Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald, on the emphasis on "civility" in political discourse:

Political debates are inherently acrimonious -- much of the rhetoric during the time of the American Founding, as well as throughout the 19th Century, easily competes with, if not exceeds, what we have now in terms of noxiousness and extremity -- but far more important than tone, in my view, is content. For instance, Bill Kristol, a repeated guest on The Daily Show, is invariably polite on television, yet uses his soft-spoken demeanor to propagate repellent, destructive ideas. The same is true for war criminal John Yoo, who also appeared, with great politeness, on The Daily Show. Moreover, some acts are so destructive and wrong that they merit extreme condemnation (such as Bush's war crimes). I don't think anyone disputes that our discourse would benefit if it were more substantive and rational, but it's usually the ideas themselves -- not the tone used to express them -- that are the culprits.

The Perils Of False Equivalence

I've expressed variations of this view at one time or another, but this puts the matter succinctly. In fact, I distrust people who never seem to be passionate about anything. I don't expect emotion, particularly the overwrought sort one often sees on local television news programs after some disaster or lurid crime, but many of the ideas politicians discuss are important. Whether they're discussing going to war, how much to fund emergency services, or how to fund medical services, people will live or die based on those decisions. Even more seemingly trivial issues, like funding space exploration, can have mortal consequences. People can't always discuss issues calmly when they or someone they care about is affected by them, nor should we expect them to.

I certainly agree that our political discourse could be elevated, but that's much more a criticism of the content than of the tone. Quite frankly, that's as much the fault of citizens who don't want to be bothered with substantive issues. But there are also times when the most reasonable thing is to be obstreperous or rude, because while what is said to or about you might be spoken or written in a seemingly reasonable tone, that doesn't make it reasonable.

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