Monday, November 9, 2009

They Started It!

Jonathan Chait has a good catch on a recent Weekly Standard piece on populism and Palin; Chait notes that examples intended to prove that Eastern elite opinion is dismissive of the Sage of Wasilla includes Maureen Dowd -- who is, as Chait notes, dismissive of everyone -- and one fairly prominent liberal journalist, and then handful of obscure people, none of whom is in fact part of the Eastern elite.

I can add a bit to this, which is that this is the exact tactic that Bush supporters used for years to dismiss all criticisms of W. as "Bush derangement syndrome," and now uses the same excuse to justify over-the-top criticisms of Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, I can't give a proper citation, but a couple months ago I was flipping around the AM dial and caught a bit of one of the talk radio shows, which featured a longish clip roll of a bunch of nasty comments about Bush. Yes, it's true that over his eight years in office, it's not hard to find dozens of horrible things -- uncivil, far beyond reasonable discourse -- things said by people about George W. Bush (or any other president). The question, of course, is whether those things were said by presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Congressional leaders, and other prominent spokespeople of the out-party. The question is whether they were said by people who were treated as respected leaders by presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Congressional leaders, and other prominent spokespeople of the out-party, or not. And the question is whether they were the rare, blurted-out exception, or normal discourse.

Of course, the clip roll that I heard did not try to make those distinctions; it was just an excuse for the host (and, sorry, I don't know which one -- it was a national show, but not a voice I recognized, and I didn't stick around long enough to check) to say vile and horrible things about Obama. See, they started it!

There is, as far as I can see, a huge difference between the parties on these questions. Both left and right, to be sure, have fringe types who say crazy things. But the current Democrats generally (not always -- I'm sure there are counterexamples, but generally) keep fringe types on the fringes. Republicans don't. As I've said before, Democrats basically kicked Cynthia McKinney out of their party; Republicans have elevated Michele Bachmann to central place in theirs. Democrats, for the most part, rejected or at least ignored voices equating Bush and Hitler; the Republican House leadership just attended a rally featuring people equating Obama and Hitler. Democrats, of course, did not impeach George W. Bush; Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, and I think it's likely that they would impeach Barack Obama if they had control of the House.

And Republicans, and their talk-show-host yakkers, are trying hard to convince their rank-and-file that it's the Democrats -- not the far left, but mainstream Democrats -- who are the chief violators of civility. I assume that listeners believe that to be true; why wouldn't they?

Anyway, we have a good test coming up, with the emergence of loud & flaky Florida Rep. Alan Grayson. We'll see -- if I'm correct, he'll either give in to norms of civil discourse, or be mostly ostracized by Congressional Dems. For those unsure of who is correct here, I recommend watching the continuing careers of Grayson and Bachmann.


  1. Perhaps my bias is showing, but I just can't see how Grayson's stupid comment could even be considered to be in the same orbit as the crap coming out of Bachmann's mouth every day.

    BTW, I'll send you a paper on the loonies on both sides you should read, or, at least, on who people searching the internet THINK are loonies.

  2. Matt,

    I agree that Grayson's no Bachmann...yet. The question is where he goes from here, and how the party treats him if he goes down her path. The McKinney case suggests that there are real penalties for Democrats who embrace the crazy, while on the Republican side the incentives all go the other way. If that's so, we can expect Grayson to say outrageous things and make his points very forcefully, but not, for example, accuse Republican Members of Congress of being active traitors to their nation -- and we can expect him to stretch the truth, but not completely ignore it.

    (Of course, it's not all incentives -- there's also what Grayson and Bachmann really think about things. I don't know enough about either to have an opinion, there. But I do think both, so far, seem to be pretty well explained by career incentives).


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