Friday, January 14, 2011

The 'lack of civility' in politics is not the problem, it is but a symptom of a system in which getting one's way is very, very, very important to an awful lot of people.

It is pretty well accepted - on both sides of the aisle - that there's no need to 'play nice' when the stakes are high. There are no Marquis of Queensberry rules to follow when one is in a life and death struggle. Soldiers don't have to let the enemy shoot first. People getting mugged don't have to refrain from fighting back with deadly force. Parents don't have to obey the speed limit when chasing after someone who has just grabbed their kid off the street.

And plenty of people think politics fall into such a category, that winning elections and passing legislation to one's liking is so vitally important that one is not only allowed to do just about anything, but that one should do just about anything to make sure their side wins.

To fiscal conservatives, there isn't much worse in life than having a government that unhesitatingly spends as much money as our government is doing. To social conservatives, there isn't much worse than a government that not only allows but encourages abortions. To someone who lives in mortal fear of being killed in a terrorist attack, there isn't much worse than a government that they think is lackadaisical towards terrorism.

The same can be said of those on the left, with all of their fears that life as they know it was over with a government that does the kinds of things it does while a Republican is president, whether it be Guantanamo Bay, wiretapping suspected terrorists, cutting taxes or failing to spend as much on social programs as they would like.

Given how important these people feel about having the 'right' set of economic and social policies, it is no surprise that many of them have take a no-holds barred approach to politics (which is nothing more than the process by which we decide who gets to do what). In fact, given the stakes, it would be a surprise if people didn't react as vociferously as they do.

This is the thinking that leads a Ted Kennedy to totally misrepresent Bork's record in order to keep Bork off the Supreme Court. It is what led Bill Clinton to insinuate that the right was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. It is what leads the birthers to pursue their delusion that Obama isn't an American citizen and thus isn't eligible to be President. It is what leads talk show hosts and political pundits - on both sides - to use the language and rhetoric they do.

The solution? There isn't one. Some say that a less active and intrusive government would lead those who dislike the current state of affairs to tone down their rhetoric... but having a less active government is precisely what a number of other people fear the most... so any gain from one side is offset by increased anxiety from the other side.