, neatly above summarizes the elder Bush’s dilemma.

    As is my wont, let us deconstruct:

    So, if Bush the Elder is merely expressing his frustration at the way things are — or even calling on people to think about the effects of their style of communication — it’s all well and good. If he’s saying government should “do something” about it, I respectfully disagree. (My italics OP)

    Neither in the presented video, or any news account is there a hint that Bush the elder was advocating that government should “do something” about it. It is all well and good that Libertarian/Reagan Conservatives keep emphasizing that the government is the problem, but when the central issue at hand is civility in political discourse, it smacks of the ye old shell game…

    And then this little bit of nihilism:

    I’m not sure what to do about any of this, however. The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to free political expression and the nature of instantaneous communication free of gatekeepers is such that incivility is almost a given. (my italics, OP)

    I will help you out. Civility is a societal function, in which all must participate as both examples, critics, and if needed policeman. It is fragile, for once it starts to slip away, it is very difficult to recover. Assuredly incivility is not “almost a given”.

    When Suskind ended his interview with Ms. Maddow with the words “this is a dangerous trend” he was talking of the expanding coarsening of American politics, a narrowing vortex that may well lead to violence, or as the Republican Congress appears to have chosen, grid-lock, rather than attempts to advance solutions in these troubled times.

    It is not that hard James! When you present a video that has snips of students with pictures of President Obama with a Hitler mustache painted on, students selling eggs to throw at a picture of the President, signs implying he is communist, you have a choice: comment on uncivil behavior, or remain silent. As they used to say when I had a full hair of head, you are either part of the solution, or part of the problem.

  6. Highlander says:

    “Poppy” Bush and his sonny boy “Georgie” while lining their own pockets probably to the tune of billions of our dollars at the end of the day, have been the greatest disasters for conservative Americans EVER!!! While running their business scams,Bush and Cheney set the stage for the arrival of Obama. They are the reason this unraveling is now taking place at greater and greater speed.

    “Poppy” doesn’t like uncivil and impolite political discourse because it makes it more difficult to do BUSINESS as usual. I mean the Carlyle group is owned by only gentlemen be they WASPS or Arabs. “My God they would never be impolite only avaricious.”