As someone who considers himself a progressive, left leaning Democrat, it is easy for me to point the finger at Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, et al. and ascribe to them the blame for taking us down this road. But that would not only be unfair, but self-fulfilling. Oberman, Maddow, and Stewart are certainly giving as good as they get. And although I bemoan the loss of civility, I confess to thoroughly enjoying the tape of Barney Frank comparing a conversation with a shouting protester to a discussion with a dining room table. And I allow myself to hate Glenn Beck.
So how did we get here? Is it the internet? Did convenient forums enable some nuts to spew their crackpot views, which in turn, validated other nuts to come out of the woodwork? Faced with rantings of these few, did their opponents naturally respond with mockery and derision? Which in turn led to allegations of media bias? Is it infectious? Does it have to keep getting worse?
As we say in Family Court, it takes two to tango. And we should keep in mind that the phenomena (the loss of civility) is not limited to Democrat vs. Republican issues. Witness the tone (and volume!) of discussion on BMG one month ago about Gates and Crowley and the Arrest that Shook the World. Nasty language, accusations of racism, stupidity and hidden agendas abounded on these pages. That particular debate made strange bedfellows, as I found myself on the same side as JohnD and MCRD. The arguments raged on for a couple of weeks. I suspect that no other isolated event has generated more comments in BMG history.
And so what happened with Gatesgate? Did the sky fall? Although some credit must be given to our President, the reality is the incident was not the big deal it seemed at the time, based on the firestorm of commentary it generated (I am NOT saying that racism isn’t a big deal, or that we don’t have to keep a close eye on rogue cops). Professor Gates joked about it two weeks later on Martha’s Vineyard, Crowley stayed away from talk radio, and both men won credit for how they handled the controversy. But here, on BMG, we allowed ourselves to be enraged. We said nasty things. I found myself hating Ryepower12.
The point? Like in the marital wars, there is a benefit to keeping a cool head. If we give in to the anger (or often, the fear) and strike out with our words and actions, we can expect more trouble, not resolution. Each of us has the duty to keep the tone as civil as possible. We can model good behavior for others. BMG is, relatively, a shining example of this in the greater blogosphere.
There is another similarity to marital breakdown. Bad divorces almost always have, at their root, a financial crisis. If the economic situation is difficult, everything else starts to fall apart. I think that is a big piece of what is going in the country now. The debate is angry because people are scared. Scared people have a difficult time getting to the resolution of anything. We need to be cognizant of this, hold our tongues when we can, and take the high road when possible. Especially because, financially, things may get worse before they get better.
So, keep cool. Be as tolerant as possible of your clueless neighbor. Try not to ratchet up the debate. Use those 3’s and 4’s judiciously. Enjoy Labor Day.