Civility shmivility

Old friend Don Surber has a rant against civil discourse that all the wingerati are linking to. It mostly consists of him writing “bite me” over and over again. It’s comically stupid, as is often the case with Surber’s writing, but I agree with the sentiment to a certain extent: the kind of stuff he writes doesn’t contribute to violence or even much to the general degradation of national discourse. Likewise, while I think it’s great that Congressional Republicans are trying to use the word “kill” less (as in “kill the bill” etc.), I don’t think that the rhetoric coming from Republican Congressional leadership was ever that over-the-top to begin with.

But try listening to Michael Savage or Glenn Beck for an extended period of time and I think you’ll agree with the 54% of Americans who say angry rhetoric will either very likely or somewhat likely cause another incident like the Tucson shootings in the future. To be sure, national Republicans generally have a wink-wink pact with this stuff, but they (other than Sarah Palin and a few others) don’t directly engage in that kind of rhetoric themselves very much, at least not at the top (Boehner, McConnnell, etc.).

The right has a long history with this. Reagan’s “strapping young bucks buying T-bone steaks” line and decision to kick off his campaign with a speech about states’ rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi were of course wink-winks (and not very subtle ones) to white voters who were still angry about civil rights legislation. I think it’s fair to ask Republicans to disassociate themselves from Beck/Palin, but they won’t because they think the Beck/Palin stuff fires up the base, and anyway I don’t think the winks are as blatant as Reagan’s were anyway.

So there’s no way to quiet the craziness on the right. It’s done by people who don’t stand for elections and condoned by elected officials who think the rhetoric helps them. But the fact we can’t do anything about it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be honest about what is actually going on. All the bloggers in the world could stop using profanity, or whatever it is James Fallows thinks they should do, and that wouldn’t change what goes on on right-wing talk radio.






76 replies
  1. 1
    cleek says:

    profanity is the spice of life

  2. 2
    General Stuck says:

    @cleek:

    profanity is the spice of life

    Fuckin’ A!

  3. 3
    chopper says:

    @cleek:

    for some reason “Garam Masshola” just popped into my head.

  4. 4

    I tend to agree with the 54%. But I would really like to be wrong.

  5. 5
    RossInDetroit says:

    Angry rhetoric isn’t going to go away as long as there’s a market for it. Attacking it at the source is pointless as long as there are willing consumers. You could silence Rush, Beck, Savage and all the rest today and tomorrow there would be just as much anger because people will seek it out.
    It’s not them, it’s us.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Shock Trooper in the War on Christmas says:

    Aren’t you forgetting about Sharron Angle (and similar teatards)?

    “Second Amendment remedies” is perhaps not uncivil, but certainly inflammatory.

  8. 8
  9. 9
    Jennifer says:

    Don Surber, or as Tintin calls him, “the Pepys of Poca.”

  10. 10
    The Moar You Know says:

    The right wing gets more mileage and more mindshare every time they up the rhetoric, therefore, the murders will continue, as they only own one house of Congress and there’s a lot more people that need to die work that needs to be done in order to “take back the country”.

  11. 11
    Ash Can says:

    I doubt that it’s as passive as “condoning,” in general. I think there’s active encouragement of the media assholes on the part of GOP pols. It’s a win-win situation: the media assholes get the GOP message out and keep the base engaged, and the pols get the excuse they need to distance themselves from the more over-the-top rhetoric when called on it, while still being able to say “I might not have used those exact words myself, but you know, s/he has a point…”

  12. 12
    Hunter Gathers says:

    Talk Radio – a refuge for middle aged white males with inferiority complexes, racial anxieties, drug addictions and just plain old stupidity.

  13. 13
    MikeJ says:

    I hate the way “civility” has come to mean “don’t use profanity.”

    If you were on a TV panel show with Angle and she said her second amendment solution line, and responded by telling her to go fuck herself, *you* would be the bad guy. You would get bleeped, be the lead story on the news, and never be allowed on TV again.

  14. 14
    Jack says:

    You know, what’s being lost in all of this is most people don’t have a problem with language like “kill the bill” or even stupidity like putting “job-killing” in the title of a bill. Using words like “campaign” to describe running for office is also not a problem.

    The problem is when people say things like “Second Amendment solutions” or “we came unarmed, THIS time” or “don’t retreat, RELOAD”.

    Why does ANYONE bring a firearm to a political rally? To intimidate, that’s why.

    It’s not “uncivil” language, it’s the language of THREATS that is the problem. The right-wing, like any bully, talks loud, denies responsibility louder, and then cries and claims they are the victim when held accountable.

  15. 15
    jinxtigr says:

    Rhetoric is all fine and good, but it’s for a purpose, and that’s what causes a problem, to my (beautiful) mind.

    If you insist on getting to rant and rave about how Obama greatly expanded the power of government and the debt, unlike Bush who shrank government and reduced the deficit, by all means rant all you want but you will still be wrong and it’s not unreasonable to wish you would shut the hell up.

    Especially in a post-WWII world where we know that the Big Lie can work for some, for a time, and produce very bad things until it runs its course. Insisting that rightwingers bring us freedom and deficit reduction is a claim that has consequences, when the actual result is the deconstruction of our system of government and a massive class war. What happens as the result of the ‘rhetoric’ matters.

  16. 16
    DougJ DougJson says:

    @Ash Can:

    I think it varies, from going along with it grudgingly to outright celebration of it.

  17. 17
    David W. says:

    There’s a difference between insulting rhetoric and violent rhetoric. “Bite me” is just juvenile, however.

  18. 18
    liberal says:

    Likewise, while I think it’s great that Congressional Republicans are trying to use the word “kill” less (as in “kill the bill” etc.), I don’t think that the rhetoric coming from Republican Congressional leadership was ever that over-the-top to begin with.

    Like Manchin in WVa shooting the global warming bill/whatever, the difference is whether the target is a human being.

  19. 19
    ChrisS says:

    @Ash Can:

    Similar to the posts on the libertarian funders calling the think tanks’ tunes, it’s a positive feedback loop that’s edging the right farther and farther away from reality. Bloggers/columnists/”entertainers” know what gets the base fired up and listening and the people in power, while not really sending out the blast fax every night certainly aren’t rewarding the ones who don’t toe the party line with access and fundraiser tickets.

  20. 20
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    Yes…

    Nothing says ‘Liberty on the March’ quite like balding, chubby, oddly sexless and very, very ANGRY middle-aged white men marching down the street, arms linked, chanting ‘We shall over come… we shall over come… we shall over come…”

  21. 21
    TR says:

    @Jack:

    Why does ANYONE bring a firearm to a political rally? To intimidate, that’s why.

    Agreed. Even Chris Matthews understands this, so how hard can it be?

  22. 22
    Zandar says:

    I’m currently having a delightful scrum with the boys from IOwnTheWorld.com over Donny’s temper tantrum here, and I have to say I am damn proud to be cheapening the discourse by merely existing.

  23. 23
    Paris says:

    I don’t know who Don Surber is but his writing resembles the more unhinged letters-to-the-editor that make into our small town paper.

  24. 24
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    Somehow… I find the juxtaposition of that ad at the top, the one w/ Limbaugh’s picture and the question about ‘libruls’ limiting free speech, w/ this thread to be kinda… amazing…

  25. 25
    Ash Can says:

    @DougJ DougJson: That’s what I meant by “in general.” I think that, taken as a whole, there’s a stronger pattern of encouragement than of simply putting up with it.

  26. 26
    gwangung says:

    The problem is when people say things like “Second Amendment solutions” or “we came unarmed, THIS time” or “don’t retreat, RELOAD”.
    __
    Why does ANYONE bring a firearm to a political rally? To intimidate, that’s why.

    If someone said this to my grandparents, about their stores, it’s easily understood as extortion.

    And that’s what this is: the language of thugs and petty criminals.

    Stop talking like a Mob legbreaker–and you’ll stop getting called uncivil.

  27. 27
    gene108 says:

    I think you have the structure of the modern Republican Party confused with what it was in 1980.

    In 1980, President Reagan was trying to get elected and being a former governor of a Western State, California (I do wonder how conservatives keep bitching about how liberal CA is, with that being the home state of both Reagan and Nixon), he wanted to get a coalition of voters in Southern states, to pick off support from President Carter, who is a Southerner.

    Right now, there isn’t a wink-wink relationship between right-wing talking heads and Republicans. Republicans conceded what their Party stands for to the talking heads, after President Obama won the 2008 election. There were a few Republicans, who tried to tell Limbaugh to stuff it, but they had to apologize.

    There was on Congressman from South Carolina, who criticized Beck or Limbaugh and was booed for it.

    The Republicans have given up having a platform. They let the talking heads and other special interests define them and keep voters on edge.

    As long as they can ride the frenzy to electoral victory, there’s no need for them to assert themselves, other than to not do something to offend the real power centers in their Party, which are Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, et. al.

  28. 28
    Scott says:

    @David W.:

    “Bite me” is just juvenile, however.

    And the wingnuts go that particular route so often, I’m starting to wonder if cities that host CPAC end up getting a lot more police reports on mailbox bashing and cow-tipping while they’re in town…

  29. 29
    Catsy says:

    Surber’s error is the same one committed by most of the other wingnuts who are on the defensive about their words: an inability or unwillingness to distinguish between angry rhetoric and violent rhetoric.

    They have every right to be angry. The world is changing in ways they don’t understand or approve of, the Wrong Party holds the presidency and the Senate, said party just had an enormously successful couple of years filled with legislative accomplishments that raise wingnut blood pressure, and despite having retaken the House the GOP is not in a good place, with the tide of public opinion turning sharply against the FUD tactics that have been so successful for them for years.

    They feel passionately about what they believe, and what they believe is being repudiated by the majority of the country. They should be angry.

    But there’s a difference between incivility and incitement. When wingnuts are taken to task for the wink-nod incitement to violence and violent imagery in their words, it’s telling that they don’t try to defend it–they try to move the goalposts by conflating anger with violence, and complain that the left is trying to suppress passionate disagreement.

  30. 30
    JPL says:

    Republicans cannot win by issues alone. They have to use adjectives and adverbs.
    Campaigning on fear and bigotry is all they have.

  31. 31
    jayjaybear says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but we need a new Bill Buckley. Buckley was, for decades, the point man keeping the absolutely insane hordes from hijacking the Republican Party. He spent 40 years or so standing in the doorway, making sure that American knew just how stupid and insane the staid and responsible Republicans thought groups like the John Birch Society were.

    Ever since his health started waning, the Rightards have been slipping past. And when he died, the door was wide open.

    I certainly didn’t LIKE Bill Buckley…he was an annoying, obnoxious, arrogant, prudish prig. But he was, at least, sane and generally able to impose that sanity on his party.

  32. 32
    Shinobi says:

    Of COURSE the republicans don’t want to be civil. They CAN”T be civil, because then their whole house of cards will come crumbling down.

    It is impossible to have a civil argument if you are only interested your “interpretation of the facts.” It doesn’t matter how “civil” the argument is trying to be, eventually people who are determined to be right against all odds will end up insulting someone. When the rational person starts winning there is simply no where to go but below the belt.

    (Believe me I have learned from experience, when backed into a corner the republican who has been beaten will resort to insults in order to undermine your position. That is unless they’ve convinced themselves that black is white.)

    You simply can’t defend insanity with civility.

    I really wish the some people would grow up so we could have a serious debate in this country. I guess until they are ready the adults will be waiting down the hall and to the left.

  33. 33
    beltane says:

    It’s not the profanity or even the anger that’s the problem. The problem lies with the right’s cultivation of extreme paranoia and its brutal assaults on objective reality. Glenn Beck is not scary because he cusses (does he?) but because he has mainstreamed an alternative reality that was once inhabited only by the mentally ill.

    Sarah’s interview with Hannity must have been a bust last night; no one’s even bothering to mock it.

  34. 34
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    They’ll keep using it because it works. Even when it doesn’t. ESPECIALLY when it doesn’t. For the talk radio perps, it’s all about listeners. To them, IT DOESN’T MATTER whether their side wins; in fact, I’d say they have a built-in financial benefit to their side losing elections. Of course, the rubes aren’t going to see that, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

  35. 35
    rdldot says:

    I have decided the GOP is just ‘Politics as Farce’. It’s easier to laugh at it that way.

  36. 36
    gwangung says:

    @Catsy: Yeah. That’s it.

  37. 37
    Dave says:

    Spurber wouldn’t let my incivil comment out of moderation:(

  38. 38

    @beltane:

    Sarah’s interview with Hannity must have been a bust last night; no one’s even bothering to mock it.

    Interesting. I haven’t heard a thing about it.

  39. 39
    Frank says:

    I thought Melange was the spice of life….

  40. 40

    Sarah’s interview with Hannity:

    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.....038;st=cse

    “Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands and in this case,” Ms. Palin said, “that’s exactly what was going on.”

    Uh, no.

  41. 41
    TR says:

    @Paris:

    I’m pretty sure Surber had to take to blogging because not even the lowliest paper would ever want to publish his letters.

  42. 42
    TR says:

    @jayjaybear:

    You don’t just miss Bill Buckley. You miss Republicans.

  43. 43
    Frank says:

    On a more serious (non literary) note, I’ve listened to a few minutes of Savage, et al; I know they are well-paid for what they do, but I would think the sheer energy of being so enraged all the time would be exhausting! I can’t image that Rush and Coulter and the long list of screeching heads are all truly so furious about things; I know it’s an act, but dredging up so much hostility for hours five days a week to maintain your audience of enraged, fearful ditto-heads has to be tiring….

  44. 44
    Bruce (formerly Steve S.) says:

    It’s comically stupid

    Yes, and once again the knuckle-draggers are conflating two groups. The centrists are calling for civility. The left is calling for an end to eliminationist rhetoric. Generally speaking, that is.

  45. 45

    I finally realized who the new RNC guy looks like: Mr. Bean.

    I probably just insulted both the actor and the political operative.

  46. 46
    Cat Lady says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    That quote of hers confirms my suspicion hashed out on multiple earlier threads last week that she’s an idiot and had no idea what she was talking about. Whether she decided to use that term on her own or it was put there by one of her idiots, it was clear that inside the Palin bubble, in addition to general fucktardness, they’re all guilty of language and history comprehension FAIL. But we already knew that.

  47. 47
    Violet says:

    Caught a few minutes of Rush’s show while I was coming back from getting some bloodwork done and he was boasting about how while everyone else was afraid to bash Obama after the election, he wasn’t. He stayed “true to his conservative principles” and started slamming Obama from day one. He seemed almost giddy about it.

    What a creep.

  48. 48
    Chris says:

    @jayjaybear:

    I never thought I’d say this, but we need a new Bill Buckley. Buckley was, for decades, the point man keeping the absolutely insane hordes from hijacking the Republican Party.

    Krugman’s two quotes in “Conscience of a Liberal,” one with Bill Buckley defending the right of white Southerners to enslave blacks and the other praising General Franco as “an authentic national hero,” go a long way towards destroying any emotion other than contempt that I might have towards that guy.

  49. 49
    Mako says:

    Tip: The “CSS line-height property” is your friend.
    edit:
    Nevermind. It changed on refresh. Much better.

  50. 50
    RossInDetroit says:

    @jayjaybear:

    Yup. I mostly disagreed with Buckley but I read him because he made rational arguments for his side. I don’t think anyone’s setting that standard any more. Hence the chaos on the Right.

  51. 51
    RossInDetroit says:

    @Chris:

    I understand Buckley better now than 20 years ago and don’t approve of all of his positions. But it would still be better to have someone on the other side with whom to have a discussion based on fact and logic. That’s just gone.

  52. 52
    ruemara says:

    Let’s see. Thom Hartmann is now the featured baddie on Glenn Beck’s website and he’s receiving violent death threats along with anti-Semite slurs, because, you know, he has to be a Jew. This is barely a fortnight from a violent shooting that left 6 people dead and a Congresswoman severely wounded. A shooting that re-traumatized a Vietnam Vet, who witnessed Kent State’s shootings as well.

    At what point do we quit yapping about ‘civility’ and call this what it is-dangerous rhetoric that is about using the more unhinged members of our society to gain political and financial power.

  53. 53
    TBogg says:

    Surber neglected to point out that we also call him “chinless”. I guess he didn’t want to call attention to that.

  54. 54
    Jeanne ringland says:

    This is from today’s LA Times, but I had to dig around to find it because it had disappeared from the front page. Three AZ GOP moderates resigned their positions because of rancorous, vicious attacks by Tea Partiers.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/na.....6136.story

  55. 55
    Jim Pharo says:

    This is getting lost: It isn’t that the rhetoric itself is incendiary or over the top of angry. It’s that it’s dishonest.

    If mad killers were rampaging across the land killing random children, we’d all rush to use the most heated rhetoric we could find to express our outrage and desire to apprehend the bad guys and save lives.

    The problem with the GOP’s rhetoric is that it exaggerates (on a good day) or outright lies about the truth. HRA may be a bad idea for lots of reasons, but it’s
    “job-killing” effects aren’t one of them. (Jon Stewart hit this last night pretty well.)

    And this won’t be going anywhere. If the GOP had to tell the truth about what they believe in, they’d never win again. I suspect that’s why the President stressed the need for a more “honest” political discourse.

    The GOP doesn’t need to be exposed as the angry ranters that they so obviously are. They need to be exposed as the liars that they are to anyone with five minutes to learn the facts.

  56. 56
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Jack: This.

  57. 57
    Dan says:

    New governor of Alabama: “So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

    This might not have the word “kill” in it anywhere but it is pretty dangerous rhetoric, nonetheless.

  58. 58
  59. 59
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @TR: I had a very similar conversation with a conservative last night. I pointed out that I missed Tories. He agreed with me. The Conservative Party of Canada aren’t Tories… they’re Republicans.

  60. 60
    jayjaybear says:

    @Chris: I agreed with almost none of his political positions. I personally thought he was an arrogant, aristocratic prig. I’m just saying, he was the bulwark of the Republicans, holding the crazies up for ridicule from the Right. Now the crazies ARE the Right.

  61. 61
    Nellcote says:

    @ruemara:

    who witnessed Kent State’s shootings as well.

    Do you have a link for that? I think that happened to a different shooting victim.

  62. 62
    Nellcote says:

    @Jim Pharo:

    They need to be exposed as the liars that they are to anyone with five minutes to learn the facts.

    But facts have a liberal bias!

  63. 63
    jayjaybear says:

    @Nellcote: Olbermann mentioned the Kent State thing in his Special Comment the other night, then tweeted that he’d made an error and it wasn’t that guy.

  64. 64
    khead says:

    I’ve moved on from Don to the smooth stylings of James H. “Smokey” Shott of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

    From today’s offering:

    “But repealing the law will add $145 billion to the deficit,” supporters claim, and a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report supports that claim. However, the CBO had to use numbers Democrat authors of the bill provided, which is an exercise in voodoo economics. CBO Director Doug Elmendorf explains that “CBO’s cost estimate noted that the legislation maintains and puts into effect a number of policies [such as arbitrary reductions in the growth rate for Medicare] that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.” They also omitted from the scenario they gave the CBO the Medicare “doc fix” cost of about $14 billion in the first year alone, and who knows how much in later years. And the Democrat’s scenario includes 10 years of collecting higher taxes, but only six years of paying the bills.

  65. 65
    catclub says:

    @Paris: You would know who Don Surber is if you had the class to read Sadly, No!

    Trust the Shorter, and Don’t get out of the boat.

  66. 66
    catclub says:

    @Dan: Yet another so-called Christian who did not get the message of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

  67. 67

    Who the fuck is that guy? I had lived over 98.38% of my life blissfully unaware that such a specimen existed, and it’s all downhill from here. I may never get over this.

  68. 68
    El Cid says:

    This post is intended to directly threaten Sarah Palin’s life. Denying the truth of this means that you are extending that death threat to Trig.

  69. 69
    Mnemosyne says:

    @beltane:

    Glenn Beck is not scary because he cusses (does he?) but because he has mainstreamed an alternative reality that was once inhabited only by the mentally ill.

    I’m half-convinced that the reason no one noticed that Loughner had lost touch with reality is that when he talked he sounded exactly like every other liberal-hating Glenn Beck listener in Arizona … until he started shooting.

  70. 70
    giltay says:

    @Jack:

    It’s not “uncivil” language, it’s the language of THREATS that is the problem. The right-wing, like any bully, talks loud, denies responsibility louder, and then cries and claims they are the victim when held accountable.

    Exactly.

    “If you don’t stop doing what you’re doing, I’m going to shoot you,” is the real message behind, “Second Amendment solutions,” and, “I didn’t bring a gun this time.”

    I’m not 100% sure that’s what Palin meant exactly when she said, “Don’t retreat, reload,” (I’m not sure she has any idea of what she’s saying at any time) but it’s easy to see how that can be taken as a veiled threat, intentional or not. That much, at least, Palin should have apologized for, not this dissimulation about how it wasn’t really violent imagery.

  71. 71
    Jules says:

    Don Surber can bite me.
    What a whiny ass rant about the mean libs picking on the oh so awesome conservatives.
    That is some BS butthurt…

    (and I agree that saying mean things or telling someone to fuck off is not violent rhetoric.)

  72. 72
    Jess says:

    I posted this before, but I was late to the party and it was after everyone had already checked out of the conversation. So I hope it’s okay if I post it again:

    I feel like I’m channeling Broder here, but I keep going back and forth on this. I absolutely defend the right of film makers, artists, writers, and commentators to explore any concept and make any argument using whatever language they see fit. I don’t blame a free marketplace of ideas for evil behavior. So it seems wrong to me not to extend the same logic to politicians. But on the other hand, we certainly have the same right to present our arguments criticizing those politicians—we’re just saying what we think, just like they are.

    And my criticism of the right is this: they’ve made political hay out of tapping into and harnessing the nation’s id—certainly most people making under $100k/year couldn’t justify voting GOP on rational grounds—and having released the beast, they need to take a certain amount of responsibility. If you want to be a leader, you have to think about what you’re leading your followers into. The Palins of the world need to cowboy up and either lead responsibly or stfu.

  73. 73
    Eric U. says:

    if you listen to Glenn Beck and take him at his word, the only thing that you possibly could be doing as a patriotic American is preparing to overthrow the U.S. Government. Every day has a litany of crimes and potential crimes that the government and the left are guilty of. It’s amazing to me that we don’t have more incidents like the one in Tuscon or Oke City

  74. 74
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Jess:

    I feel like I’m channeling Broder here, but I keep going back and forth on this. I absolutely defend the right of film makers, artists, writers, and commentators to explore any concept and make any argument using whatever language they see fit.

    This would be my counter-argument: it’s one thing for, say, Martin Scorsese to glamorize gangsters (not that he does, IMO, but that’s a whole other argument) in a fiction film or a film based on long-past events. It’s another thing to take real people and current events and treat them like fictional characters in a Scorsese movie, because people who get confused about the difference between fantasy and reality will not be able to tell the difference between demonizing Henry Hill in Goodfellas or demonizing Gabrielle Giffords.

    You will still have some people who get confused (like Hinckley with Taxi Driver), but at least you won’t be encouraging it by eliding the line between fact and fantasy so people will regard their real lives as fantasy.

  75. 75
    Jess says:

    @Mnemosyne: Excellent point. But politics, like products, are inevitably going to be embedded in mythic narratives that speak to voters’ fantasies. And especially effective are the darker, id-driven ones that short-circuit critical judgment. Sigh.

  76. 76
    aH says:

    @Cat Lady:

    I don’t know if Palin is really that dumb. I think we should take her at her words,

    “Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands and in this case,” Ms. Palin said, “that’s exactly what was going on.”

    Palin is saying she is just like the ancient Jewish Nation. That is divinely chosen and persecuted by the unrighteous.

    Beck has some competition for messiah!

    Completely unrelated, this comment from the Suber piece is perfect.

    joated says:
    January 16, 2011 at 12:41 PM
    Excellent!

    Should note that “Bite me!” would make an outstanding T-shirt.

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