I am now looking for a few slender shafts of light coming through the clouds to give hope to those of us who are inclined to despair of conditions in the political sphere. Last week, I wrote censoriously of the excessive schadenfreude I had been observing in politics. I received quite a flood of e-mail, including several from people in the political business, sharing my concern. A measurable minority of the responses thought I was either going soft or was a hypocrite. I will accept the latter charge -- although I prefer to think I am having second thoughts about how to view the failure and suffering of my political opponents.
But as to the first charge of going soft. I plead not guilty. I still believe in vigorous, tough, even bruising, political fighting and rhetoric. That's the traditional American style of political debate. Harry Truman accused Republicans of putting pitchforks into the backs of American farmers. Republicans have certainly matched such language.
But what increasingly concerns me is not only the pleasure too many of us are gaining in seeing our opponents suffer, but the trend in the tone of our language.
I have been in the middle of the public Washington political debate going on two decades -- for seven of those years as Newt Gingrich's very noisy press secretary. I have seen the tone shift from pointed to angry to defamatory to verbally violent to dehumanizing.
And during that time, such language moved from the crankish margins of the debate to being used by people in responsible positions. On the Internet, the tone now includes obscene, scatological and violent language. At some point these burning words may cross over and inflame action.
Words and ideas have consequences. If we don't watch out, we are going to find we have engendered left-right domestic political violence in this country.
But every societal trend can be reversed, and every abyss can be walked back from. If Paris Hilton can see the wisdom of raising a family in a quiet private life, surely we can find the wisdom in fighting hard for our principles without enraging the body politic to the point of mayhem.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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