Hypocrisy, irony, and the New Civility

Meet Froma Harrop, syndicated columnist and head of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, a group that has a project called Restoring Civility as a featured part of its website.  Her twice-weekly column appears in more than 200 newspapers, and she also blogs at RealClearPolitics.  According to Media Matters for America, Harrop had the 14th largest circulation and ranked 20th in total reach in 2008.

If you hadn’t heard of Harrop before this, at least the WSJ’s James Taranto had.  In his Best of the Web column from Wednesday, James and his crew skewered the Restoring Civility activist for her decidedly uncivil attack on Tea Party activists:

  • “Froma Harrop, a member of The [Providence] Journal’s editorial board and a syndicated columnist, has been named president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers. The NCEW is a 64-year-old professional organization. Its members include editorial writers, editors, broadcasters and online opinion writers. One of its new missions, the Civility Project, endeavors to improve the quality of political discourse.”–Providence Journal, April 15
  • “Make no mistake: The tea party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States–threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate. . . . Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that’s what Obama has been doing. . . . That the Republican leadership couldn’t control a small group of ignoramuses in its ranks has brought disgrace on their party. But oddly, Obama’s passivity made it hard for responsible Republicans to control their destructive children. The GOP extremists would ask Obama for his firstborn, and he’d say, ‘OK.’ So they think, why not ask for his second-born, to which he responds, ‘Let’s talk.’ “–Froma Harrop syndicated column, Aug. 2

That dig apparently annoyed Harrop, who responded on her own web site yesterday.  Her explanation is, to say the least, entirely self-serving, and she twists the definition of “civility” into knots in order to explain her double standard:

I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece. It’s not about offering strong opinions. If someone’s opinion is fact-based, then it is permissible in civil discourse.  Of course, there are matters of delicacy, and I dispensed with all sweet talk in this particular column. And I did stoop to some ad hominem remarks, I’ll admit.

However, it was a Wall Street Journal editorial that first called the tea-partiers “hobbits.” After John McCain picked up the hobbits theme in a much-quoted remark,  a subsequent editorial expanded on it[.]

Let’s start there.  The “hobbits” remark was an ad hominem, and a dumb one, as I wrote at the time.  And ad hominems are at their core uncivil.  If there was any real descriptive value at all in “hobbits” as a political label, it escaped everyone, including the writer of the editorial.

However, calling someone a “hobbit” is not the same as calling him or her a “terrorist.”  There is a specific definition of terrorism that has become all too real in the last ten years for Americans, and it doesn’t mean someone who works within the political system for policy change.  Harrop says that the ends justify the uncivil means for her, even if it doesn’t for everyone else:

Yes, I was angry, but I’m engaging in the defense of my country. I know the tea partiers say the same, but their behavior is that of a national wrecking crew.

If there is a better example of liberal hypocrisy on restoring civility, I’d like to see it.  It’s a blatant statement that Harrop wants her political opponents held to a different standard because, well, she’s angry, and besides, she’s right — in her own opinion, of course.

Harrop then quotes a completely unrelated WSJ story to rationalize that terrorism can be anything she decides it is:

The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force. …

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe well put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official.

Harrop then argues:

Blowing up the U.S. economy to make a point would be an even more serious attack, in my book.  And that’s what the tea party saboteurs were threatening. They are what they are.

Does Harrop miss the point that the military was talking about actual sabotage, not policy changes and negotiation?  The Pentagon sent a warning to other nations that an attack on our virtual infrastructure would be an act of war — explicitly and literally.  The point wasn’t that rhetorical arguments are the equivalent of terrorism.  For all of her syndicated reach, Harrop seems to have trouble reading for comprehension.

But the story doesn’t end there.  By this afternoon, Harrop’s post had thirty-nine comments, all of them castigating her hypocrisy and self-serving shifting definitions of civility.  Here are a sample:

I think it’s cool that you have your own private definitions of “civility” and “incivility” that don’t have to be tied down to ordinary meanings that anyone could understand. Instead, you get to mean something no one else means by the words. And it doesn’t have to be tied down to any facts. …

So…basically the “Civility Project” is just a Newspeak term. …

I’m just wondering on what your thoughts were regarding Obama’s vote against raising the debt ceiling when he was in the Senate. Was he, too, a terrorist? …

You were rude, unfair, and lazy. You, ma’am, are a bomb thrower. Metaphorically, of course. The term, after all, isn’t confined to physical attacks. …

My God, Froma, I think you may actually be the most interesting (and mentally deranged( singe-serving friend I’ve ever met.

Spend as many hours as you wish painting your political opponents as enemies – the fact remains that your President Obama has become an even bigger failure than Jimmy Carter, and will be cast aside just as quickly, regardless of whatever ridiculous progressive utopian fantasies you’ve been dreaming of these last few years.

There were many more, but you’ll have a tough time reading them at Harrop’s blog.  After getting an avalanche of criticism, Harrop deleted all of the comments and closed the post for any future comments.

However, I happened to have opened the post on my browser just before today’s installment of TEMS and hadn’t closed the tab until HA readers Bob T and Ken M alerted me to the change — and so I saved it from my browser and uploaded to to my server, complete with the comments.

Remember Harrop’s definition of incivility?

“I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece.”

Looks like it’s pretty uncivil at Harrop’s blog today, doesn’t it?

Maybe the NCEW should rethink its leadership, or else take down its sanctimonious “Restore Civility” project.  Their leader is the person most in need of the lecture.

Addendum: Be sure to follow that link to read the comments Harrop sent down the rabbit hole.  They are remarkably … civil.