It's hard to have a conversation when some people don't follow the rules. If your conversation is about, say, which things ought a rational person assent to, then indeed there are certain rules. One can disagree about these rules, but the rules say you have to state the grounds for the disagreement and those grounds have to be good grounds.
Here's one rule. If you offer up a point of view in a public forum, you should expect criticism. Some of this is probably going to be dumb and uninformed, some of it relevant. There's a rule that says you have to focus on the relevant criticism. Pretending that the only criticism you get is of the former variety breaks a rule. Here's Amity Shlaes, a kind of conservative author, talking about George Will:
So Michele Bachmann’s version of history is “from another planet.” Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is “chronically stupid.” And Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is “busy lying constantly.”
That at least is according to posts on three left-leaning blogs.
Writers who are not pro-Barack Obama are suffering character assassination as well. George Will of the Washington Post, the nation’s senior conservative columnist, has been so assaulted by bloggers that his editor, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote, “I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.”
The disconcerting thing isn’t that the bloggers or their guests did this slamming. We’re used to such vitriol in campaign time. What is surprising is that the attacks are continuing after an election.
In the past, politicians and policy thinkers tended to be magnanimous in victory. They and their friends focused, post- victory, on policy and strategy — not on trashing individuals.
I didn't know the nation had a "senior conservative columnist." But anyway, George Will has been criticized for the inadequacy of his ideas (see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here)–and a person of Shlaes's very expensive education ought to know that. She at least ought to be able to distinguish between "trashing" and saying, "hey, that conclusion doesn't follow!" (even if she doesn't think that conclusion doesn't follow). If she isn't aware of this criticism (use the Google!) she ought not write about it, if she doesn't know the difference between "trashing" and "argument analysis" she ought to return to ask for her college tuition back, and finally if she does know the difference (and I suspect she does) but this is how she plays the game, then I say she's not playing by the rules. That's not fair.
It's not fair because the discussion is about a topic, someone has offered up a view of that topic, and rather than discuss that view, we have to spend all of our time explaining how challenging someone's view in a public forum does not amount to trashing that person. And when we do that, we don't get to have a discussion.