The Breakdown of Civility in Politics (with bonus identity crisis!)

You’d think, since I’m a liberal, I’d be elated by the passage of this health care bill. But mostly I’m just mortified at the complete lack of decorum and respect being shown on both sides of this debate. I’m surprised there hasn’t been any full-blown rioting yet, though death-threats abound. I can’t even read a fucking book review without getting slammed with insults about what people like me believe in and care about and what kind of things we like to read about.

So my question to those of you who feel the need to stigmatize and demoralize other people, I ask you --do you really think making gross generalizations about what certain political parties value and act like and believe in is going to make this country a better place? Really? If you call me an irresponsible socialist thief and I call you an ignorant heartless moron that’s going to make things better?

Believe me, I have rage. I have the desire to hate. I became so desperate not to hate that I started doing Google searches for conservative charities. All I found were people arguing about whether conservatives or liberals care about people more. But then I found this, which reminded me of my own humanity pretty quickly. Because tragedy doesn’t discriminate.

I’ve always had this gnawing sense of despair when I think about the breakdown in decorum and basic respect between warring political factions, but lately it’s become full-blown grief. I’m so hurt by the divide in this country. Seriously, it tears my heart out. Today, when I read the comments in that book review, I just sat down and wept. Maybe there’s something wrong with me and I’m a pussy bleeding-heart liberal who needs to get over it, but in a national climate that feels uncomfortably close to widespread political violence, I would question anyone who thinks flaming rhetoric and hyperbole is a really good idea right now.

I’m not referring to any particular side, either. Many liberals seem to think that just because the Republicans do it, that means we can too? Whatever happened to ‘‘two wrongs don’t make a right’’? Whatever happened to acting like goddamn decent human beings? I’m sure at least half the people I work with are conservative, and you know what? I like a whole lot of them. My Dad is a Fox-news watching anti-welfare state impoverished working-class American without health insurance – and yet somehow we manage to have conversations without ripping each other to shreds.

And as a current social work student in one of those elitist latte-drinking universities, I can attest that much of the classroom conversation revolves around the eeevils of conservatism and the failure of capitalism to protect the most vulnerable among us, and I believe all that shit because I’ve seen numerous charts and graphs and research studies and historic examples to believe the case is strongly in favor of liberal social welfare policy.

But the above is misleading, because it suggests I believe what I believe because of what I think, not because of who I am.

Who am I? I’m a liberal, so obviously I’m an elitist and irresponsible and totally out of touch with the basic realities of everyday Americans, right?


I was born to a single mother who put herself through four years of engineering school while raising me. She gave birth to me over Spring Break and did not miss a single day of class. After graduating, she worked until she paid off her student loans and then quit when she could no longer tolerate the rampant sexism in the field of engineering (1980s) and started a small business and has lived a working-class lifestyle ever since, by choice. She taught me that discrimination against anyone for any reason is always wrong, but she also taught me that if she could make it, anyone can.

I grew up in a tiny town where most of the people owned guns, including my parents. I got my hunter’s safety permit and my first part-time job when I was 13. It was understood that I would be cut off financially as soon as I graduated from high school. I won 2nd place in an archery competition for my age group, one of the proudest achievements of my life. I studied martial arts. I listened to country music and Christian contemporary.

I was the only Christian in my family–a fundamentalist Pentecostal. I used to argue with my conservative stepfather about God and moral duty to the poor all the time–I was not political, I HATED politics. I was just a kid talking about what I thought was right.

I had a shit childhood and left home at 17 and spent a year in what felt like total isolation and not insignificant poverty absolutely reeling from the shock of how little the world cares about poor people. I went to college on full scholarship and made something of myself and held the hand of my roommate on September 11th when a couple of buildings were knocked down just blocks from her Dad’s house. Then we both sat and listened to our Muslim hallmate and how terrified she was to go to religious services because of bomb threats at her mosque. The experience raised my political consciousness, and I started to try to learn. That’s what I’m still doing, eight years later–trying to learn about how best to solve the issues of war and poverty and violence that perpetuate so much suffering in this world. It is not that I lack a sense of responsibility, it’s that my sense of responsibility is broad and extends to every person on the planet. And as much as many people want to dichotomize them, I just don’t think personal responsibility and social responsibility are mutually exclusive concepts.

I’m middle class for the first time in my life. I might have been poor once, but I’ve always been privileged, and now that is indisputable. I’m destined for the Ivory Tower. I have a loving husband and an assload of student loans and drive a foreign car. I like tea and meditation and I’m a Buddhist. I always felt like I was going to be that magical bridge between working class reality and the scientific rigor of academia, but the further I go the more I feel conflict between my two identities.

I still love country music, I still cry whenever I hear the national anthem, and I still understand why people hunt. I honor religion because I remember how good it felt to believe I was taken care of by God and how wonderful my church family was. I pull out my old Christan music CDs once in a while and wax nostalgic. My favorite holiday is the Fourth of July, because I fucking love my country. And I’ll be damned if I ever let my kids live with me until they’re 30.

Right now I feel my country has torn me into two directions, forcing me to choose sides when the split goes right down the middle of my being.

So as antithetical to my nature as is conservatism, it’s also antithetical to my nature to view the world in black and white. I myself am a study in contradictions, and I’m confused as hell right now about my real place in the world. I question whether ascending further on the socioeconomic ladder is a betrayal to those I swore to protect. Thus I, a bastion of liberal ideology, have found there is something I care more about than my political identity. And that is being able to connect with another human being out of appreciation for their difference, respect for their humanity and fascination with their experiences and ideas.

So my conservative friends and neighbors, my parents and my aunts and uncles, tell me about who you are.

I don’t share the conservative perspective either, olives, but I can at least share something I came across earlier this week that gave me hope that people can steer toward civil conversation. Here’s a blog entry from Greg Mankiw, who is a well-known conservative economist. Most reasonable article I’ve read from any side on this topic.

Would that more people could sound so level-headed.

I’m a moderate conservative with a liberal wife who’s disabled, so my extreme right-wing mother is helping me take care of her (she has care-givers too but they don’t talk much about politics).

For lots of reasons (besides politics) having my mother with us can be quiet a treat (that’s sarcasm folks;)). You never know what will trigger a political rant. I try to avoid medicine because just last week she was talking about procedures she needs and want to get them done before “Obama-care” comes in and ruins everything. A couple of times my mother really ranted against…I forget what…anyway, my wife, who usually holds her tongue ranted right back. My mom, who takes it personally if you disagree with her, said both time “I have a right to my opinion!” That’s right. If you voice decent, you’re not letting her have her opinion; even though she just gave it.

Anyway, she’s the kind of Republican party member that’s driving the party. High on emotion, low on logic. Eats up what O’Reilly and Beck dish out. Fears for the country because she thinks it’s being run by a socialist Muslim. She’d make an excellent tea party member.

As for me, I am so unhappy with my party that if we had a viable third party that matched most of my views, I’d switch. And although I hate what a lot of members of my party have become, I can’t agree enough with Democrats to become one. To be frank, I put more blame on my side for hateful talk and crazy rhetoric. Yes, both sides do it, but at present, my side is doing it more. I keep hearing about how the tea-party might split and become their own political party, and if they’ll take the crazies with them, I’m all for it. If it means more time for the Democrats to be in power, I think it will be worth it if it means that the extreme right wings moves to the new Tea-Party party.

I’m actually beginning to wonder if the result of this will be new political parties. I have noticed a LOT of socially liberal, fiscally conservative people in my age bracket, and it makes me wonder if the future will involve a strong Tea Party and a strong Libertarian movement. If the future of conservativism is libertarianism, I can handle that because libertarians at least don’t support a discriminatory platform.

Fortunately for me, there are no Tea Partiers in my family. Most of them are independent conservatives I can have a normal conversation with. Though my uncle (a liberal) and my mother (a conservative) got into a screaming match once because my uncle can be a real dick sometimes. If I didn’t agree with him, I would like him a lot less. So believe me, I know it’s not only the right stirring up shit.

In fact, one of my favorite stories from my University of Michigan days occurred when a group of liberal students stood on the diag with signs protesting Bush for being a fascist. A distinguished guest speaker was walking by that day – an immigrant who had survived real fascism in his own country. He stood in front of them and tore them a new asshole for their ignorant hyperbole. And they deserved it.

It’s the result, in my opinion, of years of divisive politicking. There has always been a divide, it’s true. But in the media age suddenly it’s a 24hr news feed of shitstirring.

If you lose the elections you spend your time being obstructionist. Period. And you talk a lot of stupid trash to keep the media outlets focused on you and your cause. Newspapers, newscasters etc get rich and sell more product by creating and fanning the flames of any controversy, real or manufactured. And largely no one seems to care that this has the power to destroy your country. They only care about the money they are making.

Everyone keeps fanning the flames, driving the sides further apart. No one is trying for a mid ground, everyone is, ‘we won’t give an inch’. There isn’t a dialogue there is only conflict for conflicts sake.

It stopped making sense a long time ago. No one really cares that all of this is truly bad for your citizens and your country.

I saw John McCain speaking and effectively saying, should the republicans take a handful of seats from the democrats, in the next election cycle, he’ll call that a mandate to be yet more obstructionist. But he somehow can’t see that the democrats have already won majorities in congress and the senate, plus the white house, they are the one’s with the mandate.

It’s a very sad time for Amerika, in my opinion.

I know how you feel Olive. Wow what a cool life you have had! I also cry druring the National Anthem and I try to be open minded about politics but find myself very torn. My friend sent me something last night about the deficit on a graph and my heart just sank. It is even affecting my son. He took me out for a pizza last night and was discussing going to see Paula Poundstone in April at the Music Hall. My son says, So where are we going to move when the bottom falls out? I just looked at him and said I don’t know honey but wherever you go I’ll go.

They all lie and who is one to believe anymore?

I’m so with you on this.

There is a concept that we borrowed from the British political tradition - “The Queen’s loyal opposition.” It’s the idea that opposition to the Queen’s government does not indicate an opposition to the Queen. Or to put it into an American context, disagreeing with the government is not anti- or unAmerican.

This concept seems to be under attack, and has been for many years. I’ve got no problem if you think I’m misguided, or ill-informed, or even stupid. But don’t tell me that because I disagree with you, I am therefore disloyal.

I suspect this all began in the modern era in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and his campaign team got into bed with the evangelical right. That’s the problem (well, one of the problems) with mixing religion and politics - the distinction between “intellectually mistaken” and “morally corrupt” begins to blur. After all, religious leaders - especially evangelical ones - are fighting evil. And it’s very hard not to fall into the trap of “Your ideas are evil, therefore you are evil.”

So yeah, I’m disgusted with the name-calling and lines drawn in the sand. I’m all in favor of telling Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh just to shut the fu… just to shut up.

So you say. However,

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to imply that Republicans just started this and liberals are just now responding in kind. You are very sadly mistaken. The major break of civility occurred with Michael Moore’s comments on 9/11. Then, after people strenuously objected, he called his remarks “satire”. Just what we needed. And the left didn’t really get any better. In 2005 Howard Dean said, “This is a struggle of good and evil. And [Democrats are] the good.” Obama has talked far tougher to Republicans and Israel than to our actual enemies, like Iran and North Korea. (And still he was snubbed in Copenhagen.) And insane Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson has just said, "We have to put end to the style of politics, and that means getting rid of Republicans entirely."

“Some of my best friends are conservatives”? :rolleyes:

Historic examples? What about Cuba? USSR? China? Do you really believe things are just super in the welfare states of Europe?


I really don’t like the term “elitist” and I think almost always it’s just used as a pejorative. But I think it’s appropriate here.


::wipes tears of laughter from eyes::

Okay, I’m fine now.

Let me explain something to you. Logic and reason are our best tools for finding out what the world is really like. However, if your assumptions/data are wrong or incomplete, your conclusions can’t be depended on.

That’s why, in the physical sciences, you MUST have experiments. And when experimental results don’t match the predictions of your theory, your theory is wrong. You lose credibility, and it’s your responsibility to either find the flaw and try again or just junk your theory. In the social sciences, on the other hand…

BTW, calling something “scientific” doesn’t mean it is. Example: from the preamble to the constitution of the Communist Party of the USA ca. 1950.

It’s reproduced in Odd Man Out by Edward Dmytryk, one of the so-called Hollywood Ten. He went to prison rather than answer all of HUAC’s questions. But when he got out, he did testify.

To me that sounds like something a typical liberal would say.

Pretty sure the point of the OP was “why all the polarizing hate?” not “Why don’t you tell me how I’m wrong”.

You’re pretty much proving her point, rowrrbazzle. Bra-vo.

I think the only way we can ever get past this is to completely ignore anyone who goes on the attack. Fortunately, on a message board, this is very easy. Wish it were in real life.

I think you’re in the wrong thread, if not the wrong forum. The topic here is civility, so if you’re going to post about it, be civil. If not, there are plenty of threads where you can be derisive and spout talking points while ignoring the sense of what others are saying.

You know, olives, before I discovered and then became addicted to this place, I had managed to find happiness by more or less cutting everything out of my life that made me unhappy. And I was able to do that by realizing that almost everything that made me unhappy came to me through the news. If I read or watched the news it looked like terrible things were happening all around me and everything in and about life sucked, but if I looked only at what I experienced in my own life as I went about things on a day to day basis, everything was pretty nice and pleasant. And while I would occasionally find myself at a loss for words when discussion turned to some issue everyone had seen in the news, the payoff in happiness and the lack of things upsetting me in my life made that well worth it.

I began to find new interests and to develop new hobbies. I started to get into the literature of Anais Nin and Henry Miller among others and to develop an appreciation of beauty and art. I began to paint and to make artsy-craftsy things that I thought were beautiful.

Then, ironically, I found this place through one of my neices who posts here occasionally. She thought I’d enjoy Cafe Society but, knowing of my lifelong conservative politics, warned me that most of the posters here were liberal. Cafe Society, while great for what it is, wasn’t really what I was looking for which was more along the lines of a salon, somewhat like Gertrude Stein used to have at her apartment in Paris (if you’re familiar with her, that is, and my impression is that you might be).

So I began reading GD and the Pit and soon found myself being drawn into the political arguments to be found there, and over time I began gravitating away from the hobbies and outside interests I’d developed and more and more into political argument here, and it’s gotten to the point now where I’ve all but abandoned my former artistic and literary interests and am devoting what is frankly too much time to this place. I guess that for whatever reason I’m more drawn to argue politics here than I am to spend time enjoying my previous interests.

And this board is indeed an educational place. I’ve learned a lot here (popular opinion to the contrary ;)) and I continue to learn a lot here. But the things I learn here and the things I argue here are not making me unhappy as a person. Yes, I get pretty cranked up when arguing with certain posters here sometimes, or over this or that thing happening in the country, but for some reason they don’t reach down into my psyche and cause be personal unhappiness. I can get up and walk away from my computer and not give the Straight Dope or its issues another thought until I return later that day or the next.

But it seems this is all (and by that I don’t mean solely this board, but politics and the vicissitudes of life in general) having a profoundly unhappy effect on you and is affecting you deeply. So I guess what I’m driving at is that perhaps you should step back a bit, realize that you are only one person and that no matter what you learn or what you would like to see accomplished in the world or in this society, you yourself are not likely to have any realistic input into it anyway, and that perhaps the toll it’s taking on your happiness as you progress though your one and only life is not worth the little amount of difference that you’re likely to make anyway.

So I’m thinking that maybe it might not be a bad idea for you to just step back and let all this go for a while and begin to focus on your husband and your life and your interests and just not expose yourself to the injustice and unfairness and conflict in life and see what happens. Most of us are taught that it’s a good thing to be engaged and involved and to be aware of what is going on in the world around us, but if you are to the point where even those reviews, which to me were relatively benign (especially considering what I’m used to seeing around here :)) are upsetting you to the point of tears, I’m thinking that in your case and at this time you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any good by immersing yourself in the chaos that is life on this planet and in this country.

And besides, you really don’t have anything to lose. You can always come back again if you don’t find greater happiness or contentment the other way.

Although we frequently disagree, you’ve always struck me as being a really good person and I hope that even if you find what I’ve said to be lacking in your particular case, you will recognize that it was meant with the best of intentions.

Many Regards,

There’s a presumption here that we had civility in politics before as the normal state of affairs.

Yeah. We have some rather extraordinary examples of political incivility littered through American history but because we aren’t there, they don’t make as much of an impact.

Here is a recent book by a political scientist on this phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s any good and I am not familiar with the author, but it at least appears relevant.

As an aside, no, I do not think we are in for a particularly libertarian future. It’s easy for young people to have libertarian beliefs since they don’t typically benefit from redistribution on either the right or on the left. But people get older, they sort themselves. Some people stay libertarian, sure, but most do not. There is just too much to lose.

Yeah, I’m not a fan of Michael Moore either. The reason I addressed liberals specifically is because most of the people who post here are liberals who justify their own broad generalizations by pointing to the other guy as the instigator. I don’t really care who started it. I just don’t like it.

Why are you arguing about politics here? That is not the point of this thread. The point of this thread was to put a human face on political dissent.

I can see how that sounds elitist from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know me and doesn’t want to like me. But I think ‘‘elitist’’ means you think you’re better than other people. I don’t think I’m better than other people.

If you’re interested in what I’m actually trying to say here instead of what you want me to be trying to say, I’ll be happy to elaborate.

I think the quality of research can vary widely depending on who’s doing it, whether it’s experimental or a soft science. I agree with you that it’s harder to be a shitty scientist in experimental science without getting called out on it, but that has nothing to do with what any one individual’s standards are with regards to scientific rigor.

I have stated multiple times on this board, and I am fully sincere, that I don’t care whether liberal social welfare policies are the solution to making the world a more just place. I am concerned about the outcome. I have no allegiance, from a scientific standpoint, to any particular set of ideas. I critically evaluate my own conclusions all the time, to the point that it drives me nuts. So spare me the lecture about real science.

However, this has nothing to do with this thread, because I just explained why my liberalism has way less to do with what I know than about who I am. Then I talked about who I am – a former fundamentalist Christian who grew up in a conservative working-class environment who has always been straddling the line between life’s hard realities and the safe and cushy bubble of liberal academia. And the more I immerse myself in this culture, the farther I feel from the other one. And it bothers me, because I never fully bought into either culture. Get it?

Well, I am a liberal, so consider your own bias confirmed. My argument isn’t ‘‘I’m not a typical liberal’’ my argument is ‘‘neither liberals or conservatives are the stereotypes they are made out to be.’’

I think it’s time to start a ‘click’ campaign.

It’s time for the left to disengage from the right’s nonsense. There is nothing to be gained by trying to reason with people who are being willfully ignorant. Want to believe the president is a Muslim, or born in Kenya, or a socialist? Then I don’t want to engage with you because you are too stupid for me to waste my time with, believe whatever you wish. There is no reasoning with people like this and it’s time for the left to just let them have at it.

I believe they will only ratchet it up, to yet more stupid levels if no one rises to the bait. I know, it’s hard to believe it could get more stupid, but I’m pretty sure they’d just self destruct if no one engaged with their stupid shit. Just leave them be, let them show who they really are.

When I’m watching the news or listening to the radio, and they put Sarah Palin on, ‘Click’, life’s too short for that shit, I have no need for willful stupidity in my head. Rush? ‘Click’, Beck? ‘Click’, Cheney? ‘Click’, Palin? ‘Click’, Coulter, ‘Click’. Liberals stay tuned in because they find entertainment in the idiocy and because they want to be able to reason people out of the idiocy, so better stay on top of what the latest stupid thing is. But that just improves their ratings and encourages news outlets to manufacture or fan controversy for the sake of ratings.

If everybody turned the channel when the idiot brigade came on, I believe, pretty soon news outlets would get back to, y’know, news. It’s hard not to stay, gape mouthed, watching it, stunned by the idiocy, ‘how is it possible there are people stupid enough to swallow this shit?’ Well, if you’re watching it, you’re being counted as a viewer, eek!

I think if we want to see a better environment we need to disengage from these people. Get down and wallow with a pig and you both get dirty and the pig enjoys it. Recognize there is no reasoning people out of opinions they weren’t reasoned into.

Lead by example, don’t engage with them, let them go off being stupid, obstructionist, fear mongering, shit stirrers. Make a web site to refute the stupid accusations, post the facts with cites for anyone interested and leave it at that.

But mostly, ‘Click’.

Perciful – it really isn’t necessary to quote the OP in its entirety, esp. such a long one. If you have a specific point you want to respond to, trim to that point. (This is a matter of etiquette, rather than a rule, BTW.)



I think we are all in a massive state of denial. :cool:

Ok, Sorry I have a new mouse. I am having trouble trimming or even pasting at this point. I am going to a show.

I think you have a number of really good points here. Of course, it’s hard for me to step away from my chosen profession, but what I obviously must do is make peace with conflict. I think being a social work student is not really helping, because all we talk about, all day long, and all I study, all the time, is what’s wrong with the world. Violence, poverty, child abuse, racism, labor exploitation… I live and breathe those things right now. I can’t ignore the news because my program requires me to keep up with it and talk about it ad nauseum. It gets to me.

You’re right. I am profoundly sensitive to all of this. I am some kind of negativity sponge–not just with politics, just with any kind of conflict whatsoever. It doesn’t even matter if the negativity is aimed at me or not, it just makes me feel like a bad person through and through. I’ve struggled with that both on and off the Dope for years.

I’ve been working on doing some cognitive restructuring so as to not get so emotionally invested in what other people think and do. After I wrote this thread it became pretty clear that I was going to have to change my attitude. That’s not something that will happen overnight, but I am working on it, with the help of my trusty ‘‘Guide to Rational Living’’ by Albert Ellis.

Believe it or not, I used to be a fool for the arts. All I used to do in my free time was write fiction–I would climb to the highest branch on the nearest tree and spend the day writing. I played a musical instrument and participated in theater and just totally immersed myself in creative expression. In a family of engineering types, I was the ‘‘artsy one’’ who wasted her time on useless pursuits like art and poetry. I was completely disinterested in math, business, politics, and history. I didn’t care what other people thought about artistic expression, because I trusted my own instincts about the things I valued.

A lot has changed. Adulthood carries with it a lot of ambiguity.

Maybe I ought to try to spend the free time I do have getting in touch with those useless aesthetic pursuits instead of arguing with people on the internet. I can’t even remember the last time I read a work of fiction or went to an art museum. It would probably make me a lot happier.

Your point about being just one person is also good. I don’t labor under any delusions that I’m going to change the world. But I do have a tendency to take on too much responsibility for a lot of things, including what random people on the internet think about liberals.

I think Ferret Herder, you also have a good point about things always being this way. I’ve talked to my grandfather about some of this stuff, and he says nothing has really changed.

The problem is I don’t have a very long point of personal reference. I vaguely remember the Clinton years and didn’t start caring about politics until after 9-11, so I’ve missed out on a lot of things. I’m both young and new to politics. So this seems like a scary big deal to me, but I can accept that it isn’t, and has always been this way, to a greater or lesser extent.

This is so true, and sometimes I miss how things seemed more black and white when I was a child. But thinking about it, I think it’s the ambiguities that helped me be more moderate in my social and political views.

And as for the level of current political hatred, it’s bound to get better eventually. When it will though is up in the air. And of course after it gets better, it will get worse again. And round and round we go.