Shooter’s Derangement Points to Need for More Civility in Politics

Sarah Palin and everyone associated with her political action committee are, no doubt, regretting the boneheaded decision to superimpose crosshairs on the districts of Gabrielle Giffords and other House members Palin was “targeting” in the 2010 campaign.

But it’s easy to make too much of the ad, and there was support for Palin from an unlikely source today.  Writing in The Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s left-leaning news and opinion site, former WaPo media columnist Howie Kurtz, puts it in perspective:

The use of the crosshairs was dumb. But it’s a long stretch from such excessive language and symbols to holding a public official accountable for a murderer who opens fire on a political gathering and kills a half-dozen people, including a 9-year-old girl….

This isn’t about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it’s about a lone nutjob who doesn’t value human life….

Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?

Others on the left side of the media spectrum reacted more predictably.  In The New Yorker, George Packer wrote:

[F]or the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor…. This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.)

Packer falls into the common trap of believing that the opposition is uniquely guilty of inflammatory tactics and statements.  I’ve written about this phenomenon before — see, for example, “Don’t Blame Me for Rush Limbaugh, I Won’t Blame You for Michael Moore,” and “Left Vs. Right: Who Has the Best Echo Chamber?

Packer tries to inoculate himself with a lame aside about “anonymous comment threads.”  But Checkpoint, a 2004 novella based on a fictional plot to assassinate then-President George W. Bush, was not published in an anonymous comment thread, nor even by an obscure publishing house.  It was published by Knopf, a storied 95-year-old imprint and a division of Random House.  (Yes, I know that’s only one example.  But it’s one more specific example than Packer gave.)

Jonathan Tobin at “Contentions” puts his finger on a double standard:

As the political left seeks to use the Arizona tragedy to tar all conservatives with the brush of the murderer, there is another point to remember here. In the past few years, there have been several shootings and terrorists attacks carried out or attempted by American Muslims who were clearly influenced by extremist Islam.

Yet every time such a crime happens, liberals loudly warn us that an examination of the motives of those who carry out such attacks is beyond the pale, since such ruminations might be prejudicial to Muslims, even if the truth is that those crimes were influenced by Islam.

When a crime has a seriously deranged perpetrator, like the young man who opened fire in Tucson yesterday, it’s counterproductive to speculate about where the suspect falls on the left-right political spectrum. There’s plenty of inflammatory rhetoric on both sides, and the whole point of realizing that the perp is a nutcase is to understand that his political opinions are not based on reality.

Since the shooting, the New York Times has published two separate articles about “a wrenching debate” or “a wrenching process of soul-searching” over the lack of civility in America’s public discourse.  Let’s hope this soul-searching continues past the current news cycle.

“Hide the Decline”: Global Warmists Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

These two may be endangered, but is the species?

These two may be endangered, but is the species?

Long-time readers (hi, Sweetie!) know that I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh.  Even though my credentials as a critic of President Obama can be easily verified by skimming the Obama tag on my website,  I thought it was disgraceful, bordering on unpatriotic, when Limbaugh said of the Commander-in-Chief-elect, “I hope he fails.”

But I am a fan of a lot of conservative bloggers and pundits, which makes it impossible to avoid some exposure to Limbaugh’s oeuvre.  So I know that for years, Limbaugh has relentlessly referred to climate-change concerns as “the global warming hoax“.  I dismissed this as one more instance of Limbaugh preaching to the dittoheads.

I’ve long been skeptical about the sense of urgency that (some) climate activists display, but I’m not ready to back Limbaugh’s play and call global warming itself a hoax.  I think there is enough evidence to warrant concern about global warming, and I certainly think it’s a good idea to explore ways of reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuels such as oil — if for no other reason, because much of the world’s oil supply is under the control of regimes hostile to the United States.

But while referring to “the global warming hoax” may be a step too far, I think it’s clear now that there have been multiple global warming “hoaxes“.  If you have no idea what I’m leading up to, you might want to consider broadening your information sources.

I’m talking about a trove of data, code and emails acquired (“stolen,” if you prefer) last week from the influential Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England — which for years has collated much of the data used to substantiate the danger of global warming.  You won’t find much about it in the mainstream news media, but here’s the email that is quickly becoming iconic in the world of global warming skepticism:

From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley ,mann@xxxxx.xxx, mhughes@xxxx.xxx
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
Cc: k.briffa@xxx.xx.xx,t.osborn@xxxx.xxx

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two…

The “decline” in question appears to be a prediction of recent global cooling that would result from a computer model used to “calculate” long-ago global temperatures — if that model were carried  through to  the current day.  In other words, the model has been used to establish low baselines for long-ago temperatures, to set up the case for recent global warming.  But if the assumptions of the model are carried through to the last few decades, for which we have actual data on global temperatures, the model says temperatures should be declining — which is inconvenient if you are trying to make the case that global warming is a serious threat.  So in generating data based on their model, they use the (suspicious) model data for the early years, and substitute “real temps” for recent years.

In other, other words: They cooked the books.

There’s much more than a single damning email from 10 years ago.  Watt’s Up With That has a relentless compilation of CRU programmer and database notes that indicate CRU personnel repeatedly falsified data when necessary to avoid inconvenient results.  Pajamas Media has been all over the story (unfortunately  the functionality of their compilation page sucks), as have Taranto, Instapundit and National Review.

Soon even the MSM will be forced to take notice — the evidence is just too damning, senior Republicans are talking about congressional hearings, and the start of the UN’s long-anticipated Copenhagen climate conference is little more than a week away.

These revelations do not “settle”  the global warming issue — but they certainly should unsettle the so-called “consensus”.  Can we at least have an end to Ellen Goodman’s morally tone-deaf meme that “global-warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers”?

(Hat tip: “Global Warmists” in my title is an homage to Taranto, who told me in a private email that he came up with the term, but is not certain he was the first to do so.)

Rush Limbaugh Has a Voice, But Doesn’t Speak for Me

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, a thoughtful and elegant writer, today takes on the notion — voiced mainly by wishful, self-deluding Democrats — that Rush Limbaugh is the voice of the Republican party.

The Democrats have a leader. He’s the president. When a party has a president, he’s the leader.

Parties out of power, almost by definition, are in search of one. When parties do not hold the White House and Congress they are, of necessity, retooling and reshaping themselves. Leaders of various party factions, being humans in politics and therefore bearing within themselves unsleeping little engines of ambition (that’s what Billy Herndon said lay inside his friend, unassuming prairie lawyer Abe Lincoln) will jostle each other for place.

Ultimately a leader will emerge for the Republican party, and it won’t be Rush Limbaugh or any other flame-thrower.  The flame-throwers are not going away, but their role is to provide a challenge to the party, not leadership.

Both conservative media and liberal media are alike in that they have to keep the ratings up, or the numbers up, or the hits. If they lose audience, they can lose everything from clout to ad revenue. Because they have to keep the numbers up, they have to keep it hot, which actually has some affect on the national conversation. The mainstream media is only too happy to headline it when a radio talker says Sonia Sotomayer is a dope. The radio talker may be doing it to play to his base, but the mainstream media does it to show that Republicans are mean, thick and angry.

Read the whole thing.

“The Practice of Civility is Important to Democracy”

gerson3Mad props to Michael Gerson, who in today’s Washington Post brilliantly articulates the concept I was struggling to develop in my recent post, “Don’t Blame Me for Rush Limbaugh, I Won’t Blame You for Michael Moore.”  (Disclosure: Gerson did not actually consult with me, and may not have realized he was writing this on my behalf.)

The practice of civility is important to democracy. In his book, Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy, Stephen L. Carter defines civility as “the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together. . . . We should make sacrifices for others not simply because doing so makes social life easier (although it does), but as a signal of respect for our fellow citizens, marking them as full equals, both before the law and before God.”

Respect makes cooperation for the common good possible. Civility acts like grease in the democratic machine; disdain is sand thrown into the gears. But civility is also a direct reflection of our belief in human equality. Even people we vehemently disagree with on the largest issues possess a democratic value equal to our own. Carter argues that this recognition does not preclude “passionate disagreement,” but it does require “civil listening” — and I’d guess it forbids hoping for the death of political opponents.

Read the whole thing.

There’s an old platitude, “I may not agree with what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.”  That rings slightly false — although I would verbally defend your right to disagree with me, if there’s a realistic prospect of death, you’re probably on your own. But surely all of us would be better off if more people treated opposing ideas with some level of respect.

Don’t Blame Me For Rush Limbaugh, I Won’t Blame You For Michael Moore

no_contemptParts of the rightosphere are in high dudgeon about the fact that President Obama, at the annual White House Correspondents Association yuck-fest dinner, laughed at “jokes” told by “comedian” Wanda Sykes about wanting Rush Limbaugh to die of kidney failure.  (Here’s a 78-second video.)

There have been days of arguments at “the Id of Conservatism” —  the Corner, NRO’s group blog — about whether Limbaugh brought it on himself.  And about whether Limbaugh is good or bad for conservatism, about whether or not he’s popular (polls say no, ratings say yes), and about whether he’s ever changed anybody’s mind about anything.

At Best of the Web Today, James Taranto says:

In Obama’s wide grin as Sykes was telling her joke, we saw the smug look of a man who enjoys seeing his critics dehumanized. The president of the United States should be better than this.

The conservative whom other conservatives love to hate, Kathleen Parker, thinks the whole thing is overblown, and sarcastically suggests that we’re “on the verge of appointing a Special Commission on Acceptable Humor.” She says:

Lost in the frenzy is the more important matter of our thin-skinned intolerance and our reflexive lurch to take offense. We might remind ourselves that it’s always the fanatics who can’t take a joke.

I think she’s on to something.  I get awfully tired of having the discussion framed by flame-throwing provocateurs.  When Limbaugh famously was quoted as saying about Obama, “I hope he fails,” a liberal friend asked me how I felt about having Limbaugh speak for the Republican Party.  That’s when I spoke the words from the headline above.

What do Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore have in common?  Well, they’re both much richer and better known than I will ever be, because they’ve each attracted vast followings.  Negativity sells.  Personal attacks work.  Would that it were otherwise.

I can’t get too exercised over Obama laughing at the idea of Limbaugh’s death.  Who among us hasn’t laughed at inappropriate jokes? And Limbaugh, coiner of “feminazis” and other evocative slurs, is an enthusiastic practitioner of the “dehumanization” tactics that Taranto criticizes.

I wish I knew where I’m going with all of this.  The post started as a vehicle for its headline and graphic, but beyond that, I’m not sure what my point is.  Maybe something about the importance of the clash of ideas in a democracy?  Sometimes when I write a blog post, the key conclusion that ties everything together emerges gradually as I think and type.  And sometimes, the only way I can think of to end a post is to drive it off a cliff.

Conservatives Should Support Obama When He Gets Something Right

Limbaugh offers snark and bile

Limbaugh offers snark and bile

Parts of the right-o-sphere are all aflutter, debating whether President Obama deserves any credit for the rescue of a maritime hero held by pirates.

It’s a reminder that Obama Derangement Syndrome is no more appropriate than its more wide-spread predecessor, Bush Derangement Syndrome.

In The Corner, Jonah Goldberg piped up promptly and congratulated the President for authorizing the mission.  Later he took incoming fire from his right, as it turned out the President may not have specifically authorized the mission, he may just have refrained from interfering.  Jonah stood firm:

But you know what? Congratulations anyway. It’s good news the captain was rescued; Obama is the commander-in-chief and this happened on his watch; if he were thoroughly Carteresque he would have ordered that the pirates not be harmed, and you can be sure some of the snark-and-bilers would be blaming Obama if this ended badly (and I might have been one of them).

Look, I think my credentials as a critic of Obama are pretty solid. But I find the idea that I have to be critical no matter what Obama does to be exhaustingly unappealing.

Hear, hear.  But Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the side of snark-and-bile, saying sarcastically, “I would like to not only jump on the bandwagon of praising President Obama for a brilliant rescue, not only a plan but its execution, I don’t think the Navy had that much to do with it.”  He went on to fantasize at great length about who would play Obama in the movie, settling on Will Smith as both the President AND the Navy SEALs commander who took the crucial shot.  He later speculated  that if this had happened in the previous administration, the headlines would have been along the lines of Bush Assassinates Three Black Teenagers.  Exhaustively unappealing, indeed.

Just before the inauguration, Limbaugh famously said “I hope Obama fails.”  He clarified:

I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half.  I know what his politics are.  I know what his plans are, as he has stated them.  I don’t want them to succeed.

But of course he knew what the sound bite would be.  I often tell my liberal friends, don’t blame me for Rush Limbaugh and I won’t blame you for Michael Moore.

Most conservative commentators I saw came down closer to Goldberg’s opinion.  Abe Greenwald at Commentary didn’t single out the President by name, but said:

Fantastic news all around. The U.S. did not dither with negotiations or treat this as a criminal matter. It acted unilaterally and with force to free a brave man.

National Review’s Andy McCarthy notes that conservatives might well have expected a different outcome, based on the President’s past rhetoric:

Obama’s posturing put the pieces in place for a disaster. When an American-flagged ship was besieged, the president might have been paralyzed by his solicitude for the Islamic world and his commitment against unilateral action. He might have subordinated the safety of Americans to the bridge-building he has dubiously claimed to be central to our security. As commander-in-chief, he could have handcuffed the Navy. But he didn’t. Whatever his predilections, Obama unleashed John Wayne when that’s what was needed. For that we should be pleased and acknowledge a job well done.

Even Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs offered unambiguous approval (some of his lizardoid commenters were predictably less gracious):

The US Navy did us proud today. And yes, I know we’re supposed to detest and mock everything President Obama does, on pain of excommunication, but as Commander in Chief he deserves congratulations for handling this one just right.

I cast my vote in the comments of my previous post on the topic — ” I don’t think he did anything heroic, but I think he handled it fine.”  I’ll stand by that, although I might phrase it a little more graciously.  It wasn’t on the scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the Commander in Chief did well in his first live-action military test.

It’s not over, of course.  Somali pirates hijacked more ships today — it’s a business model that works for them.  It will be interesting to see if they try to grab any more American ships.