Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Civility Canard

David Harsanyi says that the "national conversation" some want us to engage in is nothing more than a set-up to stifle speech:

Regrettably, though, there is another, seemingly innocuous "national conversation" we're about to engage in that's also based on canards meant to chill speech.

It starts with incessant hand-wringing about an imagined lack of civility in society — flaring up, as luck would have it, whenever the last person you voted for happens to be elected. The conversation will soon turn into a growing and phony anxiety about looming political violence and unrest that happens to be solely, as it turns out, a byproduct of a certain nutty belief system.

"Does the collective climate matter?" a longtime e-mail pen pal recently asked me. "Are you reflecting on your own style and contribution to the climate? For the record, I have never read a single word from you even close to being violent or anything close to all the stuff we heard over the last few years, but you make a living attacking and criticizing government. I do not recall ever reading a positive word about our government from you. Every time I read an article from you I feel like it is one more log on the anti-government fire, offering one more reason for your average dude to dislike and distrust their government."

Geez, if I've never written anything that could be construed as violent or hateful, even metaphorically (though I'm sure belligerent and offensive vocabulary crept into columns as needed), what could I possibly have to reflect on? My only contribution to the crumbling discourse, it seems, is believing in the tenets of classical liberalism. That, in and of itself, is a sin.

This leaves the person with two choices: revise your viewpoint or shut up. Which, of course, is the point.

The always-civil Jacob Weisberg of Slate was more forceful in this regard, claiming that, "At the core of the far right's culpability is its ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government..."

Which, as you know, should not be confused from those heady times liberals were claiming that George W. Bush was "not my president" or that we needed a "regime change at home." That kind of talk strengthened the legitimacy of government. Just as the "far right" — and I will assume this consists of anyone not named David Frum — could probably make the case that demanding government honor its constitutional limits is a demand for legitimacy.