Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vote For Me. I'll Probably Do Just As Well.

Reflecting 0n the Jan. 20 "Fresh Air" on the proliferation (or, I'd say, the continuation) of violent rhetoric in politics, Geoff Nunberg says that Sarah Palin got a bum rap when she was accused of having had anything to do with inspiring the Jan. 8 shooter in Arizona. He concludes:
It's a strength of modern political culture that these apocalyptic metaphors no longer rouse people to armed insurrection. But then indignation has never had so many recreational outlets before. We can spend all our waking hours listening to broadcast political invective or writing sarcastic blog comments to excoriate the morons on the other side. That's the dirty little secret of political vituperation: left and right, we all enjoy going there sometimes.

But even if these violent reveries are almost never acted out, they coarsen the debate and dehumanize the other side. The scenarios behind those fantasies goes a long way toward creating the so-called climate of hate. If you're going to imagine yourself riding to the rescue of the republic, you're going to need to see your opponents as nefarious alien life forms. You put on a cowboy suit, and suddenly everybody else is an Indian.

As Nunberg notes, over the centuries a considerable amount of real violence has been sublimated into angry political conversation. Not only is it better to yell at than shoot each other, doing the former probably helps keep us from doing the latter. Palin's critics were seeing it the other way around.

And while I'd certainly enjoy more civility in political discourse, I wonder how practical that desire is in any system based on regularly scheduled, honest elections. Republicans wouldn't get very far mounting a challenge to President Obama by saying that while he's doing pretty well under the circumstances, they deserve a chance, too. It's hard to run against an incumbent without saying that all is lost if she continues in office; and it's hard to make that almost-always-incorrect accusation without doing a certain amount of rhetorical violence.

The alternative is to have elections only when we really need them. Anyone interested?


MK said...

Hmmm. Obama certainly did very well after saying he didn't see a red America or a blue America but a United States of America. His opponent was saddled with a Vice Presidential running mate who talked up small town America as real and patriotic. And a brother who said of Northern Virginia, a part of the state that I know very well indeed, that it was the "communist" part of Virginia. If you accept Jonthan Haidt's notion that only some 15% of people are committed conservative Republicans and some 15% committed liberal Democrats, that leaves an awful lot of people in the middle who just might prefer a more civil approach to policy disagreements. The "aack, we are doomed" approach sure doesn't work with me. But then I've worked in Washington for nearly 4 decades. There's no way I'm going to buy into fear mongering or demonization!

Thanks for your interesting comments about your mother in response to mine about newspapers. And about impeachment under the Rogan piece. I just posted a response on the impeachment one, reflecting my somewhat rebellious (but perhaps fundamentally Independent, LO(L) approach to some of the issues. Too much politics is geared towards the conformists; its the rebels and swing voters like me that it takes a special touch to reach.

Fr. John said...

Well said. I guess what I'm saying is that the rhetoric that's attractive to me is not necessarily the rhetoric I find acceptable in the broad range of political discourse.

As for '08, don't you think a case could be made that if on Sept. 16, the Republican nominee had been Abraham Lincoln, he would've lost to any Democrat?

MK said...

Yes, you're right, in '08, a R of any kind would have had trouble. The big problem was in the baggage left by the campaign then (appeals to the base; little chance for party building, at least among moderates; added fuel to the polarization, which Rove had counted on in the Bush years, his approach not serving W well, in my view.).