Friday, February 11, 2005

"The Gooney Left" - Part V

Let's face it, so far this is just so much academic posturing. Prof. Watts's email is posturing. My reply is posturing. None of it gets us anywhere.

No: it's not enough to lob grenades or chide people for lobbing them. The chide itself can be seen as little more than a grenade wrapped in nicer packaging. We've got to figure out a way to have a more constructive kind of political exchange. We've got to model it, and keep modeling it, and hone the model, and provide a sustained, principled alternative to the--I dunno, what to call it?--horseshit of present political "debate."

This means an attention to process. It means figuring out the obstacles to civil discourse and evolving tactics by which to overcome the obstacles.

Luckily this is not a job that has to be done from scratch. There is a pretty well-evolved literature out there on negotiation, characterized by such books as Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, and Difficult Conversations (all products of the Harvard Negotiation Project). There is also what I judge to be a kernel of impatience with the current horseshit. You could see it in the applause and appreciation that Jon Stewart received in his Crossfire appearance. You can see it in the recent emergence of MyPartyToo, a PAC headed by former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman. You can see it in the columns of the evangelical Christian columnist Charles Colson.

I am sure that there are those on the Left and Right who will find a movement toward greater civility to be in some way threatening.

Fuck em.

I'm tired of them.

I want something better.

Anyone feel like I do?

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Richard McGaha said...

Let me say that I agree completely with your post. The level of discourse in this country has sunk, in my opinion, to a new low. It is where words like "traitor" are used to describe liberals and "fascist" used to describe conservatives. I have been on the receiving end of one of these descriptions by a person who had no idea who I was or my background. For the record, I spent 10 years in the Navy and fought in two of Daddy Bush's war, my brother is currently a Captain in the Army, my father is retired Army with three (yes three) tours in Vietnam, along with two uncles who were there (I could go on, but you get the point). Yet, because I failed to meet some arbitrary ideological standard or regurgitate some conservative mantra I was automatically labeled a "traitor" (or at best unpatriotic, in view of my service). I see it when decorated disabled veterans are compared to Osama bin Laden and Saddam, and their war records entirely discarded (read Max Cleland or even John McCain). The discourse from both sides seems to be "what have you said lately" not "what have you done lately". Where saying the right thing means more than doing the right thing. There are no more sacred cows, there are those on the left and right who feel that the ends do justify the means. I don't think they have thought through the long-term implications of their rhetoric. Is it okay to be a veteran, except when you go into politics? (Sorry for using the veteran analogies, something close and personal to me). I too want a change, however, I feel it is only going to come about when we realize that there is something bigger than us and that we can have competing visions of the U.S. and constructive discourse. Politics may be a dirty business, but that doesn't mean the language has to be. To quote William Holden "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!!!"

Richard McGaha Ph.D. Student
Ohio University

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Very good post. On a very good blog also :).

I would say that my sense is that human nature has not changed, we just have better technology now (for better and/or worse). It is just that what you guys call uncivil (and I am inclined to agree with you) is nothing new. Before it was expressed in newspapers and in a slower media. Now you see it on CNN, in which the same nasty human nature becomes more intrusive in your lives (for you maybe at least, I refuse to watch TV for various reasons) than in print.

One thing I would say that progress towards civility has been made is in respect for servicemembers in this current war. While I am very critical of some aspects of the left (and the right also in other areas), the left this time around has largely left the troops out of it. None (or at least very little) of the "baby killer" stuff that occurred after Vietnam where the troops were unjustly and harshly blamed for a war they were simply doing their obligated duty in. The Bush administration of course comes under ferocious attack (indeed, I have friends who consider Pres. Bush to be some form of reincarnation of Satan almost in their love for the man), but, and to our credit, that hatred has NOT extended to those servicemembers doing their duty. And he is a politician so he IS fair game.