Sunday, September 20, 2009

Republics and Civility

There has arisen concern about the lack of "civility" in our political discourse of late. And a lot of people, it seems at times virtually everyone, deems the cause of "civility" to be a standard that is not controversial. But in a republic, it would seem that this standard is, at the very least, controversial.

"Civility" as in "civil speech" is a way on controlling the debate. Example: In the 60s or 70s a young man entered a California court house with the words "Fuck the Draft" written on his jacket. He was arrested for "disturbing the peace," even though no disturbance, other than his jacket, was apparent. He was convicted and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court which overturned his conviction, holding that it violated the first amendment's guarantee of free speech/expression. Now, consider how a debate about the draft would be affected if it were forbidden to say, "Fuck the draft." What are the alternatives? "The draft is wrong." "The draft constitutes involuntary servitude." These alternatives just don't have the punch, the power of "Fuck the draft" and, hence, don't have the capacity to create a full bodied, full throated debate about the draft.

But there is another dimension to this as well. Namely, that the lack of civility today reflects a fact of life that needs to be recognized and acknowledged, that the people are angry, deeply angry at the Establishment, at those who wield power in our nation's capital. This anger cuts across the alleged "natural" party lines, Republican v. Democrat or liberal v. conservative. It is, literally, all over the place. Why is this the case? Because the people, ordinary people feel that the powers that be have not and do not represent them. They wanted us out of Iraq and said so in 2006. What happened when the Democrats won Congress? Nothing! They voted for Republicans and their agenda in the 90s, an agenda which included a proposal for term limits. What happened when the Republicans won Congress? Right, nothing! The people were not enamored of the bail out, which seemed to favor at least some of those who were responsible for or at least benefited from the "recession." Did the Obama administration listen? No it did not. Hence, anger, even rage, at the machine we might say because the set up in Washington these days is a machine and, as noted some time ago by a shrewd and genuinely republican [small "r" is right here] senator from Wisconsin, "machine politics is always bipartisan." Why? Because if it were not, then the non-machine party need only point out the machine and its days are numbered.

And, finally, I am tired of hearing that the Democrats/liberals do not act uncivilly because, somehow, someway they are less brutish than the Republicans. They, the Democrats, need to get off their high horses and (a) address the people's anger by acknowledging it and responding to it by deeds and not by manipulative politics and (b) recognize that their alleged "high mindedness" is little more than self-interest because they remain the party of the Establishment, more so than the Republicans. Of course, I would also point out that the Republicans are not genuine insurgents either, that they are looking merely to win back power rather than realigning the power structure in Washington and throughout the nation. That is, as in the 90s, the Republicans will talk a good game, pretending to be insurgents, pretending to be responsive to the people, but if elected, like the Bush Administration, they will govern as they see fit and not as the people see fit.


  1. "These alternatives just don't have the punch, the power of "Fuck the draft" and, hence, don't have the capacity to create a full bodied, full throated debate about the draft."

    Nonsense. MLKJr. managed to help create a full-throated debate about civil rights in this country without dropping F-bombs all over the place.

    If alternatives lack "punch and power" that's due to the limitations and lack of creativity by the speaker.

    We defend the right to say "Fuck the draft" because it's protected by the Constitution, not because it is perceived to be more effective somehow (which, by the way, it is not, unless your goal is to preach to the choir).

  2. Well, I guess Malcolm X might have disagreed with your characterization of MLKJr. and his capacity to create a full-throated debate about civil rights in this country. It was Malcolm who called the fabled "March on Washington" the "Farce on Washington" because MLK and others had let it been co-opted by the Establishment in D.C. But then Malcolm had the capacity and guts to say when JFK was assassinated: "Well, the chickens have come home to roost." [Remember that JFK's assassination followed closely on the assassination of President Diem in Viet Nam, an assassination that JFK condoned.] This was too full-throated even for the Black Muslims who disciplined him by silencing him. But then maybe we have different conceptions about what a full-throated debate is.