I have had hard time parsing exactly what the intelligentsia means by "incivility." On the one hand, they often call for more civil discourse and lament the lack of incivility in government nowadays. But on the other hand, people like Obama very frequently argue by ad hominem attack, preferring to question the motives of the NRA or climate skeptics rather than engage their criticisms of gun control or CO2 limitations.
This has confused me, because I have always defined civility in discourse as the willingness to accept your opponent as a person of good will who merely disagrees or is misguided. But if this is civility, why the frequent "othering" of political opponents by the same folks calling for civility?
Well, it turns out I have been using the wrong definition of civility. As Donna Brazille makes clear, "incivility" means criticizing the President or attempting to hold him accountable for missteps of those who report to him. She actually beings by defining civility in a way with which I mostly agree:
A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.
But then she goes on to say
We, the people, need to stay focused on facts, causes and solutions. Let's begin with the findings of the Treasury's inspector general who uncovered it: That it was bureaucratic mismanagement, but that there was no evidence of any political motivation or influence from outside the IRS.
And that, according to acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who just resigned, the problem started because the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision created a surge of requests by political groups for tax-exempt status.
LOL - don't let politicians dictate our course - but everyone needs to shut up and take the word for two IRS officials that there is no scandal here (noting that we know from the IRS's own data that the last statement she urges us to accept in the name of civility is definitely false). Further, she says
Why am I alarmed? Because two "scandals" -- the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice's tapping of reporters' phones -- have become lynch parties. And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself.
So let's of course all be civil, and civility means calling folks criticizing a black President "lynch mobs."
By the way, a bit off-topic, but this paragraph is a textbook example of tricks editorial writers use
The IRS scandal has sparked bipartisan outrage that should require a bipartisan solution. The director who oversaw this was a Bush appointee who was confirmed by a Democratic Congress. Even Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says he doubts very much that Obama was involved
Each sentence here as a master-stroke of the spinmeister's pen trying to defend her guy in the White House.
- Note the effort in the first sentence to shift this to a bipartisan issue. Both sides are upset. It is a good government issue. The implication we are supposed to draw is that this no longer can be a critique of this particular administration. It has transcended. This is how red-blue team political invective works. If the outrage is coming from just one party, it should not stick to the President because because it is petty partisanship. If it comes from both sides, it should not stick because it is a larger issue for all of us that transcends this particular Administration. In fact, through the article, she actually makes both arguments simultaneously. Brilliant!
- It's Bush's fault. This is just so well-worn that Obama officials simply cannot help themselves. How can a man the Left thought to be so stupid and incompetent still be directing affairs four and half years after he left the building?
- This one is really funny. Is, as implied by the structure of this sentence and the world "even", Carl Bernstein the least likely imaginable person to excuse Obama of such a charge? I think I am going to start writing this way. Even Warren Meyer thinks climate change has been exaggerated. Even Kim Kardashian thinks its important to get a lot of PR. Even Tia Carrere says its OK to make a bad movie once in a while. Hey, this is fun.
By the way, as I wrote before, it is unlikely Obama gave a specific order to harass the tea party. However, he has created a strong culture of "othering" his political enemies and impugning their motives as evil, sending a strong signal to his supporters such that actual orders were unnecessary. No one ordered from the top that Princeton students harass Yale at every opportunity (or even better, Penn). The culture takes care of it.