Over The Top
The Invester’s Business Daily, a magazine that has increasingly focused on politics rather than the stock market, has what can only be described as a screed out accusing President Obama of being “dangerously close” to totalitarianism. The charge echoes themes heard regularly on talk radio — that President Obama is not just wrong on policy, but is so dangerous as to require consideration of extreme solutions.
What is striking about this is not only that it is grossly hyperbolic and hysterical, but also how it highlights the bipartisan nature of the phenomenon. Almost exactly the same charges were regularly leveled against President Bush just a few years ago. And the exact same people who are outraged today were applauding then. Conversely, the same people who are applauding today were complaining then.
As the contortions of commentators like Paul Krugman illustrate, “civility” is only demanded of the other guys. Krugman’s fretting over incivility in the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords evaporated as soon as Krugman found it convenient to attack the character and motives of every person who ever disagreed with him about anything. The same behavior is common throughout civil society — media, entertainment, blogosphere.
Increasingly, our broader political debate is beginning to look exactly the same as a comment thread on a blog post — all hate, all the time. What does this mean for the upcoming election, not to mention the broader capacity of our society to respond to the huge economic, environmental, and cultural challenges that we face? The flat truth seems to be that we are paralyzed, separated into implacably warring camps where the only response for dissent or disagreement is to condemn rather than debate.
And we can expect it will only get worse, because there is no one in sight who has any incentive to make it better.