David Brooks, "Tree of Failure". January 13
YOU ARE HERE (Surveyor's Mark): The thing that's been mentioned even less frequently than Actual Legislation Which Might Possibly Control the Unfettered Access to the Implements of Murder this week is What We Might Begin To Learn about Arguing.
Plenty of suggestions, demands, and koans on the need for civility, of course, to which we say: if you're not Jon Stewart, then civilly shut th' fuck up. Ninety-seven percent of the calls for civility in our political discourse that aren't accompanied by mopping up brain matter are just partisan political gamesmanship motivated by some temporary deficit or a stinging jab over dropped gloves. So were 97% of the calls this week.
Let's acknowledge this. David Brooks isn't lamenting grave charges because he's adverse to grave charges. David Brooks didn't mind when grave charges were hurled at Bill Clinton, or Hillary Clinton, or Al Gore, in part because he was right there in his usual spot, twelve rows back in the mob, prying up cobbles. Grave charges of the spiritual liability of the American Left for 9/11 don't seem to've troubled his sleep. A call for your opponents to be civil is just another variety of shit slinging. Especially when you can be certain that plenty of people on your side will return fire for you.
So Brooks either is Mr. Passive Aggressive Refined Milquetoast, or he plays him on teevee. So he gets a medal? This is like a third-generation road show of Beatlemania, except instead of the Fab Four he impersonates William Effing Buckley. George Will's been packin' 'em in in that role for thirty-some years. I guess the fact that he's too smart to call Paul Krugman a Socialist (just Out of Touch with the Mainstream American Empirically and Morally Certified Belief in Piratical Capitalism) spells civility. I guess the rest of us are supposed to appreciate this, the way we appreciated Buckley driving out the Birchers to make the Party safe for Barry Goldwater. Civility. Not, of course, that the Birchers didn't take the party back over thirty years ago, while first Will, then Brooks, harrumphed into his theatrical bow-tie or Sta-Prest™ business-dressy-casual suit jacket about Political Correctness, Janet Reno, or Nancy Pelosi (and occasionally gave the rabid hyenas the GOP courted incessantly over the period the fish eye, just to keep up the reputation for independent thought). I suppose we should be grateful for the modern equivalent of St. Fuhbuckley calling Dr. King a Negro agitator for thirty years, and not That Commie Coon.
But somehow I'm not. Somehow this is thirty years late and a few trillion short, coming after abortion providers were hunted for Sport, after the presidency of Bill Clinton was disrupted intentionally, by whatever spurious charge could be hurled, after the enormity of 9/11 was wrapped in bunting and sold by the slice, after the fucking military heroism of John Kerry was stomped in the mud as a cheap election ploy. No sale. Sarah Palin can say what she pleases, and other people can say what they think of her. Seems fair. If you don't like the latter, don't approve of the former. Not even tacitly. And don't give us the sort of disapproval that appears 700 words in and limits the applicability to your own personal distaste. Give us the sort which proves that you question if there's enough room in your party for your superior self and the gun-totin' apostles of stupidity who seem to run the joint. The Republican party pays no price whatsoever for its embrace of Yahooliganism, Mr. Brooks. Apart from your occasional smirk. If that was lethal we'd send you to Afghanistan full time, not just for the afternoon.
Leave us note, just slightly tangentially, that apart from the National Council of Churches, Mainstream American Christianity was largely silent as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell swiped the Franchise beginning in the 70s. This got them where, exactly? Would griping about the metaphysical shortcomings of Paganism today change the picture? No. You don't like being called on these people today, then maybe you should have done something more than "dislike" them then. I don't hold you personally accountable for all the shit that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth. I hold you accountable for a complacent thirty or forty years during which your party encouraged that sort of mindless hate so it could co-opt it, because it thought it would always be able to co-opt it. Because of the mental superiority born of all those Burke weekends.
I don't expect you to single-handedly eradicate violent dipshitism from the Republican party, Mr. Brooks. I don't even really expect you to oppose it, not publicly enough to put yourself in someone's crosshairs. What I do expect is that you--and the rest of your ilk--earn the right to make these objections when it becomes necessary, instead of just making them anyway, or else that you accept the fact that others will see through you.
And maybe you could consider whether actually engaging the argument might not improve civility. Too much to ask? Probably. But what's the value to the Other Side of remaining civil when the argument won't be advanced either way? Of course one gets frustrated with an opponent who'll never listen, no matter what. I'll gladly grant you all the same privilege. And it's not as if the complaint about the Palin/Teabagger/GOP gun rhetoric suddenly sprung from the blood of innocents, is it? As, for example, when Rep. Giffords objected to it herself? The fact is that it didn't matter to you, days later, what Gary Hart actually said at first flush. It didn't matter to you that what millions of people felt about the Giffords shooting is something they felt beforehand, something the shocking event unleashed. It doesn't matter to you that there would have been the same reaction had Glenn Beck managed to get himself martyred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Or if Sarah Palin got mugged on Rodeo Drive. You don't care--you specifically don't care--for the distinction between someone who says the Culture of Violence is fed by the Rhetoric of Violence, and someone insisting that Sarah Palin told Loughner who to hit. The fact that you don't spray your audience with invective and spittle while you make the argument doesn't make it civil.