The Coarsening of a Country

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This is a guest post by Jeffrey Stacey, an international engagement officer on contract with the Office of the Secretary’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the U.S. Department of State. Previously Stacey taught Political Science at Tulane University, Fordham University, and Columbia University, where he obtained his Ph.D. He has also worked for the British Parliament, the European Parliament, and the Open Society Institute and is author of “Integrating Europe” by Oxford University Press.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.

The Coarsening of a Country
jeffrey stacey twn.jpgRecently in Washington we memorialized a legend no longer living, the great Richard Holbrooke, diplomat extraordinaire and larger than life to the end, when heart failure took him from us. He was that rare breed who not only thought big thoughts but did big things, all on the grandest of international stages. The man who ended a war and brought peace to Bosnia–saving thousands of lives in the process–was indefatigably working for peace in Afghanistan when death came knocking. He was passionately, unswervingly committed to using American power for good, for restoring faith in our diplomacy, for John Wesley-like doing all the good that he could, as long as he could, whenever and wherever he could.
But who within our country is making a Herculean-Holbrookian commitment to restoring honor and civility to our political discourse. Who will stand up fearlessly and call out demagogues for their hateful speech? Who will go to the wall for what is best in America and stand on it til what is worst gets altered, transformed, or utterly spurned by the great mass of American citizenry? Who has the character, the mettle, the fire in the belly to be a socially responsible citizen and effect a changed America, down the block or up on Capitol Hill?
Because while this is the America we love, those whose love is true know its soul is torn. And that making it whole again will take more than points of light in the thousands. What is now required will involve nothing less than leading lights to embrace the humility of Copeland’s fanfare, and struggle to bring to fruition what Martin saw from the mountaintop.
We have been poorly served by this generation of leaders, too many of whom countenance a four-star general bad mouthing the commander-in-chief, a member of Congress crying out “You lie” during the State of the Union, a Supreme Court justice crossing the sacred political line, a senator calling for the President’s Waterloo, a vice presidential candidate coming close to inciting violence in her campaign speeches, and on-air bloviators in triplicate calling the sitting President everything under the sun but a nigger. Normally the Rubicon gets crossed only once in living memory, but the crossings of late have been too numerous to enumerate.


It wasn’t always this bad. True enough, this country has known a time when no one was free, a time when indigenous peoples were massacred, a time when people were brought from elsewhere and enslaved, a time when one gender did not have even basic privileges on par with the other. But during these times and others, there were always stirrings in the land, normal citizens and elites alike who took action, from Jeffersonian violence to Ghandian civil disobedience. Wholesale change has always been hard fought and incomplete, at the same time that many other things in America were worth a nation’s pride. Part of that pride has always been a penchant for pushing on toward our mythical promised land.
We average citizens must muster once again the ability to hold our leaders to account. Instead we are sleepwalking through history. When I was young my father used to explain to me that large scale change was so difficult to accomplish that normally one of two things was required to vanquish our biggest problems: either someone figuring out how to make money from a solution or a sizable crisis. At the time I thought this was too pessimistic, but over time I found him to be right–a testament to how difficult transformational change really is. Yet, it could be and was on occasion achieved. But seemingly no longer.
We have had two of the biggest crises imaginable–the Great Recession, which we gave the world, and 9-11, which the world gave us. I lived in New York City when the Twin Towers were brought down, having climbed a hill uptown and watched it happen with my own eyes. Talking heads at the time said everything would be changed asunder, but they were wrong. We aren’t any safer and the world isn’t any more peaceful. More recently our financial wizards wreaked havoc on our livelihoods, setting off widespread hardship here and abroad. Yet the alchemists on Wall Street are mixing their concoctions anew, and their Merlinesque protectors in Congress aren’t yet immune to what wafts all the way down to Washington where I now live.
What’s it going to take? Is this country so set in its ways that two current wars can’t shake us from our slumber? That economic misery far and wide can’t provide the smelling salts to wake us to action? Or how about a nearly slain Congresswoman who essentially predicted her own near assassination while a handful of average Americans went to their graves, including a 9-year old too innocent not to believe in the country’s essential goodness? Will this, finally, shake the great tree of our American democracy?
So far an incipient change can be detected, but few of us are holding our breath. What is the standard for judging our leaders in the wake of this tragedy? There will need to be measurable progress in three areas: our political discourse, our culture of violence, and how we care for the mentally ill among us. It is too soon to tell, but is anyone anywhere confident that average people will push for change and our leaders will respond by crossing partisan lines to build coalitions for enduring achievements in these and other areas that ultimately will help the American soul to heal. Where is our Great Society?
Where is our shining city on a hill?
For American society to aspire to its better angel, we need something out of the book of miracles, something magically to be pulled from our great big societal hat. It is difficult to conceive of what this will take. One hopes it won’t take more tragedy to stop us right in our tracks and force us to reflect meaningfully on how better to achieve the collective good. But surely it will take at least a handful of leaders to step out of the shadows and not shirk from calling for a new American way, even in the face of a torrent of political abuse. And even more assuredly it will take a large number of average citizens, each on their own at first, and then with others heading their examples, to stake out a new radical almost apolitical territory in American politics.
Let us hold ourselves no higher than our ideals. It is no job for the tremulous. The road will not be short. But our country needs us, our communities crave us.
As Cicero pronounced it and Bob Dylan sang it, we gotta serve somebody.
– Jeffrey Stacey

Comments

37 comments on “The Coarsening of a Country

  1. Lynne Brandon says:

    This is nothing short of brilliant literature made more effective for its truth. Reminds me of that smart actor I mentioned to you last week who sets the writing bar high.
    Best wishes, Lynne

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    “The idea that the level of political discourse today is
    worse than it once was is just not true. Stacey’s idea that
    there is any mythical period when “civility” reigned that
    needs to be restored is simply unsupported by even a
    cursory examination of American history.”
    You’re probably right, WigWag. But while the idea of a
    “restoration” might be unsupported, the wish to “improve”
    the political discourse might not be such a bad idea? I’m
    reminded of the late British travel writer Bruce Chatwin’s
    take on America:

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  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Fox News under fire over switched videotape
    Fox News is under fire following Republican Ron Paul

    Reply

  4. WigWag says:

    I wonder whether Mr. Stacey, who wants to “restore” civility to our political discourse, knows what George Washington thought about the tenor of political discourse during his Administration. According to his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, the normally unflappable President was “much inflamed” by the “personal abuse that had been bestowed upon him” by numerous journalists.
    Of course, Jefferson was subjected to the same fate when an opposition newspaper in Virginia savaged Jefferson with the claim that Jefferson “kept as his concubine one of his slaves and with the wench Sally Hemings he has had several children.”
    During the same period of time, Jefferson’s political supporters “exposed” a sex scandal involving his political enemy Alexander Hamilton (most of what Jefferson’s supporters claimed turned out to be not true). The character assassination became particularly real when it culminated in the fatal duel that Hamilton had with Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr. The scandal literally resulted in the death of Hamilton but it also ended in the political death of Burr who was reviled for shooting Hamilton and himself died a broken man.
    The idea that the level of political discourse today is worse than it once was is just not true. Stacey’s idea that there is any mythical period when “civility” reigned that needs to be restored is simply unsupported by even a cursory examination of American history.
    I am quite sure that Stacey is a fine fellow. He has taught at some of America’s finest universities including Fordham (my alma mater). But with all due respect, if an undergraduate handed me an essay like the one Stacey penned here, I would be forced to give it a failing grade.

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  5. rich says:

    Jeffrey Stacey: “Where is our Great Society?
    Where is our shining city on a hill?”
    It’s in Madison, Wisconsin.
    Since no one else will say it I will. Wake up already and take your cue. It’s happening now and our optimistic attitude can’t be stolen or stomped by those who no longer want to build a better country and a more perfect union. Madison police officers were serving brats to the demonstrators the other day . .. and that’s just the beginning.

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  6. ackbark says:

    What good does ‘calling them out’ do?
    Their audience won’t care, their audience will never
    notice unless the demagogue notices, then it’s your
    problem.
    The more you ‘call them out’ the more they think
    they’ve got you on the run.

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  7. JimD says:

    Run Richard Trumka for the Democratic Nomination in 2012.

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  8. questions says:

    And this is coarse, too….
    “There are lots of Tricks of the Trade used to reduce aid to high minority districts. A favorite choice of state legislators is to allocate aid based on average daily attendance rather than enrollment. Higher poverty, higher minority concentration districts tend to have lower attendance rates

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  9. DonSt says:

    Americablog’s been reading my mind:
    Georgia Republican promotes plan for Uterus Police to investigate miscarriages.
    http://www.americablog.com/2011/02/georgia-republican-promotes-plan-for.html
    Pretty damn coarse, I’d say. If thinking these Georgia Republicans are worse that sick neanderthal throwbacks makes me a “leftist”, pin the badge on me. (BTW, if a “leftist” is what “rightists” call progressives, what does that make “rightists”? Regressives? Sound right to me.)

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  10. questions says:

    My very own addition to the coarsening of American political discourse.
    Following on Jonathan Bernstein’s wonderful defense of deficits and his attempt to name people who agree that deficits don’t matter, I will suggest a different set of names. There are deficit hawks (boooo. Bad bad bad people. Very coarse!) And there are “deficit realists.” These are the pragmatic people who realize that the deficit doesn’t matter.
    So the realists don’t give a fuck about deficits. They don’t play bullshit moralizing games about moral hazards or THE CHILDREN ™ who will have to “pay off” the debt….
    The hawks play a lot of fucked games using piss poor analogies that convey noting and are profoundly inapt. They don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.
    There. I said it. In a coarse manner.
    The full Bernstein:
    http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2011/02/deficit-idealists-vs-deficit-realists.html

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  11. questions says:

    Some facts (?) to fight the coarsening of our discourse, from Brad DeLong:
    “If enacted as proposed, the Obama budget would get the United States to “primary balance”

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  12. questions says:

    THE best analysis of the Wisconsin situation I’ve seen. Talk about “coarsening” — the gov goes after the unions that didn’t support him, exempts the unions that did support him, the whole thing is gendered to a significant extent, the budget crisis isn’t a crisis, and the proposal slowly strips away public unions’ ability to fight, collect dues, survive.
    This is a nasty hit, a cheap shot, and really pretty coarse. Hope this guy is recalled if Wisconsin has a recall system.
    http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/wisconsin-draws-the-line-on-austerity-opportunism-and-class-war/

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  13. DonS says:

    While we’re talking about just how “coarse” things have become in America, what about the creation of politically expedient gloss’ on the Constitution to — trying to be as uncoarse as possible — allow for totalitarian powers of the ruling elite. The latest court ‘ruling’ on Jose Padilla is instructive of how far off the path (or on the path if you’re a corporatist/statist) we have gotten:
    “Padilla — like so many other War on Terror detainees — has spent years in American courts trying unsuccessfully to hold accountable the high-level government officials responsible for his abuse and lawless imprisonment (which occurred for years prior to his indictment). Not only has Padilla (and all other detainees) failed to obtain redress for what was done to them, but worse, they have been entirely denied even the right to have their cases heard in court. That’s because the U.S. Government has invented — and federal courts have dutifully accepted — a whole slew of legal doctrines which have only one purpose: to insulate the country’s most powerful political officials from legal accountability even when they commit the most egregious crimes, such as imprisoning incommunicado and torturing an American citizen arrested and detained on U.S. soil.
    “Yesterday, in South Carolina, an Obama-appointed federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Padilla against former Bush officials Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz and others. That suit alleges that those officials knowingly violated Padilla’s Constitutional rights by ordering his due-process-free detention and torture. In dismissing Padilla’s lawsuit, the court’s opinion relied on the same now-depressingly-familiar weapons routinely used by our political class to immunize itself from judicial scrutiny: national security would be undermined by allowing Padilla to sue; “government officials could be distracted from their vital duties to attend depositions or respond to other discovery requests”; “a trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America’s present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges”; the litigation would risk disclosure of vital state secrets; and “discovery procedures could be used by our enemies to obtain valuable intelligence.”
    “In other words, our political officials are Too Important, and engaged in far Too Weighty Matters in Keeping Us Safe, to subject them to the annoyance of the rule of law. It’s much more important to allow them to Fight The Terrorists without restraints than to bother them with claims that they broke the law and violated the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. That’s the mentality that has resulted in full-scale immunity for both political and now private-sector elites in a whole slew of lawbreaking scandals — from Obama’s refusal to investigate Bush-era crimes or high-level Wall Street criminality to retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms and legal protection for defrauding mortgage banks.
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/02/18/justice/index.html

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  14. DonS says:

    Coordinated attacks on a woman’s right to choose: brought to you by the same hypocritical folks who profess to want small government, to be left alone, to have the private right to own every gun available worn concealed everywhere, to broach no interference in the patient/doctor relationship. But government should remain big and ‘active’ enough to prevent same sex marriage and, of course, to restrict womens’ rights:

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  15. DonS says:

    That’s it Wig wag, blame it on the ‘lefties’. No matter that without the ‘incivility of the ’60′s, the right wing jack boot would be even further on our neck. You are indeed a case. First you argue that British political ‘incivility’ proves that ‘you lie’ is not at all uncivil; then you look everywhere you can to paint anyone ‘uncivil’ who doesn’t meet your test. Ever wonder why it will be a good thing when your sort of ‘civility’ dies out?
    Oh, I suppose you think the mounting challenge to Koch-financed union busting attacks brewing across the nation are uncivil too. Can’t have any remnants of power left in the middle class can we?

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  16. David Billington says:

    A lot of this may have as much to do with institutional incentives as with behavioral choices.
    In California, we just changed our electoral procedures in two ways. One was to appoint a
    commission to do redistricting for state and federal office. The other was to have a new primary
    system where anyone can vote in any primary and the top two vote-getters of any party will face
    each other in the general election. These changes should incentivize candidates to address a
    broader electorate. We will see whether partisan differences and rancor are affected by the change,
    but the expectation is that there will be a change.
    Could a different primary system work in the way that we nominate and elect Presidents?

    Reply

  17. WigWag says:

    Another example of the uncivil nature of American politics can be found in the ubiquitous use of the word “pigs” to describe police officers during the 1960s and 1970s. Few things are less civil that referring to a class of people as if they were filthy barnyard animals but this is what leftists regularly did during that period in American history.
    In one of the recent threads at the Washington Note dealing with the revolt in Egypt someone (I think it may have been Questions) brought up the Gil Scott Heron anthem, the “Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” This song is perfectly emblemmatic of the uncivil attitude that pervaded the turbulent 1960s and 70s. The song referred to police officers as “pigs” twice and it harshly ridiculed civil rights leaders who Mr. Scott Heron and his contemporaries concluded were not radical enough to suit them.
    Here’s a stanza from the song,
    “There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
    brothers in the instant replay.
    There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
    brothers in the instant replay.
    There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
    run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
    There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
    Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
    Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
    For just the proper occasion.”
    I have a sneaking feeling that Nir Rosen likes this song very much and that while Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity might not like the lyrics, they would love to recapitulate the sentiment in a right wing direction.
    What’s the point? Whatever the lack of civility in contemporary American politics represents, it has an obvious pedigree.

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  18. WigWag says:

    POA, let me respond to some of your comments.
    1) I don’t think that Ron Paul is an anti-Semite. I disagree with him about almost everything, but I don’t believe for one minute that he has any animus towards either the Jewish people or to their national homeland merely because he wants to eliminate foreign aid to all countries including Israel.
    2) I do not listen to Hannity, Limbaugh or Coulter regularly and I do not know who Levin is. Occasionally, I come across Limbaugh when driving in the car and listen for a few minutes and occasionally I catch Hannity while channel surfing. I am happy to stipulate that the level of vituperative commentary emanating from them is similar to the commentary that emanates from Nir Rosen although if Limbaugh or Hannity have ever made light of a sexual assault, I am unaware of it. I do, from time to time, read leftist commentators like Glenn Greenwald and Katrina vanden Heuvel especially when people at the Washington Note link to their commentary. They also remind me of Limbaugh and Hannity but I admit that I don’t follow any of them regularly enough to really say for sure.
    3) I disagree with you that American politics has not always been as uncivil as it is now. Even before our nation was a nation, dissenters of the religious variety were frequently imprisoned and exiled. In the early years of the Republic, the press frequently referred to the sexual escapades of politicians they didn’t like. Allegations of Thomas Jefferson’s sexual relationship with Sally Hemings were widely discussed in newspapers throughout the United States. Things got pretty uncivil during the civil war years and during the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt accused moneyed interests of “hating” him and he acknowledged that he returned their hate. The only reason Lyndon Johnson was able to get the Civil Rights Act through a reluctant Congress is because he had the goods on the sexual escapades of Senator’s who opposed the bill and he was willing to blackmail them. If you

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  19. questions says:

    nadine,
    My take on the budget is very different from yours. The bulk of the econ stuff I’ve been reading makes it pretty clear that austerity is a bad idea right now, that short term massive deficits are preferable to balanced budgets for now, that the issue is a lack of demand (income) across the economy and not at all a mismatch between available labor and available jobs. The general “fix” for this situation is massive government demand to replace the lack of demand in the private sector. It all makes a great deal of sense to me.
    The goal in deficit spending (student loans, mortgages, car notes, medical debt for emergency surgery or other crises — see, households do this all the time!) is to increase your future earning ability. If the gov’t invests in people, if it leverages current wealth to ensure future wealth, well, that actually makes a great deal of sense.
    The market simply doesn’t provide all the things that should be provided. The market doesn’t clean up messes, the market doesn’t necessarily feed people well, the market gets stuck in all sorts of collective action problems. A little gov’t planning, a significant amount of gov’t spending — it’s all to the good.
    The deficit/national debt is not like household debt. It doesn’t come due the same way, and households cannot print money. These asymmetries need to be taken into account but aren’t by people on the right because there is a popular misunderstanding of what nations are as compared to individual households.
    As for Obama’s lying, the point was the “You lie” comment by Joe Wilson during ht SotU address, not any particular media appearance. There are political exaggerations all over the place. “My budget” will always trump “your” budget in politics. I don’t worry about this sort of politicking at all. It’s par for the course.
    What I hope out of the political document that the pres handed Congress is that most of the domestic spending cuts are so vociferously attacked by constituents that it’s basically DOA. LIHEAP is an anti-cruelty program. Allowing people to freeze to death in their unheated homes is a sickening thing to do in this nation. The northern climes are nasty in the winter, home heating without landlord coverage is brutally unaffordable. Utilities might have shut off bans, but people still suffer unimaginably. I cannot for the life of me figure out why so many people are so desperate to punish the poor.
    One could give a talismanic reading to this (if I punish the poor, then I won’t become one of them), one could give a racist reading to it (THOSE people are undeserving of anything good), one could give a kind of desperation reading to it (I CANNOT afford to support someone else, I’m barely making it myself), one can give the moral hazard reading (If I help you, it’ll make you worse), one could give the Social Darwinism reading (better you die than you reproduce weakness)….. Each of these readings is deeply unfortunate, wrong in many aspects, cruel at its base, and each merely justifies punishing the bad luck of some people’s having been born into the “wrong” family and their being punished for just that fact of life.
    We should be better than this, but we’re not. And we’ll cut off our fucking noses to make sure that we spite the poor. And if we lose our jobs and need public support, we’ll suffer without or demand that help only for people like us — you know, the deserving folk…… The ones Darwin would instantly know to preserve. Fab genetic stock and all……..

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  20. Phil Perspective says:

    Nadine:
    And you think the Republicans budget would be any better?

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  21. JohnH says:

    Talk about coarsening of a country! Last February Hillary gave a speech in Qatar, a dictatorship, accusing Iran of becoming a dictatorship. This year she delivers a speech condemning governments that arrest protesters and do not allow free expression And she has the chutzpah to have a protester, Ray McGovern, dragged out!
    The hypocrisy of high government officials knows no limit.

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  22. WigWag says:

    “But who within our country is making a Herculean-Holbrookian commitment to restoring honor and civility to our political discourse…” (Jeffrey Stacey, The Washington Note, February 17, 2011)
    “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace

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  23. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Strangely though you were silent about the ridicule directed towards George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld by Democrats and their leftist allies”
    Wig-Wag, Stacey did address those criminals. He lamented our inability to hold our leaders accountable. All three of those you mention should be in prison.
    The leaders on the left are no less unaccountable for their actions. But the ridicule and criticisms directed towards those you mention was well earned. It is only a shame the ridicule and criticism wasn’t followed by a responsible application of the law. And make no mistake, I realize our leaders on the left are just as immune to the letter of the law, and equally as disdainful of it.
    I had to chuckle at your indignation over the comments made by Rosen. Listened to Hannity lately? Limbaugh? Coulter???? Levin??? They provide us with a daily barage of incivility, insensitivity, disrespect, and insult directed towards politicians, “left leaning” journalists, and any or all that disagree with their venomous and disingenuous spew. I don’t recall ever seeing you lament the vicious emissions of these hatemongering corporate mouthpieces.
    Or what about Fox using taped boos from last years CPAC doings to insinuate that Ron Paul was being booed at this year’s CPAC gathering? Today, on our local RW hate radio station, 1560 AM, Chas McKay(sp?) called Paul an anti-semite because he dared advocate cutting funding to Israel. What about it, Wig-Wag, do such advocations automatically equate to anti-semitism?
    And no, Wig-wag, politics HAS NOT always been so venomous and hateful. The media has taken it to a new dimension, with the RW purveyors of hate being used as party spokespeople. Limbaugh and his ilk are a fairly recent phenomena. Yes, we used to have those such as Ernie Pyle. But they were sidelined, outside the mainstream, never taken seriously. But today the news is replaced by opinion, and those such as Limbaugh sow, cultivate, and nurture division, animous, and incivility, at the behest of, and in league with, party.
    I agree that Stacey’s sacharin cheerleading is mere fluff, pabulum, as you called it. But so too is the hypocritical essay you offer in response. There is no more vicious and insensitive commentary and opinion than that emanating from the right wing.
    “Is that because behavior that you find politically objectionable when it is directed at politicians that you like suddenly seems much less objectionable when directed at politicians that you don’t like?”
    Do you own a mirror, WigWag???? Perhaps we all could benefit from some judicious use of such implements, eh???

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  24. Cee says:

    Ray McGovern will stand up and has been beaten for it.
    At Clinton Speech: Veteran Bloodied, Bruised & Arrested for Standing Silently
    As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her speech at George Washington University yesterday, condemning governments that arrest protestors and do not allow free expression, 71-year-old Ray McGovern was grabbed from the audience in plain view of her by police and an unidentified official in plain clothes, brutalized and left bleeding in jail. She never paused speaking. When Secretary Clinton began her speech, Mr. McGovern remained standing silently in the audience and turned his back. Mr. McGovern, a veteran Army officer who also worked as a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years, was wearing a Veterans for Peace t-shirt.
    Blind-sided by security officers who pounced upon him, Mr. McGovern remarked, as he was hauled out the door, ?So this is America?? As you see, Mr. McGovern is covered with bruises, lacerations and contusions inflicted in the assault.
    McGovern1McGovern2
    Mr. McGovern is being represented by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). ?It is the ultimate definition of lip service that Secretary of State Clinton would be trumpeting the U.S. government?s supposed concerns for free speech rights and this man would be simultaneously brutalized and arrested for engaging in a peaceful act of dissent at her speech,? stated attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the PCJF.
    # # # #
    [Dandelion Salad added the video.]
    Hillary Doesn?t Even Break Stride in ?Freedom? Speech as Vet Is Roughed Up Right in Front of Her
    mmflint | February 16, 2011

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  25. Carroll says:

    It would be interesting to know how most people view this incident.
    Is it act of ‘uncivil’ discourse by McGovern?
    Is it an acceptable non violent expression of opposition?
    Do people have a right to express their disgust directly and in public to government officials where ever they find the opportunity?
    Was the treatment of McGovern too harsh or fitting?
    For those who think the arrest of McGovern was over the top, do they also think the reactions to him by government and it’s officials contribute to the “courseness” Jeffery describes?
    Whether you agree with McGovern’s views or not would a man like this fit Jeffery’s description of a citizen ..”Who will go to the wall for what is best in America and stand on it til what is worst gets altered, transformed, or utterly spurned by the great mass of American citizenry? Who has the character, the mettle, the fire in the belly to be a socially responsible citizen and effect a changed America, down the block or up on Capitol Hill?”
    Or if we or some politician or the government doesn’t agree with McGovern’s views do we think it is acceptable to label him a rude kook and shut him up?
    ‘As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday about the failures of foreign leaders to respect people

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  26. Ross Sharp says:

    I’ve never been to America, but I’ve always wanted to go, as so much of what has informed my life over the years originates from there, music, literature, film, theatre, the culture as a whole, and these things have served me well throughout the years.
    Hell, once upon a time, you put a man on the moon, and your civil rights movement in the 60′s put us here to shame. How very inspiring it all was.
    I can recall in the early 1970′s when I was maybe 13, going into the school library and, on just a whim, I started looking through the box of audiotapes they had there. I pulled one out and put it in the cassette player, put the headphones on and started listening. I’d heard the name of the speaker before, but really didn’t know much about him, as Australian history lessons at that time were so very Euro and Brit centric, there was barely anything taught about the States and its history or politics.
    “I have a dream”, the speaker said and that was a defining moment in my young life, I can tell you, I felt as if I’d just been shot through with electricity, and I thought, “That’s what I want, I want to live in that type of world”.
    Few years ago, I watched a documentary on Johnson’s “Great Society” … Imagine, providing everyone with a comprehensive education, healthcare and the like … how very quaint. “Would you have called yourself socialists?”, the interviewer asked of Ladybird Johnson, “Oh”, she replied, “We wouldn’t have been able to use that word”.
    I think Mr. Stacey makes a great deal of sense.
    Now if he could only put those words into one syllable soundbites, bumper stickers, dress it up some with punctuation (!!!!!!) and capitals (WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE!!!???), shout very, very loudly down the barrel of a Fox News camera whilst banging his fist on the desk and talking over anyone who attempts to interject a word or two, marginalise some minority groups, talk about a secret group of “others” who are secretly plotting to take your guns, money and freedoms, invoke the name of God all the time (the white God, that is, and the Jesus who always seems to look like James Franco with blonde locks, not some middle eastern dude with black hair and a permanent five o’clock shadow), and host a reality television show and have himself filmed shooting a hamster with a sub-machine gun, he might have a chance of someone paying him a little attention.
    Otherwise, I reckon he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of any of which he speaks taking place.
    “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”.
    Jesus wept.

    Reply

  27. Carroll says:

    Political ‘discourse’ is not the problem, the political ‘behavior’ of our politicians and government that inspires the discourse is the problem.
    There is no respect for our leaders for good reason– they have no principles and aren’t respectable. They don’t respect the people, therefore the people don’t respect them or each other. And I am sure I don’t have to list all the evidence for that fact for anyone.
    Polite discourse has had no effect–it’s like water off a duck’s back. Rude discourse has no effect either, the politicians herd up and hunker down.
    The fish rots from the head down. To change the discourse you have to change the system and the so called leaders that created it.
    We Americans would like to see our country be the shining city on the hill. Tell us how we do that when we citizens live on earth and Washington lives in a castle on Mars.
    Your father was right. The only thing I have seen in decades that has any effect on our politicians is money or fear. Fear of lose or desire for gain–for themselves, not the country.
    Sadly I think it’s going to take a crisis–a big one –to ever change the politics and society we have now.

    Reply

  28. Maw of America says:

    I was immediately drawn to this post by the word “coarsening”. Oddly enough, it first found purchase in my lexicon when I read a piece by George Will at least twenty years ago in which he was lamenting how obscene language had a coarsening effect on society. He wasn’t advocating censorship, but just reflecting on what he saw as a net negative on civility.
    Too bad he can’t harken back to those days and comment on what Jeffrey Stacey has written, because I think it is being sorely overlooked.
    Speaking of which, thanks for the much-needed assessment of the comments on TWN!

    Reply

  29. WigWag says:

    Respectfully Mr. Stacey, the content of your post is just pabulum. Is the “Oprahization” of America so advanced that this is what passes for sophisticated political analysis? Your post is so full of canards; it’s hard to know where to begin.
    I agree that Richard Holbrooke was a great man whose talents will be missed by his country, but you are seriously exaggerating what he accomplished in the Balkans. Bosnia is still a mess; to call it a country is to dramatically overstate what it really is; it’s little more than a canton divided into smaller cantons. You can call that an achievement if you want to but Bosnians are still poor and have few prospects. To make matters worse, the Muslim, Croat and Serbian Bosnians still have little but disdain for each other and they don’t consider each other countrymen; in fact many of them still consider their neighbors to be enemies. Bosnian Serbs are still oppressed (which is why they want a nation of their own, Republika Srpska) and the situation in the other former Yugoslav Republics is still unsettled. Kosovo is an even poorer excuse for a country than Bosnia is and despite the best efforts of the dimwitted Western Europeans and the Americans, few of the world’s nations recognize an independent Kosovo. To glorify Holbrooke’s work in the Balkans is to greatly exaggerate what he accomplished. While his ambitions were grand and laudable, his success was marginal.
    Your plea to restore “civility” to political discourse is equally wrongheaded. How can we restore what never existed? Perhaps you can tell us precisely when in American history, politics were conducted in a more civil manner than it is now. Have you studied American political history? Do you know anything about how fiercely fought the Adams-Jefferson campaign was and what kinds of things appeared about Jefferson in the newspapers of the day? Have you considered the level of political vitriol that accompanied the civil war or the New Deal? Were you aware that Lyndon Johnson liked to blackmail his political opponents by threatening to release information about their love affairs or that Nixon kept an “enemies list?” When exactly was that period of civic virtue that you would like to see America return to?
    Do you really think the idiotic congressman who shouted “liar” during the State of the Union address two years ago did something that outrageous? Have you ever watched Prime Minister’s Questions in the British Parliament on CSPAN? Are you familiar with how members of the British Parliament treat each other or what types of names they call each other? How is the level of decorum in our legislature compare to theirs?
    I am also sure that readers of your post would be interested to know why the only thing that offends you is the terrible way that Republican politicians treat Democratic politicians. After all, that Vice Presidential candidate you referred to in your post was a Republican; right? That member of the Supreme Court whose behavior you dislike was appointed by a Republican; isn’t that right? That Senator calling for the President’s Waterloo was also a Republican; am I mistaken? Who could believe it; a Republican Senator actually admitting that they would like to see a Democratic President defeated at the polls-better call out the National Guard.
    Strangely though you were silent about the ridicule directed towards George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld by Democrats and their leftist allies. Is that because behavior that you find politically objectionable when it is directed at politicians that you like suddenly seems much less objectionable when directed at politicians that you don’t like?
    Has it occurred to you that there’s no comparable movement today to the civil rights movement or the feminist movement because the rest of the country doesn’t feel the outrage that you do? Maybe the rest of America isn’t mistaken for not taking to the streets; maybe it

    Reply

  30. samuelburke says:

    Very cool tea leaf reading…the U.S needs a new way forward
    but what are the chances that our political leaders can slither
    away from what the lobbied interests desire?
    Consider that dictator Mubarak actually had his Generals ask
    his mid level officers if they would fire on the citizens, when
    the response came back that they would not, it was only then
    that they realized that the confrontation would end with the
    protesters getting their way and only then did the dictator
    Mubarak step aside.
    There is great hope for America, but the press must change
    the way it misinforms us and misleads us into believing so
    many untruths. They also must change the way they exclude
    the many truths that they feel we ought not to know. The will
    of the state of having it’s people support their policies can not
    be won by these illicit tactics.
    There are some parties more complicit in the devastation of
    our present day America, but i can not think of one as
    responsible as the American Press.

    Reply

  31. bill says:

    Thank you, sir. And thank you, Steve.

    Reply

  32. sanitychecker says:

    Watch Wisconsin for a good illustration of the two-step neoliberal attack:
    Step 1: Run giant deficits by rewarding, via tax breaks, subsidies, and bailouts, every corporate lobby that comes knocking on Congress’ doors.
    Step 2: Scream “We’re broke!” and use that to undo 60 years of social progress (e.g., collective bargaining). Go back to Step 1.
    And so there you have the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in this country’s history.
    What to do? Egypt is showing us what to do!

    Reply

  33. DonS says:

    Stacey’s message, and apparent passion, are exactly on target, as far as they go. Notably, he is preaching to the choir here, at least among those of us who consider ourselves progressives, (we are detectable by being excoriated by others as “lefties” which, by the way, is merely a slur and not a description of substance or even political preference).
    Notable too, that for all the rightness that seems to exude from Stacey’s message, particularly that as a country we are failing to take care of business — at least for the average American as well as the poor American — that is not a universally held belief or practice. while the so-called “leaders” e.g., political) may mouth the cliches about civility, the actual wielders of tangible power, and I mean mostly the corporate and moneyed interests are 1) doing very well, thank you (even better since the beginning for the recession) and 2) don’t seem to see a damn thing wrong that can’t be fixed by even less regulation, less of a safety net, fewer programs to help the average American, greater wealth distribution to the top.01% and, overall, less attention given to the “general welfare” of the nation. The exception , of course is more money and power thrown at the surveillance state apparatus, and supporting the imperialist American footprint around the globe.
    So, by all means Mr. Stacey, implore us and our so-called leaders to wake up. Can you suggest a way to do that without breaking a few eggs in the rotten societal malaise we have been handed?

    Reply

  34. questions says:

    The problem is that we don’t agree with one another.
    “You lie” was an obnoxious thing to call out, for sure. Wouldn’t be worse, however, to sit in silence during the lies as so many did under the reign of “Curveball” and “Goofball”?
    Maybe calling out “You lie” during Colin Powell’s speech woulda been something amazing!
    Now, I don’t think Obama lies particularly much. And I actually kind of half think that the Bush admin had faith of the religious sort in the righteousness of their cause despite the lying basis for that set of beliefs, so even there “you lie” might not be the best descriptor. Maybe “You idiot fantasists” or “You uncreative jerks who are freaked about the national manhood but don’t even begin to understand what you’re about to do” would have been better.
    I like civility. But I also want disagreement in sufficient quantity to force, really FORCE, people to confront their views, think through what they are doing.
    For example, we should be marching in the streets in Wisconsin and Florida to protest dumb actions by conservative governors. New Jersey, too, come to think of it. It’s disruptive, “uncivil”, but it should happen, and indeed it is happening in Wisconsin. Those UNcivil servants closed down the schools to protest the UNcivil governor’s attempt to get rid of collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Good for them!
    So where do we draw the line on civility? Dear Politician, thank you so much for stripping me of my contractual rights to collective bargaining? Dear Politicians, love that there PATRIOT ACT thing, especially the parts about secret wire tapping and library records and enforced silence (are all these provisions still there?) Dear Politicians, many thanks for the oligarchy…..
    We actually do have some very very real differences of opinion and we need to leave the space for them to be voiced.
    And given that Jeffrey Stacey, in this selfsame piece, clearly understands that we have some significant issues with the national agenda, his call for “civility” seems to go the opposite direction from his concerns about the policies of the country.
    What we need to be doing is calling “you lie” to the actual liars! Except they’ll never seem themselves as liars because they have very different perspectives on what the truth is. Politics is perspectival, agonistic, relative, positional, and we don’t easily leave our own spaces to see that there are other spaces.
    From Chuang Tzu:
    “The cicada and the little dove laugh at this, saying, “When we make an effort and fly up, we can get as far as the elm or the sapanwood tree, but sometimes we don’t make it and just fall down on the ground.”
    and
    “The morning mushroom knows nothing of twilight and dawn; the
    summer cicada knows nothing of spring and autumn. They are the short-lived.”
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/17108926/The-Complete-Works-of-Chuang-Tzu-trl-by-Burton-Watson

    Reply

  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    OBAMA REQUESTS INCREASE IN SECURITY ASSISTANCE FOR ISRAEL
    In his fiscal year 2012 budget, unveiled on Monday, President Barack Obama requested $3.075 billion in security assistance for Israel, in line with a ten-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries, the Israeli Web site Globes reported. With the Middle East is in turmoil, aid to Israel is absolutely vital to her security and well-being. For Congress to support anything less than the full U.S. commitment to Israel’s security would send the wrong message to the enemies of both our nations and would weaken Israel exactly at a time when she needs to be strong.
    AND TO HELP PAY FOR IT, WE ARE GOING TO TURN OFF THE HEAT IN SOME OF OUR NATION’S POOREST HOUSEHOLDS.
    God bless….America???
    Or……?????
    Israeli economy expands rapidly in 4th quarter – 1 day ago
    By AP JERUSALEM (AP)

    Reply

  36. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Let us hold ourselves no higher than our ideals”
    ROFLMAO!!!!!
    Right. Meanwhile, lets celebrate the “honor” and “civility”, of men like Wurmser, give grand send-offs to women like Harman, laud the excuses and equivications of men like Powell, tolerate the ommissions of truth from women like Maddow, and give obscene compensation to hatemongers like Limbaugh.
    The ideals you cite are an illusion, a loosely woven veil behind which we attempt to conceal the truth about what our leaders, our government, and our policies, have become. The people are simply along for the ride, unable to get off the bus.
    Mr.Stacey, I don’t see you demanding that the criminals of the Bush Administration be held to account.
    I don’t see you demanding that the State Department seek justice for those such as Emily Henochowizc, rather than dispensing insincere displays of human rights concerns that the rest of the planet recognizes as blatantly hypocritical, shamelessly contrived, and purely political.
    We need men of honorable leadership in DC, not cheerleading idealogues composing sacharin and inspecific rally chants that call the masses to action, while artfully avoiding suggestion as to what that action may be.
    Citing crimes of incivility, you fail to mention the crimes against humanity that we are engaged in on a number of fronts. You mention transgressions of rhetoric, while ignoring the use of drones and the employment of torture. Citing the egregious injury of one of our own, you ignore the hundreds of thousands, millions even, slain by our contrived motives and unspoken agendas.
    Put down the pom-poms, Mr.Stacey. No one is cheering.

    Reply

  37. MarkL says:

    I understand your point, but calls for more civility only serve to empower the thugs, because only responsible people heed such warnings, while the brownshirts use calls for civility to make death threats on people who swear.
    The problem is not lack of civility, but the fact that people are afraid to speak simple truths: about Wall Street parasites; about the utter waste of lives and money in Afghanistan; about the death industry we call the insurance sector.
    I don’t agree with the Tea Party on any issue that I’m aware of, but the rage of the members is perfectly understandable and appropriate, in my opinion. It should be focused at the plutocrats and not the Democrats, but it is justified.

    Reply

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