Michael Barone, writing at Real Clear Politics, informs us that liberals are not used to dissent, and so are trying to stifle it:
It is an interesting phenomenon that the response of the left half of our political spectrum to criticism and argument is often to try to shut it down. Thus President Obama in his Sept. 9 speech to a joint session of Congress told us to stop “bickering,” as if principled objections to major changes in public policy were just childish obstinacy, and chastised his critics for telling “lies,” employing “scare tactics” and playing “games.” Unlike his predecessor, he sought to use the prestige of his office to shut criticism down.
Now, no one likes criticism very much, and most politicians would prefer to have their colleagues and constituents meekly and gratefully agree with them on pretty much everything. And yes, Rep. Joe Wilson did seem to have broken the rules and standards of decorum of the House (though not of the British House of Commons) when he shouted, “You lie!” in the middle of Obama’s speech.
I would submit that the president’s call for an end to “bickering” and the charges of racism by some of his supporters are the natural reflex of people who are not used to hearing people disagree with them and who are determined to shut them up.
It’s hard to know where to start with this. Michael Barone does not appear to exist in the same American political, social, cultural, and historical reality that I do.
I guess I’ll begin with a couple of basic points:
- Urging people to “stop bickering” is not stifling dissent.
- Shouting “You lie!” would be a violation of decorum and of the rules in the British House of Commons just as it is here. One could always add, of course, that Congress is not the British House of Commons, that the United States is not Britain, and that as Ezra Klein suggested, “If we’re going to adopt British norms of political behavior, we should also adopt British norms of governance.”
Now let’s move on to Barone’s explanation for why (as he believes) liberals “stifle dissent”: because liberals are “not used to hearing people disagree with them.”
This is so counter to reality that I feel like I have to take this man by the hand and instruct him very gently, as one would a child. First of all, Mr. Barone apparently has forgotten that the United States is a center-right country, and that most Americans are conservatives at heart who believe in few or no government services and traditional family values (no premarital or non-marital sex, no contraception, no abortion, no public education, no gay marriage, and lots of prayer in the public square). I mean, this is what we were told endlessly during the election campaign and even after Obama took office: This is a center-right country, this is a center-right country, this is a center-right country. Liberals are, in conservative ideology, barely Americans — and certainly not the kind of people “real” Americans — you know, those in the “heartland” — are used to interacting with.
You probably can figure out where I’m going with this. If center-right conservatism is the American norm, and if liberalism is such an alien philosophy for most Americans, then how can it be that “liberals are not used to hearing people disagree with them”?
I don’t want to say anything too controversial, but I would think the reality is rather the other way around.
Finally, I have to go back to this definitional thing. I noted above that telling people to “stop bickering” is not “stifling dissent.” Perhaps I should give a few actual examples of “stifling dissent.”
- Being arrested for wearing t-shirts with anti-Bush messages (similar incidents occurred dozens of times during the Bush administration).
- Quarantining anti-Bush dissenters in pens called “free speech zones.”
- Treating dissent as treason.
Now, I’m not saying that liberals and/or Democrats are not capable of stifling dissent or have never stifled dissent. I am merely saying that when Michael Barone or anyone accuses liberals of “stifling dissent,” they should have a basic understanding of what “stifling dissent” means.