Monday, January 26, 2004

Catching up on incivility

Back in November, Matthew Yglesias had a post in which he wrote, in part:

The Times takes the view that rising partisanship and incivility on the Hill is a bad thing. As for me, I think it's a bad thing insofar as Tom DeLay keeps getting his way, but complaints about incivility and partisanship per se are overblown.

[Note: I've replaced the currently non-functioning link that Matthew posted with another that should lead to the article in question. -- Ed]

Two of the responses to this were posted by MyFriendRoger, and I think they're pretty good examples of why his writing always gives me pleasure. Now, having been posted on in the comment section of a popular blog, they've already been read by more people than will ever see them here, so re-posting them on unfutz has no real defensible rationale, except that I like them, and it's my blog, so there.

Here's what Roger had to say, slightly edited.

Things were different years ago, and in this instance they were largely better. More clear-cut partisanship [...] does not have to translate into craven, self-serving, short-sighted viciousness and lack of Congressional colleagiality, which is exactly what the GOP brings us today. [...]

I mean, just consider all of the "firsts" the GOP has given us in recent years: the first time since the nation's founding that judicial appointments were simply not allowed to move forward at all (no hearings, no votes, no nothing), an innovation of the GOP in the mid-1990s ... the first time that earmarks went from perks largely reserved for Committee chairmen and doled out by the handful (about 900 in 1995 among the top bills) to comprising entire massive pieces of legislation (7,200 or so in the top 5 bills this year), an innovation of the GOP ... MASSIVE disparities between benefits accorded to districts based on the Party affiliation of their representative, a totally new innovation brought to us by the GOP ... routine absolute or near-absolute exclusion of the minority party in the writing of major pieces of legislation, an innovation of the GOP ... continuation of (typically vicious) negative presidential political campaigns starting literally the day AFTER the election (see the elections of 1976 and 1992), with absolutely NO hint of the traditional "honeymoon" required by the American political compact, an innovation of the rightwing and the GOP ...

Should I go on? I haven't actually compiled a definitive list, but these examples give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Today's politics is NOT like it once was. Compared to the American political compact that obtained from the end of the Civil War until at least the mid-1960s, today's political environment IS vicious, it IS unprincipled, it IS guided by an "ends justify the means" mindset ... and the main driving force and most energetic practitioner of it IS the Republican Party.

Oh, and as for the famous Daisy ad of 1964: Goldwater had been running around for several years giving speeches and press interviews, and statements in the Congressional Record, in which he frequently commented approvingly about using our nukes: in Vietnam, against China, and so forth. In the '64 campaign, in fact, the Democratic Party sponsored a little paperback book, "Barry Goldwater, A to Z," in which topics of the day -- nuclear weapons, China, integration, the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, etc. -- were arranged alphabetically, and (often long) quotes were taken from Goldwater's public statements about those topics. I used to have a copy (lost in a move, alas!) and repeatedly he spoke of popping off nukes! The Daisy ad continues to rankle rightwingers even now (was it really only broadcast once, as a poster above says? I didn't know that). But it was, in fact, a perfectly reasonable response to Goldwater's obliviousness to the significance of using a nuclear weapon under any circumstance.

To compare it to the dishonest filth we've seen -- both in individual ads and in entire GOP campaign strategies (e.g., the "Al Gore is a liar" meme, so thoroughly documented by Daily Howler) -- is simply wrong.

And then, in response to some commenters:

When the Democrats took control of Congress after the start of the Great Depression, they did not jettison Congressional traditions willy-nilly just to screw the Republicans. Indeed, they never in their decades of control made any particularly rash (or flagrantly unfair) changes at all.

To the contrary, there was a terrific respect for insitutional memories and values. The rules always have given the majority Party significant perks and benefits. As I tried to point out in my post above, what is outrageous and frightening today is how the allegedly-"conservative" party has been so innovative in conceiving and implementing vicious, unfair, and downright dishonorable ways to strip every last vestige of influence or potential power from the minority party, cheerfully trampling long-held American political procedural values in the process. THIS IS UNPRECENDENTED IN POST-CIVIL WAR AMERICAN HISTORY, and it bodes incredibly ill for our democratic process.

The generation that survived the Civil War well remembered some of the things that happened leading up to that catastrophic conflict, and they took enormous pains to re-establish a fair and reasonable process -- full of written and unwritten "courtesies" and manners -- so that no one felt entirely excluded. It is that tradition which the GOP today seems to hold in utter contempt.

The Democrats, during the 40 years of power that you appear to so resent, never denigrated the process as the GOP has since seizing power in the mid-1990s. They never treated the Republicans as they are treating the Democrats now. And, I might add, the GOP never did it either (remember: they did control the Senate for six years during the Reagan era, and of course they also controlled Congress for two years at the beginning of the Eisenhower era).

[The commenter's] citation of the Bork and Thomas hearings is equally absurd. Indeed, your mention of the McCarthy era outrages -- another example of Republican denigration of common decency and rationality -- rather pre-dates those hearings, now, doesn't it?

In any case, I agree with the poster above -- I am getting fed up with hearing about how alleged Democratic mistreatment of Bork somehow justifies everything that's going on. This is the worst kind of argument: intellectually penurious in almost every respect. Bork was not the first Supreme Court justice to go through tough questioning, nor the first to be rejected by Congress. (Gee, ever heard of a guy named G. Harold Carswell? During the Nixon period?) Bork was a lightening rod for opposition by a whole host of interest groups -- women, environmentalists, civil libertarians, and so forth -- and for damned good reason: his own words, published over many years in various law journals, vividly proved his extremism. (He further proved that later, when he wrote "Slouching Toward Gomorrah," a book brimming with whacko irrationalism).

And this brings up an important point: what is happening today is extreme and flagrant, but it didn't start this year, or last, or even in the mid-1990s with the irrational jihad that the rightwing declared against President and Mrs. Clinton. I think the first inkling of the thuggish tendencies within the Republican Party were visible long, long ago. I'm rather weak on Congressional and political pre-Depression history, but during the 1930s and '40s the Democrats held firm reign on Congress, and as I've said adhered to traditional procedures.

I think the real trouble began with the re-emergence of the ultra-right in the post-Depression era. The extreme right had been profoundly discredited by the Great Depression -- an economic cataclysm which the public (correctly, I think) firmly pinned on the GOP and its extreme conservative and Wall Street-friendly policies. But they were showing all the signs of a resurgance in the late 1930s when they began signing onto the pro-Hitler "America First" movement (rallying behind Charles Lindberg, their most famous and wildly popular leader. It was a particularly scary movement, too, since it actually included elements of the Far Left as well). Then -- WHAM! -- Pearl Harbor and WWII discredited them again in a way that no Democratic argument could ever have.

Following the war, the Republican Party was pretty firmly in the grip of its moderate wing -- what we used to think of as mainstream conservatives -- typified by Dwight Eisenhower, and it remained that way until the mid or late 1970s. McCarthyism was the first post-war sign of resurgence by the extremist right ... and once again, they discredited themselves (although, unfortunately, not in a way millions of Americans recognized as completely as they did with the Great Depression and the pre-war Hitlerist sentiments).

It took William F. Buckley to tame these nutso eruptions (his explicitly-stated goal, actually). He specifically set out to embrace extreme rightwing positions with a "civil" tone -- I think it was a figleaf all along, but he wanted to get rid of the organicist right, with its dripping racism and jingoism. A whole generation of rightwing political activists began their training at National Review and those institutions influenced by it, and their first real political campaign was the 1964 Goldwater run. And, sure enough, there you will see the elements of hatefulness and perfidy trying to rear up anyhow: go back and watch the news footage of the '64 GOP Convention, where it took something like 45 minutes for Nelson Rockefeller to deliver his 15 minute speech because the far right wackos were so vicious and contemptuous of him. THAT was uncivil, and -- Dennis -- that also seems to pre-date Bork by more than a few years, doesn't it?

Then came the Nixon campaign of 1968, followed by the even more thuggish '72 campaign. Ever heard of the Southern Strategy? Ever heard of the Dirty Tricks they pulled? (Ever heard of Watergate, for crying out loud? Donald Segretti, one of the major behind-the-scenes Nixon dirty tricks planners, trained a young fellow named Karl Rove. See the connection?) I thought then, and still do, that it was a mistake to think of Nixon alone as responsible for all of this: to me, it was the logical and predictable result of having a concentration of extremists gaining power within a mainstream political party all at once.

Indeed, if you really want to find a single turning point in 20th century American political history, when civility and respect for traditional American values started getting jettisoned, I think you can do no better than to point at the Nixon campaign.

Through all of those years, you will find nothing from the National Democratic Party or mainstream progressive groups that comes close to the kind of hatemongering one saw during the America First rallies, or the McCarthy rampage, or the Nixon excesses.

And one last point because it really pissed me off when I read it from you: the FIRST efforts to politicize 9/11 were not done by the Democratic Party, or by any prominent Democrats. Those efforts were done by top Republicans ... ON 9/11 ITSELF. Within hours, actually. Hell, the bodies were still falling out of the sky, I think! Who? James Baker, James Woolsey, and Lawrence Eagleburger. Those are the three I know of -- there may have been others -- and it has enraged me ever since. In particular, all three appeared in the media with virtually the same talking points. I'd bet dollars for doughnuts that that was no accident: I believe they coordinated with each other, or were coordinated by Republican strategists. Talk about craven!

And what exactly did they do? On 9/11, within hours, all three were appearing on various news programs, and one way or another claiming that the terrorist catastrophe of that day had occurred BECAUSE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S REFORMS OF THE CIA IN 1979 AND CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SLOPPINESS. I personally saw both Baker and Woolsey do this, and later read a portion of a transcript with Eagleburger in which he said the same things.

Baker, being interviewed by Dan Rather, point-blank claimed that this happened because Congressional Democrats had tied the hands of the CIA in 1979, and that Bill Clinton had failed to take terrorism seriously. (The first point is highly debatable, the second is a flat-out lie, and neither should have been spoken on that day).

I forget where I saw Woolsey -- maybe on the PBS Newshour -- but he said virtually the same thing.

So I really do not want to hear any vague, revisionist crap from righwing trolls about how Democrats -- a month or two after 9/11 -- somehow allegedly interjected politics into this national tragedy.

[...] [Responding to another commenter:] No one is trying to defend the old Democratic city machines, some of which came damned close to organized crime. (Then, again, some of the old Republican machines operated exactly the same way). But I am not talking about city or state level Party structures. I'm talking about Congress, the collegial written and unwritten traditions it has had since at least the Civil War, and more generally the intersection of those with the Presidency. Nor am I suggesting that individual Democrats haven't from time to time done slimy things, or that the Party leadership didn't occasionally abuse its powers. I am talking, rather, about a pattern of abuse, and about wholesale abandonment of profound American political procedures and values. Only the Republicans have done these things, not the Democrats.

Man, what he said!

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/26/2004 04:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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