Friday, January 21, 2011

C-I-V-I-L-L-Y, Civil-ly

The New York Times has reported the first fruits of the New Civility being practiced by our political classes, Peter Hart wrote at the FAIR blog on Tuesday.
Under the headline "Lawmakers Aiming to Increase Civility," the New York Times (1/17/11) reports from the front lines of the improved, post-Tucson political climate:

And the House speaker, John A. Boehner, used the phrase ''job-destroying'' instead of "job-killing'' in reference to the Democrats' healthcare overhaul in a speech to colleagues on Saturday--a subtle but pointed shift in tone, though not in substance.

Change is in the air!

On a serious note, this would suggest a shift from a mean-sounding, unsupported-by-the-facts attack on one's opponents to a slightly less mean-sounding, still fact-free attack on the Democrats and the Obama White House.
The other day, one of my Facebook friends from high school posted a picture, allegedly of President Obama with his head stuck up his tuchus, and the comment:
USA Today and Associated Press just released a picture of President Obama practicing his yoga. it's pretty obvious his yoga has affected a lot of his policies and decisions over the last couple of years.
I commented:
Every President practices that yoga.

Y'know, the trouble isn't that the Right puts out stuff like this -- so do the liberals and the left. (Who are two different groups.) The trouble is that this is the best the Right has to offer.
My friend replied:
Duncan .... I hope this made you laugh ......that is all I have to say about that.
See? That is all such people have to say. But if you want serious discourse, then eventually you have to set aside the dumb jokes and talk rationally and truthfully, about substance. If "civility" means merely the cosmetic adjustment of saying something like "job-destroying" instead of "job-killing" -- and as Boehner and other Republican leaders have shown, that's what they think it means -- then civility is a distraction.

Another related distraction was pointed out on Wednesday by Glenn Greenwald in a comment on one of his own posts:
Almost every day, I have different political labels applied to me -- civil libertarian, leftist, far leftist, socialist, libertarian, etc. etc. I ignore them always because discussions of labels are invariably stupid and time-wasting. They're a tool used by the simple-minded to know whether they should agree or disagree with someone without having to grapple with the substance of the claims.

I noticed very early on that people wanted to apply a label to you because, once affixed, they don't have to bother with the substance of what you argue any longer. If the label is something they like, they'll agree - if it's something they dislike, they can dismiss it without having to do the work ("oh, he's just an X - who cares what he says"?).

Beyond that, these labels mean so many different things to so many different people that they're now meaningless. If someone insists on applying one to me, I'm not going to fight to reject it, because I really don't care about the label. I'm interested in the arguments and the substance.

The arguments and the substance are exactly what the corporate media want to avoid, and they have a large constituency that likes it that way. As Ian Welsh put it (quoted by Avedon Carol) about reactions to the Wikileaks revelations, "At least half the 'progressives' I know revealed themselves as, simply, supporters of authoritarianism; revealed themselves as mushrooms who wanted daddy to keep them in the dark and feed them shit." We already knew that about the right, of course.