In a recent column, Michelle Malkin argued that Mitt Romney is being naively civil in calling President Obama a “nice guy”. Malkin decried “disastrous, bend-over bipartisanship” and wrote, “it’s not nice to delude the American electorate in the name of comity, politesse, and simpering civility.”
What I find endlessly impressive about Michelle Malkin is her ability to condemn supposed incivility on the part of the left while championing incivility on the part of the right. Accusing the left of sexist attacks against the Right while demeaning progressive women as “femme-a-gogues”. Bemoaning racist smears against her own Filipino heritage while labeling Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren “Fauxchahontas”. Labeling Barack Obama a bully while mobilizing her own website of aggressive Internet trolls who nastily attack anyone who disagrees with her. You’ve got to respect a woman who can so blatantly misrepresent the actions and intentions of her opponents in an attempt to disguise from her own bad behavior.
I respect Mitt Romney for not going after President Obama personally and for saying, in as many chances as he gets, that Obama is a nice guy. I hope Mitt Romney believe it, but it’s clearly also the wise political move to sway an independent electorate that strongly likes the President but may be questioning some of his policies. But the larger point is that, with a very few Hitler-esque exceptions, I don’t believe and I hope that no one in politics or public life believes that those who disagree with us are fundamentally evil. I believe Michelle Malkin is a smart person, a loving mother and a patriot who wants the best for her country. And while hysterical hyperbole may get Ms. Malkin mouse clicks, the fact of the matter is that progressives are also smart people, loving parents and patriots who, despite her outcries to the contrary, value America’s free market economy and simply think that it could work better for more people. That does not make us evil. It makes us different.
On both sides of the aisle, we have spent too much time demonizing our opponents, distracting ourselves and the broader public from the substantive issues at stake in politics and further driving a wedge between red and blue America. According to a new poll, our nation is more politically polarized than ever.
As I see it, punditry and political discourse are like a highway of information exchange and debate. Most of us try our best to obey the rules of the road — no name calling, no personal attacks, no lies or even intentional distortions. But just like individual drivers can get away with speeding and reckless driving to get to their destination faster, there’s a perverse incentive for pundits to make outlandish, offensive statements in order to rise above the fray. And the “they started it” accusations of which Ms. Malkin is fond are no excuse for equally or worse behavior.
The problem, of course, isn’t just the one off effects of such insults but the broader damage done to our discourse. After all, if everyone were to start breaking the rules, it would be bedlam — both on the highways and the airwaves, with nastiness reaching such a level that spectacle would completely drown out information and the original purpose of punditry to thoughtfully air important political debates which is essential to preserve our democracy.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none”. Let us be vociferous enemies of each others policies and ideas. But can we at least recognize the common humanity and good intentions of our fellow countrymen and women? Has that become too much to ask?