The Absence of Civility Is Not the Problem: Lying and Inaccuracy Are the Problems

We're now seeing all of the civility trolls coming out of the woodwork. If by civility, one means "not engaging in violent eliminationist rhetoric", well, then I'm all for it. But what I'm concerned about is that honest criticism will be silenced. While I'm not as sanguine about political rhetoric as, let's say, Jack Shafer, the fact is a lot of people in political life are habitually...counterfactual. That is, they're liars. Others are ideologically blinkered, while yet others, sadly, are either just kinda dim or else stone-cold ignorant.

We do ourselves a disservice when we treat these ideas and their purveyors seriously. Obviously, some concepts are difficult and are prone to sincere misunderstandings or honest differences of opinion. But is saying repeatedly that Obama isn't an American citizen, or that the recent healthcare legislation, which is very similar to legislation proposed by the Heritage Foundation and was passed in Massachusetts by conservative Republican Mitt Romney, has 'death panels' and other absurdities worthy of respect?

There are only so many times one can and, for that matter, one should seriously engage such lunacy. At some point, just as most around these parts would do for creationist claims, this has to be viewed as either willful ignorance or cynical lying.

The political press corps also plays a role in this too. When conservative politicians repeatedly make inaccurate claims, even about something as mundane (although important) as healthcare budgets, they need to be called out. Reporters are actually providing misinformation when they fail to do so. And when the political press fails to 'provide context'--that is, call bullshit--then the rest of us are forced to do so, once again (and again, and again...).

Finally, when one has a track record of making loathsome statements, it might just mean that he or she is a loathsome person. By way of Digby, consider what Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks, who is now aghast over the Gifford shooting, said at last year's How to Take Back America Conference:

Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries...there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity.

I have a hard time reconciling that with what Ezra Klein wrote Sunday (italics mine):

A lot of the attention focused on Sarah Palin's call to "Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: Don't retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!" That was linked to a map in which gunsights were placed on the districts of various vulnerable Democrats. One of them was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's. "It's time to take a stand" was written across the top of the map. But Palin wasn't alone in using violent imagery and rhetoric to rouse her supporters.

Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R), in a January radio interview, warned that "if Congress keeps it up, people may find themselves resorting to Second Amendment remedies." Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) said she wanted Minnesotans "armed and dangerous" in opposition to cap-and-trade. Jesse Kelly, who ran against Giffords in 2010, held a gun-themed fundraiser. The pitch read: "Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly."

I'm not suggesting that any of these individuals really meant to advocate for acts of violence. In fact, I'm sure all of them are sick to their stomachs tonight.

I do not believe that last sentence. Not at all. After a decade of demonization, stretching back to the run up to the Iraq War, I'm not sure. After mimicking the rhetoric of the most violent-sounding anti-abortionists--and meeting with them--I'm not sure at all. After repeatedly being called unpatriotic and not being considered 'real' Americans, I'm not sure at all. And here are some more examples of right-wing vitriol. And I believe those too.

As I've said before, words do have meaning. Words should have meaning: if they don't, then do us all a favor and shut up. I believe Representative Trent Franks. I believe them when Rush Limbaugh and his millions of regular listeners believe we're the problem. And the anti-abortion movement has shown what happens when people post cross-hairs over people's names.

So let's not be so concerned with civility, but instead demand honesty and accuracy. That will serve us far better.

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Holocaust survivor, upon being asked what he learned from it: "When someone says he is going to exterminate you, believe him."

Got your passport up to date?

By Netanyahoo (not verified) on 10 Jan 2011 #permalink

Didn't the right always claim to believe this themselves, when justifying the invasion of Iraq/n? "If someone says he's going to kill you or your friends, believe them--and stop them!" I guess they're just not interested in winning over our hearts and minds.

TTT - they're interested in winning hearts but minds are verboten on the right.

This is a chunk of a post I put on my own blog last night. Yours makes a much clearer call for what needs to happen, which I thank you heartily for.
I published an op-ed in the Philly Inquirer in Jan 2005 about atttending GWBushâs second inauguration. It was an awful dayânot just because GWB had won re-election, but because the beginnings of everything weâre seeing right now were in place then. At least it was the first time I was palpably confronted by them. After that op-ed published, I got anonymous death threats mailed to my house; three showed up on the same day. The immediate fear last about 10 minutes; I went to the cops; and then I got furious. I called the Inquirer editor Iâd worked with to tell him I wanted to write about the death threats, and he discouraged me, saying, âYou kicked the rock once and the crazies poked their heads out. Kick it again, thereâs a good chance theyâll really come out this time.â

His not-very-sensitive use of the term âcraziesâ notwithstanding, my fear is that if the talk-ocracy simply papers over the current state of affairs, it might be too late. The rock may have been kicked too hard this time. As my earlier post from today makes very clear, Jared Loughren ainât the only one out there. How do we fix that? More tax breaks for rich people? Fighting wars of aggression all around the world? Fighting about where Barack Obama was born?

You're making me feel my oats again. We need to keep kicking those rocks and dealing head-on with whatever comes out.

When JFK was shot, our high school announced the news over the PA system. Half the kids cheered. Jokes were made about gunning for LBJ next. As you've guessed, our township was a Republican stronghold.

I'm sure a lot of people cheered the Tucson massacre.

I am an ashamed American.

I'm curious what Congressman Rahall will say.

How do we put the fucking crazies in their place?

By Katharine (not verified) on 10 Jan 2011 #permalink

Here, here! Well put!

There's a wide difference between calling a "spade a spade" and intimating violent action. Saying "XYZ" is a "lying no good weasel" is a lot different than saying "it would be a shame if someone were to shoot that lying no good weasel".

If anything we haven't had enough truth, enough "shrill"-ness in the last 20 years. For god sake we can't even call "torture" by it's real name on NPR.

I am all for freedom of speech. That is, of course, if the speaker speaks the truth. And naturally I know instinctively when the truth is being spoken. When a conservative, tea party member or libertarian speaks, it is undoubtedly a lie. Every filthy word! This is such a truism that what is actually said is irrelevant, it is the identity of the speaker that determines the truthfulness of his or her words. Or more accurately, it is the political persuasion of the speaker that matters. It is been scientifically determined by Keith Olberman that liberals speak the truth 99.4% of the time and conservatives speak the truth .6% of the time. I think he was being generous to conservatives. When our President said he would not hire lobbyists in his government, I know he was speaking the truth (Daley was not really a lobbyist- that is a conservative lie). And think about other Democratic presidents (great men all). LBJ always told the nation the truth about progress in the war in Vietnam. Bill Clinton did not really perjure himself to the grand jury; that again is a conservative lie. So remember, free speech is the American way and to be preserved as long as only those truly worthy of this right are allowed to exercise it.

Katharine- The answer to your question is simple. When someone exercises their freedom of speech and you don't like it, demonize and villify them. Call them stupid and racist. Avoid intellectual analysis, as only liberal elites are smart enough to understand that. By the tone of your post, I suspect you are an intellectually gifted person and perhaps can engage in sophisticated argument but most cannot. Just do not forget the vile name calling- it is vital.

Top Cat: Sarcasm doesn't work when it's true.

TTT- What I suggest then is that the left publish a treatise of what is true. Those who speak differently should be prosecuted.


I'm guessing that bothering to reply to your poorly-written and even more poorly-researched sarcastic troll is a waste of time, but regardless, inciting "imminent lawless action" is not protected by the First Amendment. For reference (an absurd concept to you, I'm sure) see the SCOTUS case Brandenberg v Ohio (1969).

Corey- Yes, I agree with you. The fact that your post has nothing to do with mine makes your response a waste of time.



You had me going there for a few seconds. Citing Keith Olberman had me first gagging, then rolling on the floor with laughter.

But let's face it, politician and liar are synonyms. The same goes for political commentator and liar. You can't really trust any of them; it's their business.



I was around then, too. You are a liar.

By A little commm… (not verified) on 15 Jan 2011 #permalink

I did not realize Topcat's post was sarcasm until I got to the LBJ bit. I was actually willing to forgive "scientifically proven" by Olbermann as mere hyperbole, but did he forget the Gulf of Tonkin?

The thing is, I actually agree with the main sentiment, that a source can become so disreputable that it's not worth fact checking. And to a certain extent I apply that to anyone who identifies as conservative. I've just about given up hope that I'll ever meet a conservative who's not ignorant, self-deceiving, or outright lying. What does that say about me? :(

I'm agreeing with Topcat (as others are) that Democrats are suspect in their truthfulness. Yes, politicians can be wrong.

Unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember when news people thought their job was to check any facts given by their sources, especially sources which had proven to be mistaken. I'm going to avoid the term "lying" because motivation for giving information is not the point.

In fact, watching media mindlessly recycle Big Lies without fact checking is a great example of failing to focus on fact, not fame. And that does frighten me. To mention another article -- about creationism being taught, or at any rate faith-based disagreements being taught -- students are no longer given tools with which to think. I taught rhetoric (speech, argument, etc) for quite a few years, and so was "privileged" to watch the actual power of students to engage with conflicting ideas and find a way to address them deteriorate yearly. So newspeople are symptoms only, of a population given facts, not methods... are of course, as is often the case, many of those facts are found to be wrong, years later, and the people who believed them are left stranded to retreat to Faith as the only explanation.

Thanks, Mike, for that wonderful soundbite title -- I'm going to think about that quite awhile.