Barack Obama’s ‘uncivil war’
posted at 11:57 am on March 3, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Good news from researchers at the University of Florida. A study conducted there finds that political polarization in the U.S. has remained largely unchanged over the past four decades. The perception that the country is sharply divided into factions fighting hammer and tong exists only among those with strong party affiliation. The majority of Americans see a far rosier, more benign picture.
What a relief! Judging from the obscene partisan name calling over the past few days, you might suppose the nation is at war.
On Thursday, reports that conservative media provocateur Andrew Breitbart had died suddenly at the age of 43 generated ugly and petulant reactions. The verbal assaults came not only from the general public via Twitter but from left-leaning commentators, including Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and Slate’s Matthew Yglesias. (Yes, I’m well acquainted with the “justification” for dancing on a young husband and father’s grave before he’s in it, thank you.)
On Friday, conservative media provocateur Rush Limbaugh raised hackles on the other side of the political universe by calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” (Tina Korbe has the details.) These comments were no less over-the-top than the dyslogies delivered at the news of Andrew Breitbart’s passing, but that didn’t stopped elected officials from expressing public outrage at Limbaugh. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) censured the radio commentator on the floor of the House.
And then the president weighed in. Never missing an opportunity to add fuel to a raging conflagration, Barack Obama phoned Sandra Fluke (the femme fatale Limbaugh had defamed) to—in the words of the AP—“commend her willingness to speak out [on the need for taxpayer-funded female contraception] and share her dismay over the slur.”
The view that the nation is bitterly split over health care, taxes, the economy, energy, and any number of additional issues may be illusory, as the University of Florida study intimates. But it sure feels real, just as the recession did long after we had the White House’s assurances in 2009 that it was over.
In an excellent essay published at Real Clear Politics, Carl M. Cannon writes about what he dubs the “Uncivil Wars,” defined as “the rude and relentless feud that is more or less a permanent feature of our own polarized political age.” According to Cannon:
There is no Geneva Convention governing the rules of combat in the Uncivil Wars—hence the name—and in the Internet Age who could enforce it anyway?
Contempt for those with whom you disagree turns out to be a gateway drug—to hate. Hating members of the other political party, especially over issues like whether the top marginal tax should be 28 percent or 33 percent, is not an intellectual response. It’s a tribal one. Nor is it progressive, as today’s liberals like to be called. It’s an instinct of the Old Left, the hard left, and brings to mind the Joseph Stalin of Children of the Arbat, Anatoly Rybakov’s long-suppressed novel. Stalin’s mantra: ‘Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.’
The Uncivil Wars that divide the nation are only partly of Barack Obama’s making, but they are undeniably that. In his efforts to “radically transform” America, the president has done too much too fast, thereby creating emotional overload. The “United” States—remember that country?—needs a holiday from the bickering and constant antipathy.
The president can take a first step toward mending the rift. He should phone the widow of Andrew Breitbart to offer his condolences and to tell her he shares her outrage over the obscene slurs that followed news of her husband’s death.
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