Civility, Hypocrisy, and the Rules of Political Debate
Glenn Greenwald argues that many of those now condemning MoveOn.org and/or demanding that Democrats condemn MoveOn.org for suggesting General David Petraeus would “betray us” are hypocrites, since many have used inflammatory rhetoric themselves.
He’s surely right in many particulars. Those on the Ann Coulter wing of the Right, who routinely throw around words like “traitors” and “treason” to describe mainstream Democrats for expressing honest disagreement, live in proverbial glass houses.
Many of us, though, have been rather consistent on this issue, decrying those on both sides of the aisle for going beyond the pale and creating a chilling effect on democratic debate. Still, I’ve argued since before the Iraq War started that there were plenty of honorable reasons to oppose it; I’ve defended John Kerry, John Murtha, John Edwards, and Joe Biden from unfair attacks; argued that Ward Churchill has a right to academic freedom (but not academic misconduct!); and I’ve repeatedly rebuffed the notion that Democrats are anti-victory, let alone anti-American.
The point of all this isn’t that I’ve been a bastion of civility in an otherwise harsh body politic. I’ve been at this since January 2003 and I’m sure that someone looking through my archives hard enough could find instances within the 15,958 posts I’ve written and find contrary examples. I’m occasionally snarky and infrequently angry but try to avoid painting with too broad a brush.
I’m hardly unique in this role. Most of the bloggers on my blogroll and certainly those in the recommended feeds in the top navigation bar have been mostly civil in their discussion of some incredibly divisive issues. That’s true of plenty of other non-blogging pundits, too (see this four-year-old George Will column, for example).
So, yes, condemn hypocrisy. But stand up and be counted when major spokesmen for your side go beyond the pale, too.
UPDATE: Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry and Jane Hamsher (and, presumably, others) argue that tactics like the “Betray Us” ad are not only brilliant but necessary to get one’s point noticed. But, surely, Ann Coulter, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and others despised by the Left could make the same claim.
It’s true on many levels, of course. Bomb throwing tactics are often quite successful. But at what cost to civil society?