Go do unto yourself*

If we had a category called "what substance has he or she been smoking or taking?" I would suggest that we put this column by Michael Gerson in it.  For in it he complains about the uglification of recent American political discourse–a worthy aim–but, where's he been at? one might wonder.  He writes:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, "I hope he fails." Matt Drudge is an "amoral shut-in" who should "set himself on fire." Opponents are referred to as "ratf — -ers" and "[expletive] moronic."

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Gerson says twice that Weigel's private sentiments should not have been made public.  Why were they?  Well, I blame ugly politics, a politics that tries to make everything about people's character and private life and not about what they do or say publicly.  Anyway, he then bafflingly suggests that these private words "display the defining characteristics of ugly politics."  Well, not really, I would say the defining characteristic of ugly politics is saying those things in a public forum to achieve a political effect.  Venting to your alleged friends does not count.

A more foundational characteristic of ugly politics, I think, is twisting facts or distorting words for poltiical advantage.  Here is what Weigel is alleged to have said (via the Daily Caller):

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

When Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones resigned after it was revealed he signed a 9/11 “truther” petition, alleging the government may have conspired to allow terrorists to kill 3,000 civilians, Weigel highlighted the alleged racism of Glenn Beck – Jones’s top critic.

Notice that Weigel is complaining primarily (and again privately) about the ugly crap that gets cast as serious political discourse.  This demonstrates again, however, that however ugly Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, etc., get, the rules of our discourse prohibit you from pointing that out.  For if you do, even in private, you're fired.

*The actual quote is "Go fuck yourself" and Dick Cheney said it (to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate). 

4 thoughts on “Go do unto yourself*”

    So you want to avoid being part of the "Ugly Party?" Easy enough. Refer to the President as incompetent and amateurish, and pass along the hilarious joke, "As Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour points out, Obama spent more time picking out the White House dog than he permitted for comprehensive health-care reform". (Gerson, "Health Reform's Plan B", Sept. 2, 2009). Call the President "the Undecider" (Gerson, "Obama the Undecider", Nov. 20, 2009). Accuse the President of having a "touchy, brittle public persona" (Gerson, "Tim Pawlenty: Minnesota's Ronald Reagan?", May 5, 2010). Misrepresent facts and policy. (The Obama administration's budget proposals would dramatically increase publicly held debt as a percentage of the economy over the next decade, eventually slowing economic growth, fueling inflation and making America more dependent on the kindness of creditors.") (Gerson, "European and American debt crises signal an era of austerity", May 19, 2010).
    And no, I didn't attempt to do more than scratch the surface. For example, he's been consistently rude to Al Franken, and quick to distort his record or "critique" his satirical works as if they were intended as serious, objective commentary. But perhaps in that case it's okay, because he sees Franken as being in the "Ugly Party" and thus not worthy of respect?

  2. It's one thing to find comments distasteful, and another to believe that one should be fired (or forced into resignation) because of them.  I'm not sure I see how it's hypocritical to dislike comments even if you don't think they should have been made public.  Take former British PM Gordon Browns gaff regarding a woman he found to be bigoted.  Now he intended for those comments to be private, but I'm not simply going to ignore them and pretend I didn't hear them since he still had a mic on and forgot.
    It is true that Rush says many brazen things publicly, but I can't imagine that he'd be any more shocking in private.  He says ridiculous things, but has no scruples about saying them.  Pointing out that a liberal commentator is not above personal attacks and that he simply pretended to be less hateful than his 'adversaries' is not a non-sequitur.  It's a valid criticism (though I'm sure now I'll be lectured on how I'm OBVIOUSLY missing the point.)

  3. No one has claimed there is a non sequitur here–so that's one way you're missing the point.  Another thing, beware of the eager beaver fallacy.  Just because something gets discussed here, doesn't entail that it's a fallacy, or a non sequitur.  Finally, Gerson distorted the fellows criticisms (he was talking about people who make our PUBLIC discourse so ugly) and ignored the fact that they were private.  My only wish is that Weigel had said those things publicly.

Comments are closed.