WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As conscientious followers of politics are doubtless aware, the better sort of American liberal is troubled by the unprecedented vituperation that has stolen into the public discourse. The Clintons refer to it as "The Politics of Personal Destruction" -- well said, Bill and Hillary. They, and concerned citizens like them, recognize that this inflammatory rhetoric comes, in the main, from the right -- or as they put it, "the extreme right."
Dr. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, likewise is alarmed by the abusiveness from the right or more generally from Republicans whom he has recently identified as being "evil," "corrupt" and "brain-dead." Well, I would expect nothing better from such people, and it is helpful to the commonweal for Dr. Dean to direct the public's attention to these troubling developments. Allow me to point out that "the right" not only indulges in jarring invective but it also has adopted polemical techniques that are very disturbing. For several years its writers have engaged in discrediting their opponents by quoting them. Yes, they simply hurl back into a person's face things the person has said, without any regard as to how this cruel quoting coarsens our society.
Actually, I quite inadvertently found myself accused of this cheap trick back in the middle 1990s. A year after I was scorned for publishing stories revealing that Bill Clinton has an eye for the ladies (and other parts of his anatomy for the ladies as well), it became apparent that I was right. Other writers such as David Maraniss had just published the same findings. The Wall Street Journal's David Brooks asked me if I would like to "gloat" about this subsequent vindication.
Alas, I committed an egregious journalistic excess. I quoted the writers who a year before had insisted on Clinton's near virginal condition and on the "dishonesty" of those of us arguing otherwise. "Dishonesty" was the word Michael Kinsley leveled at us. Joe Klein, now of Time, was equally critical. And after my Journal piece appeared, he told me to my face that I had dealt him "a low blow." My innocent response was something to the effect, "But, Joe, all I did was quote you."
Today I realize how treacherous it is for writers to remind others of their prior timorousness or imbecility. Kinsley explained how unfair it is sometime ago when he noted that liberals were having their foolish statements thrown back at them because of the advent of so many search engines on the Internet. Search engines make it easy to retrieve a public person's errors.