CNBC journalist John Harwood, who presided over the most aggressively biased moderation of a presidential primary debate I've ever seen, is making his contempt for the Right and solidarity with Democrats official. As he sees it, Republicans are simply worse than Democrats when it comes to their "behavior" and "respect for facts and reason and honesty," and any claims to the contrary amount to dishonest 'whataboutism.' These partisan assertions, dressed up as clear-eyed truth-telling, were pumped into the Twitterverse in response to an MSNBC segment in which radio host Hugh Hewitt invoked this incident as push-back against a different liberal's claim that "there is no equivalent" to President Trump's rhetoric within the Democratic Party. Harwood went off:
the two parties are not the same— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 27, 2018
their behavior and values are not the same
their respect for facts and reason and honesty is not the same
compare Barack Obama and Donald Trump
it’s plain as day
a million “both sides do it” claims can’t make them the same because they’re not
I agree with Hugh in the sense that the unhinged diner screaming at Mitch McConnell at a Louisville eatery wasn't an aberration. Left-wing partisans have been hounding public officials out of restaurants with some regularity lately, and have even accosted political figures they oppose at their family homes (a tactic that pre-dates Trump). This is a problem, and it's the sort of thing that raises the national temperature, feeds existing resentments, and increases the likelihood of confrontations escalating into worse situations. A high-profile Democratic member of Congress has directly advocated this approach to 'discourse.' Maxine Waters isn't just a random back-bencher, I'd add; she's the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee and her media footprint is substantial. And Waters isn't the only one who's urged direct confrontation, or explicitly rejected civility. Destructive partisanship isn't a one-sided phenomenon. It doesn't occur in a vacuum. And it didn't start with Donald Trump.
Ugly as it may be, the obnoxious and aggressive harassment of politicians doesn't sink to the level of bona fide physical threats or actual violence, even though the former acts are clearly intended to intimidate. Mob-like agitation is bad; attacks, attempted attacks, and threats of attacks are worse. It's true that a demented Trump supporter recently mailed homemade explosive devices to a number of liberal politicians and critics of the president. He should be thrown in prison for the rest of his life. It's also true that Trump whips up tribal frenzies and is rarely bashful about leaning into social conflicts in which he senses potential political benefit. He has said some appalling things, overtly or by omission. Only his most hardcore sycophants are blind to those realities. Conversely, only his most hardcore loathers cannot see what's happening across the ideological aisle, from Trump fans getting assaulted outside rallies, to conservative speakers being threatened and menaced on campus, to Republican politicians being targeted with violence.
Last summer, a deranged leftist -- who was an active consumer of lefty media and an ardent supporter of hard left Democrats -- attempted a mass assassination against Republican Congressmen and Senators at a baseball practice in Virginia. Only by the grace of God, and the bravery of an alert security detail, were there no casualties, although a member of GOP leadership was gravely wounded. Just recently, a leftist was charged with the attempted stabbing of a Republican Congressional candidate in California, several GOP staffers were assaulted by Democrats in Minnesota and Nevada, local party headquarters were vandalized (Nebraska) or attacked (Florida), and the offices of various Senate Republicans were bombarded with vile threats. A GOP Senator who cast a pivotal vote in favor of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh experienced a ricin scare at her private home. A poison-laced letter was sent to the White House. An envelope stuffed with a white substance was mailed to the home of the president's son, terrorizing his family. None of this should be a grim contest of which side's extremists are worse, and I consistently argue against the inherent guilt-by-association scolding of the rhetoric police. But these examples help illustrate that, yes, "both sides do it," and there's plenty of bad and crazy to go around.
Some may argue that the modern American Left lacks a figure like Trump, whose rhetorical excesses, street-fighting impulses, casual deceit, and power are unmatched. There are entirely fair criticisms to be leveled against Trump, just as there are unfair attacks, too. But Trump's appeals to fear and shrill demonization are hardly unique, even if his crudeness and bluntness represent an outlier within the context of the presidency. Democrats routinely and reflexively argue against GOP policy proposals in deeply emotional and doom-laden terms, frequently claiming that if implemented, Republican ideas would dehumanize, harm, or even kill large groups of people. Liberals deployed the 'people will die' panic against the healthcare bill, and the tax reform bill, and even assailed a shift in internet regulations as a severe affront to human dignity -- thus unleashing a grotesque cascade of racism and threats against the official who spearheaded the change.
While opposing Republican budget tactics under divided government, an Obama administration spokesman referred to the opposition party as "kidnappers" "arsonists" and "suicide bombers." The previous Vice President -- who once warned a heavily black audience that the 2012 GOP presidential ticket would put them "back in chains" -- compared Tea Party Republicans to "terrorists." The previous president said that the bipartisan majority of Congress that opposed his nuclear deal with Iran were "crazies" who made "common cause" with 'death to America'-chanting zealots. He exhorted his supporters to "punish" their "enemies," and to bring a gun to a knife fight (a movie reference that likely sounded more sinister to those unfamiliar with The Untouchables). Insidious motive-impugning was a staple of Obama's rhetoric, and Trump has followed suit, albeit more cartoonishly. Based on the standards erected by the Left's rhetoric police (which, again, I don't share), any or all of these words must be considered irresponsible and dangerous. After all, 'Antifa' types or mentally unstable leftists might hear these searing attacks, incendiary comparisons, and dark admonitions, and conclude that they must take direct action against Republicans. As the argument goes, if they're constantly told the GOP is full of treasonous, hateful criminals whose ideas will result in widespread death and misery, someone might decide they ought to do something to stop them. This is the sort of plain-as-day equivalency that ideologues like Harwood will not acknowledge.
Furthermore, the notion that Democrats are more devoted to facts, reason and honesty than their counterparts will come as quite a surprise to any policy wonks or grassroots activists in conservative circles who were engaged in the healthcare debates of recent years. The Democratic Party advanced two separate "lies of the year" on that front, as determined by left-leaning fact-checker Politifact, impacting and scaring millions of consumers and seniors. Democratic candidates this cycle have run countless ads repeating a claim that's been knocked down as misleading by fact-checkers because it's a useful partisan cudgel. And to any right-of-center person who followed the Kavanaugh confirmation process, the statement that Senate Democrats and their media allies prized "reason, facts and honesty" throughout that disgraceful imbroglio is outright, shameless gaslighting. They behaved like reason-allergic, wild-eyed zealots, playing high stakes, means-to-an-end hardball. Facts, fairness, and core values of justice were treated as disposable obstacles. It must also be said that cries for uni-directional "civility" seem particularly cynical to people who've been repeatedly and baselessly smeared as aiding and abetting murderous acts, in the petty service of a partisan narrative.
Overall, opponents of the Left/Democratic worldview are regularly cast as being driven by some combination of inhumane heartlessness and abject bigotry. Republicans and conservatives have been told over and over again that they're bad people, who believe bad things, for bad reasons. Against that backdrop, it's not terribly shocking that many of these beleaguered voters would gravitate toward a demagogic leader known for his almost pathological eagerness to punch back, hard. Bullied and sneered at by their cultural 'betters' for years, they finally hired a bully of their own. None of that excuses the president's worst conduct and, ahem, situational regard for the truth or empirical facts. It does, however, help explain how we got to this place. The myopic 'one-sideists' insist that the Right is overwhelmingly responsible for our current, sorry state. This is a manifestation of blindness that directly contributes to our ongoing dysfunction and polarization -- as does the proposition that journalists cannot, or even should not, cover the two major parties fairly and impartially because "facts" supposedly dictate that one tribe is 'objectively' worse than the other (conveniently, the less culpable tribe is the one to which most journalists happen to subscribe). I'll leave you with two positive notes, as reminders that our better angels still exist:
Leader of Islamic Center of Pittsburgh announces Muslim community has raised more than $70,000 for synagogue attack victims and their families.— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 29, 2018
"We just want to know what you need ... If it's people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We'll be there." pic.twitter.com/D2UyNzBFHx