Michael Steele, head of the Republican party, is in hot water because he refused to sign on to a civility pledge cooked up by Democrats. Good for you, Mr. Steele. Regardless of your motive or your reasoning for refusing to lend your party’s imprimatur to farcical, feel-good hypocrisy, your stand is laudable.
For months now, lefty pundits have been sounding a call to civility. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Civility is a concept we can all get our arms around, not a plot perpetrated on the American people by an “effete core of impudent snobs.” Who among us does not want to live in a please-and-thank-you kind of world? Who among us, save our esteemed Vice President, does not agree that keeping a civil tongue in public discourse is a good thing?
But it seems pretty plain that civil, let alone honest, debate will be impossible to achieve unless and until the demagogues are called out for what they are, and the powers that be adopt a zero-tolerance policy for unexamined assumptions, unsubstantiated assertions, and unprincipled exaggerations. Unfortunately, nowhere are these unsavory rhetorical tactics more on display than in the writing of racial polemicists, who even in the aftermath of a battle they won—health care reform—are still firing off bunker-busting broadsides to ensure it’ll be a long time before their challengers resurface.
Take, for example, two columns that appeared on the same day in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The authors are different—Charles Blow and Colbert King, respectively—and the words they use are somewhat different. The hate and lies they spew are exactly the same.
Blow and King begin their poison pen essays with an identical assumption: those who opposed health care reform are “far-right extremists” (Blow) or “Tea Party supporters and their right-wing fellow travelers” (King). Each then goes on to draw invidious, unfounded comparisons between the so-called extremists (i.e., opponents of the recently signed health care reform legislation) and domestic terrorists. Here’s Charles Blow:
According to a report entitled “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism” recently released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “nativist extremist” groups that confront and harass suspected immigrants have increased nearly 80 percent since President Obama took office, and antigovernment “patriot” groups more than tripled over that period.
Politically, this frustration is epitomized by the Tea Party movement.
Here’s Colbert King:
The angry faces at Tea Party rallies are eerily familiar. They resemble faces of protesters lining the street at the University of Alabama in 1956 as Autherine Lucy, the school’s first black student, bravely tried to walk to class.
Those same jeering faces could be seen gathered around the Arkansas National Guard troopers who blocked nine black children from entering Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957.
The conflation of groups here is as dizzying as an air traffic controller’s radar at O’Hare at 5:00 PM on a weekday. But we can unpack it using the elegant language of mathematics:
Opponent of the recent legislation = Tea Party member = right wing extremist = Timothy McVeigh ~ David Duke.
If the oddly similar passages above aren’t enough to convince you that Blow and King both got the same talking-points memo, then please compare the conclusions to their simultaneously published columns. This time, Mr. King is up first:
Those angry faces won’t go away. But neither can they stand in the way of progress.
The mobs of yesteryear were on the wrong side of history. Tea Party supporters and their right-wing fellow travelers are on the wrong side now. It shows up in their faces.
And now Mr. Blow:
The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.
You may want “your country back,” but you can’t have it. That sound you hear is the relentless, irrepressible march of change. Welcome to America: The Remix.
If one were to play the nasty game that Columnists Blow and King engage in here, one might be tempted to take notice of their myopia. It’s almost as if they were saying, “all those folks out there who disagree with me, well, they all look alike to me.” On second thought, there is no “almost” about it.
There will be no civil discourse until we agree to take off the dark glasses of our prejudice.
NOTE to readers: This post, sans illustrations, appeared originally on March 29, 2010 on the website The American Thinker.