Incivility on the left
It has become dogma on the left that the "civility problem," including the misuse and abuse of Hitlerian imagery, is primarily a problem on the right. The conversation is usually joined by conservatives who recount the left's hate speech from the Bush years, the misogynist attacks on Sarah Palin, the coarse descriptions of the Tea Party and the rantings of Keith Olbermann.
But without resort to political archaeology let's take a look at just the past couple of weeks, and the reaction of the civility "police." Stephen Hayes, writing in the Wall Street Journal, recalls the president's fine words at the Arizona memorial service, calling for a more civil discourse. But that seems to be a distant memory:
On Feb. 13, just the other side of the news cycle, a post on "Organizing for America," the website for the president's campaign arm, urged progressives to protest a proposal from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to reform public-employee benefits and limit collective-bargaining rights. The message, from Organizing for America's regional director for Wisconsin, began this way: "We've got a fight on our hands and it's personal."
The next day dozens of angry protesters marched in front of the home of Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Walker supporter. The head of the local teachers union said this: "We want him to know we have our eyes on him." In neighboring Kenosha, Joe Kiriaki, the executive director of the Kenosha Education Association, joined protesters at the home of state Rep. Samantha Kerkman and confronted her parents when they drove down the street. Mr. Kiriaki noted that Ms. Kerkman lives in a 3,300-square-foot house worth more than $400,000. "I don't think she's feeling too much pain," he quipped.
Last Tuesday, hundreds of protesters shut down the road in front of Gov. Walker's family home in Wauwatosa, Wis. Across the state in Madison, a crowd of 20,000 -- many of them teachers skipping school -- gathered at the Capitol. Signs compared Mr. Walker to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini. Still others accused him of "terrorism" and "rape." One sign had a photo of the governor in crosshairs: "Don't Retreat, Reload."
And where was Obama during this outpouring of incivility? "In an interview with a Milwaukee television station last week the president acknowledged that he hadn't followed the legislation in Wisconsin closely, but he characterized it as sounding like 'an assault on unions.' He made no mention of teachers violating the law in a de facto strike. He didn't say a word about the incendiary rhetoric or the tactic of marching on lawmakers' homes. And he said nothing about the missing state legislators and their antidemocratic walkout."
Such hypocrisy goes unremarked upon by most in the liberal punditocracy, which remains convinced the civility problem is a right-wing phenomenon.
But is it? Rachel Abrams, writing for the Weekly Standard Web site, recounts the Columbia University students jeering an injured war hero. She notes that the "intolerance for ideas falling outside the known and accepted tropes of the left is so deep and wide as to render them incapable of listening without a jeering rancorousness to the words of fellow student Anthony Mascheck--a heroic wounded vet arguing in favor of reinstating Columbia's ROTC program after a four-decade ban--who sits, wheelchair-bound."
It's rather beside the point to say that the jeering louts probably aren't a majority of the students. What is noteworthy is that the bastions of the left -- universities, labor unions and the Democratic Party -- are demonstrating that vile behavior is not the sole province of the right. In fact, a very base level of discourse is par for the course among the institutions that are dominated by the left. It appears that the distinction between right and left on this score is this: The mainstream media's professed concern with uncivil engages only when it is practiced by conservatives.
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