And yes, let me offer a sincere denunciation of rudeness for rudeness' sake. Let me also concede that there is no shortage of bilious, nasty rhetoric on the right.
But here's the thing. First, it was ever thus. American democracy has always been a hurly-burly. More important, a lot of the complaints about incivility today are really complaints from the people in power or their supporters in the media, aimed at the folks who won't shut up and get with their program.
And there's something distinctly undemocratic about that.
The civility caterwaulers claim that Obama's opponents are trying to "delegitimize" the president, often suggesting that such efforts are racist. But what some see as delegitimization, others see as criticism. What strikes me as truly uncivil is the effort to demonize critics of the president with racial bullying.
In fact, I think Obama really does have a problem with dissent. In August he said: "I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way ... I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking."
On health care he's been saying the time for debating his plan is over, even though the president didn't even have a plan to debate.
Now his White House is targeting Fox News and urging other news outlets to ostracize it. Does any serious person in America believe that if Fox News were supportive of the president's agenda, this White House would be bemoaning the network's lack of objectivity?
Democracy is about disagreement, arguments. Citizenship in America requires speaking your mind. Indeed, it's worth recalling that the freedom of the press enshrined in the First Amendment always envisioned a partisan press. "Objective" journalism is a 20th century confabulation, as alien to the Founders' vision as transporter beams and time travel.
Civility came to mean politeness in the 16th century; before that it meant being a citizen. It seems to me that authentic civility requires some incivility.
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