Does a rational Left still exist in the American political firmament?
The question arises, far from the first time, as a result of this news feature from the front page of last Saturday's Washington Post:.
The story is a profile of a Lefty blogger named Maryscott O'Connor, host of the innocently titled blog "My Left Wing." Again and again, Post reporter David Finkel was required to use "[expletive]" in the course of quoting Ms. O'Connor and her fellow bloggers of the Left. As in the title of her post one morning, "WAKE THE [expletive] UP." To which the reader comments were typically along the lines of: "Thank you for the kick in the [expletive]. I wrote to my [expletive] so-called representatives. I also wrote to my [expletive] congressman to get off his [expletive] and do the right [expletive] thing."
Anyone who takes even the most occasional peek at leftist blogs knows that this is par for the course. It's not enough to be frustrated or angry or to disagree with those of us on the Right, and certainly not enough to try to use reasoned arguments to persuade or enlighten. Instead, all that seems to matter is the intensity of the rant and the inventiveness of the calumny that can be heaped on conservatives. Aside from the puerility -- indeed, the perpetual adolescence -- of the Left's fascination with vulgarities, what's also lost is any sense that reasoned discourse is of any value whatsoever, along with any sense of responsibility for maintaining a civil society.
At the risk of paying too much attention to Ms. O'Connor -- she is hardly unique in her rantings, but is so representative of the Angry Left that she serves this column's purpose well -- she actually did write a lengthy blog post in which she explained/defended the regular use of vulgarities. Here's the "nut graph" (a journalism term meaning the paragraph that sets up and explains the rest of the story, but in this case the double-entendre is appropriate) of her argument, such as it is (complete with her original emphases):
These people aren't offended by our use of profanity -- these people are offended by our existence. They don't want us to stop using profanity -- they want us to shut up -- or, even better, to be made to shut up. Preferably with force, and maybe tortured to make sure we'll STAY shut up after they leave the room. So, pardon me if I blow a giant f***ing raspberry sound when that particular boogeyman of an argument gets plopped into the discussion about profanity....
Except, of course, that she actually spelled out the word before "raspberry."
THE PROBLEM IS THAT this is what millions of people really think -- if indeed what they do can be called "thinking." They truly believe, perhaps as a form of mass psychosis, that those of us on the Right aren't just mistaken, that we don't honestly disagree with them, but that we're evil, vicious, proto-totalitarians. Which, of course, apparently gives them the right to spew all sorts of tommyrot such as Ms. O'Connor's expressed opinion that President George W. Bush is a "sociopath" and Vice President Dick Cheney is "Satan." Referring to the current administration, she writes: "The worst people on Earth are running the Earth."
Do she and her ilk really believe this? Do they truly believe that Bush is worse than Muammar Qaddafi or Kim Jong-Il? Do they even bother to listen to themselves, much less apply rational analysis to their beliefs? Are they utterly ignorant of history? On what basis do they believe what they believe?
Sadly, these ranting purveyors of intemperate invective aren't just somewhere out on the fringe. The Left's elected leaders exhibit the same malady: They don't just say (wrongly) that the result of conservative policies would exacerbate poverty; they say we want to make little old ladies freeze in the streets while orphans starve in the gutters. They don't just say our judges read the law wrongly, but instead accuse the judges of all sorts of ills ranging from racism to theocratic longings and even to latent brown-shirt tendencies.
If you disagree with today's Left, you're not just wrong; you're Evil with a capital "E." Or, rather, a capital effing "E." Because of that, the normal rules of civil discourse apparently don't apply. And it's not just the normal rules of civility represented by avoidance of vulgarity. Also abandoned are the normal rules of argument: citing evidence; persuading by reference to authorities or sources acknowledged in common as being valid; explaining even a semi-believable motive for the opponent's supposed perfidy. For example, if you believe the president is Evil incarnate, you don't have to explain why he would have "lied" to get us into war. And if the normal rules of argument don't apply, you don't have to give evidence that he "lied" rather than merely received bad intelligence, or even to acknowledge that there is a distinction between a lie and an honest mistake.
If all that matters is the barbaric yawp of a raging id, there's no need for reason at all, much less any need to engage the other side, to find compromise or any solutions -- indeed, no need to do anything but to hate and to spew venom.
Raging id -- that part of the psyche that is "the source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives," according to Merriam-Webster -- also justifies, in such a mindset (or, rather, such a state of utter mindlessness), a host of ills ranging from the regular use of profanity around children to the ubiquity of access to what once would have been considered at least soft-core pornography (the Internet unfiltered, video games, and even scenes in some of the shows on free TV).
Unfortunately, if civil discourse and societal norms can't be observed even in the public square, the entire republican (small "r") experiment is at risk. When compromise and coalitions aren't possible, aren't even considered desirable, then all that remains is the quest for unbridled power.
For that matter, where nothing is considered profane anymore, the corollary is that nothing is sacred. And where nothing is sacred or sacramentalized -- not even civic values held in common and universally considered to be worth defending -- then civilization itself retreats.
On Monday on The American Spectator's blog, I argued one of this essay's points in less fully considered, summary fashion:
It really is amazing that the Left so often resorts, in print (or cyberprint), to vulgarities and profanities to make their points. My Left Wing blogger Maryscott O'Connor seems only too typical: The attitude seems to be, 'who needs to bother with reason, with persuasion and with respectful dialogue when it's so much easier to spew F-words?' The number of words that had to be replaced in the Post story by the designation of '[expletive]' is truly astonishing. Somebody needs to tell these Lefties that crassness isn't an argument and it's not a political position, it's just a character defect.
Cross-posted at My Left Wing, this comment drew an entirely predictable response from that blog's readers: The very first two comments used the "F" word....
THE STORY COULD END THERE, but to accept that ending would be to throw in the towel. Therefore, I note this sign of hope: The Euston Manifesto, written by a host of self-proclaimed "progressives" who mostly identify themselves with "the Left," rejects anti-Americanism, rejects common cause with terrorists or totalitarians, and contains this statement:
We reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.
The signers of the Euston Manifesto will always be welcome in these parts. We may rarely agree with them, but we can always try to find common cause with them in service of at least some important shared, underlying values. It's just a shame that the Euston signatories aren't the most active Left Wing of these blessed United States.
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