Friday, October 15, 2004

First line of offense

You know the old adage, ‘the best offense, is the first defense’. Hmmm... that didn’t come out right, but it fits. The first clarion call in recent electoral cycles is always for more decency and sensitivity - can’t we all just get along? People wring their hands every four years and their eyes well with pent-up emotion as they beseech candidates to avoid the ‘invective’and curb the ‘ire’. I take offense at this codswallop, I do not accept the premise, and I object to the tactic of dismissing reasoned argumentation and factual evidence that one does not like by labeling it ‘un-civil.’

Maybe I am just not as ‘nuanced’ as most of the Democratic candidates for President in recent history. Each of them, in turn, has been presented to us as ‘the most intelligent man of our time’ and being ‘intellectually so far above the common voter that their ideas are just hard for them to express in terms we’ll understand’. John Kerry doesn’t dodge questions, his answers are just too complicated for us to fathom. Al Gore wasn’t wooden, he was so sharp we missed it. Bill Clinton wasn’t glib and slick, he was more clever than we were. Michael Dukakis wasn’t out of touch, he was so smart we couldn’t keep up with him. Yikes...there I go being un-civil again. It annoys me when people say I’m too dumb to recognize when someone is concealing things from me, or knowingly taking money from foreigners at an illegal fund-raising event, or sliding along on a media blackout of his character, or completely disassociated from the life of regular people.

Still, wouldn’t it be nice if politics were nicer? I guess I’d have to say no. Politics is not about being nice; it’s about governance, about who has the strength of character to lead through a crisis. We will not learn about that aspect of his character without seeing some confrontation, so I say ‘bring it on’. It is a shame that as soon as some one brought it on, John Kerry cried foul and threatened to use the courts to gag them and anyone who spoke for them. When the stories about his service were raised, George W. Bush released his records and went on about his business, paying scant attention to the critics. I think how one deals with criticism says something about a person: George addresses it once and moves on, John runs to the media and attacks the critics.

Maybe I’m just a political neophyte or neanderthal and I’m bringing political civility to new lows. I guess I’d have to again say no. Look at some history on the topic: “Even the version of the story that often seems conventional, that people were general civil in social life and politics until the 1960s, when it all took a downward turn, is inadequate....scholarly research on political history offers a different picture of civility from that offered by the civilitarians. This may be because those concerned with civility tend to focus narrowly on organizational activities of the sort also emphasized in current debates about ‘civic renewal,’ the ‘new citizenship’ and ‘social capital’...political action...from the 17th century to the middle of the 19th was fractious, noisy, rude, obnoxious, and often physically dangerous. It is no wonder so many elites were worried about mobocracy if ‘the people’ were to gain more power.” (Virginia Sapiro’s Considering Political Civility Historically) There simply is no basis in fact for the rosy picture of the ‘genteel politics of yore’.

Which brings us back to today. Both Kerry and Edwards in the debates referenced Cheney’s lesbian daughter. A Kerry campaign manager described her as “a major figure in the campaign” - she is one of many directors of the campaign, since when did that qualify as a major figure? In both cases, the comments were really unrelated to the question asked. Neither of them know her personally. They do know Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), though using him doesn’t quite make the same impact as she does. Is this is an example of civility? Mary Cheney is not ‘in the closet’, but she is not running for anything and using her in this fashion is despicable. Even Paul Begala thought it was over-the-top.

When Ronald Reagan died, people across the country took time to mourn his passing. Even many Democrats acknowledged his accomplishments. However, having Ron Reagan, Jr. speak about stem cell research (which his father opposed) suggesting that it held a cure for his father’s disease was crass and untrue. That pales to Mel Carnahan’s memorial service, which the DNC turned into a political rally - don’t take my word for it, check it out. Paul Wellstone died during his campaign too. Walter Mondale stepped in less than 48 hours later while Wellstone’s opponent (and friend) Norm Coleman put his campaign on hold out of respect. At Wellstone’s memorial service Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) exhorted the mourners to “stand up to” a litany of implied Republican vices and Rick Kahn, Wellstone campaigner, urged incumbent Republicans to not even run for re-election out of respect for the deceased. On August 21, 2003, Sally Baron’s obituary included a request that "Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush." The families of Gertrude Jones and Helen Kiok thought that was a great idea and in January three other families also followed suit. John Edwards, who channeled the spirit of an unborn cerebral-palsied infant begging for a Caesarian section to win a court case with junk science, stood before an audience and actually proclaimed that if John Kerry were President, Christopher Reeve would have been cured and walked again.

I can hear some saying, “Dick Cheney ‘dissed’ Patrick Leahy on the floor of Congress!”~ that is true. Less widely reported was that Leahy and many Congressional Democrats had recently flayed Cheney for his relationship to Halliburton. They knew the charges were false, but they needed payback for the ‘anti-Catholic’ remarks some conservatives made during the Pryor confirmation hearings. When Leahy came looking for a photo-op, he and Cheney got into words and ended up swearing at each other. Cheney went on with his day and Leahy went for the nearest camera. CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called Democratic lawmakers “girlie men”. In the Pennsylvania Senate, Sen. Vincent C. Fumo (D) launched on Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer (R) calling him a four times. The pathetic element of this is that Fumo later said he is “especially sorry about using the term because it is not the way I feel in my heart toward gays.” This is so reminiscent of “everyone lies about sex” which, of course, we all know isn’t true - I don’t, do you?

Teresa Heinz Kerry told Colin McNickle to “shove it” when he caught her in a lie. In August she told Ladies Home Journal that many Americans “...are not very educated.” Last month, she described her husband’s critics “scumbags” and “idiots.” John Kerry falls on the ski slope and blames it on “that son of a ” Secret Service Agent (who’s there to step in front of a bullet for him). Cedric Brown asked John Kerry a question he didn’t like and was told, “that’s none of your business, it’s mine.” Kerry then encouraged the crowd to chant against this 52 year old man. John Kerry used the same language Dick Cheney did in a Rolling Stone interview but that was largely ignored and nobody seemed to mind - I guess it was ‘in context’. Howard Dean claimed Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened and did nothing to stop it. Dennis Kucinich said Bush was targeting Iraqi citizens for assassinations. Al Gore brayed, “he betrayed this country!”

It should come as no surprise that their followers behave in kind. On Oct 1st and 11th, Washington state Bush campaign offices were burglarized (as they were in 2000) and computers were stolen. The office in Canton, Ohio was also broken into. In Florida, Tennessee, and Minnesota Republican offices were the targets of coordinated attacks by Democratic supporters who intimidated campaign workers and trashed the offices. In Orlando, Florida a Bush volunteer suffered a broken arm. Republican offices in West Virginia have been sprayed with gunfire. In New York City, Ruth Spitz (aged 86) assaulted Linda Fuda (62) with her cane and ripped Fuda’s Bush sign. Spitz is a retired college professor who is unwilling to tell who she’ll vote for, but clearly states, “I’m not a Bush supporter.” Right, pull the other one. In Telluride, Colorado, T.J. VanderHeiden was vacationing with his family and sported mean-spirited Bush bumper stickers “Viva Bush” and “W’04" on his car. That car was vandalized with permanent black marker to read “F*** Bush & f*** you” next to a swastika. VanderHeiden later had the temerity to wear a Bush T-shirt and was harassed by a waiter who then refused to serve his family. In West Virginia, Sophia Parlock was accosted by a member of the Painter’s union, IUPAI. She was holding a Bush/Cheney placard at an Edwards rally. The burly painter snatched her placard, shredded it, and laughed at her. Sophia is three years old. She was there with her father and brother.

Then there is the Bumper Sticker dialogue. ‘Defend America/Defeat Bush’ (which I’ve seen edited to read ‘end America/eat Bush’). ‘Bush:Wanted Dead or Alive’ with ‘Alive’ x-ed out. ‘Christian Fascism.’ ‘As*es of Evil’ (with photos of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld). ‘Bush Misleads/America Bleeds.’ ‘ BU_ _ SH _ _ !.’ ‘A Ranch In Texas Is Missing It’s Idiot.’ I don’t mind a pithy swipe, but many of these and others simply go over the line. This “vehemence”, “vitriol”, and “invective” borders on hate speech. You may not have seen them, but I put a few choice questions on my van that sent my neighbors and other drivers into fits (both good and bad), but I had to paint mine on because I couldn’t find too many that had quite the bite that the other side had. The other side can just go to MoveOn.org (those same guys that gave us the Bush morphing into Hitler ads - but that’s not mean-spirited).

I do not yearn for the days of political civility, they never existed. I yearn for an election cycle where the news honestly reports both sides. I want to see an election where the candidates’ records are trumpeted....on BOTH sides. Imagine a newshour where Dan Rather examines the votes and positions of both candidates rather than giving us “lie after lie after lie” or Ted Koppel grills the candidate on his war record as well as the ex-serviceman who criticizes it. My idea of a debate is tossing all the candidates onto a platform with no rules. Let them tell their own story, blast their opponents, and display exactly who they are without spin, without handlers, without make-up, let the chips fall where they may. Civility in politics is a chimaera. It never was, never is, and likely never will be. I am thankful for that. The politician who asks his opponents “why can’t we all just get along” is very likely hiding something, and we’d better find out what it is before that candidate is making decisions about the rest of our lives.

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