I lament the continued lack of civility and decorum in our political discourse. As long as I have operated this web site, I have condemned childish, immature forms of protest—blocking streets, heckling, shoe throwing, etc.—while encouraging civil, rational protest, dissent, and discussion. For much of President George W. Bush’s (R) two terms, the radical fringe on the left engaged all kinds of crazy, distasteful, obnoxious protests against the War in Iraq and the greater Global War on Terror. I have never once condemned opposition to these wars (even though I personally support them), but I condemn off-hand obstructing traffic, interrupting speeches, and so on.
There is a right and wrong way to protest. There is a proper time and place. Asking tough questions at a ‘town hall’ style forum is perfectly acceptable; interrupting a speech with heckles is not. Arranging a public protest in Washington, DC, with the foreknowledge of police and government officials (so they can warn the public and everybody can plan their commutes) is just fine; laying down in the road and blocking traffic (as anti-war protesters did on the Key Bridge some years ago) is not.
Whether these protests are ad-hoc or pre-planned, supported by political parties or ‘grass roots’, organized or spontaneous . . . none of this changes the basic rules of civility and courtesy that should govern our actions in the political sphere. People should express their views publicly and loudly, no matter how controversial, but they should do so in a way that respects others.
Much has been made in the media of recent protests against the policies of President Barack Obama (D). There have been un-civil activities on the ‘right’, no question, and these are rightfully condemned. Heckling, event obstruction, etc., are equally unacceptable on the right as they were on the left. Having said that, the uncouth activities of a few does not invalidate the underlying opinions being expressed or, for that matter, the overall ‘movement’ in support or opposition of public policies.
The fact that some anti-war protesters protested in an inappropriate way during Bush’s presidency did not invalidate honest, civil opposition to the War in Iraq. There was a legitimate opposition—whether I agreed with it or not—lying underneath both the civil and un-civil protests. Those who opposed the war and expressed that opposition were not ‘brainwashed Democratic Party operatives’, they were simply Americans who held a passionate political view—right or wrong. Quite correctly, most of the mainstream media covered these protests in a fair way.
Today, however, things are different. There’s a new party in power, a new president, and a new cause behind wide-spread public protests. The parallels, however, outnumber the differences. Opposition to Obama’s economic and health care policies have manifested themselves in independent organized protests (‘tea parties’), hard questions at town hall meetings, and—indeed—some heckles and event obstruction. Like anti-war protesters, those who oppose Obama’s economic and health care policies (myself included) have an honest disagreement with the president on some or all of his initiatives. We are not ‘brainwashed Republican Party operatives’, but Americans with a passionate political view—right or wrong—just like those anti-war protesters.
The media outlets that treated anti-war protesters so kindly during the Bush years, however, are not treating us so kindly. We’re made out to be ‘astroturfers’ bussed in by dark, shadowy ‘right wing’ groups. Even protesters who ask hard questions at town hall meetings—a perfectly valid form of political dissent—are made out to be obstructionists without a valid opinion, unpatriotic, or worse. If there were ever a question about which way most ‘news’ outlets lean, this should make it crystal clear. People who honestly object to Obama’s economic and health care policies should be portrayed no differently than people who honestly objected to Bush’s Iraq War policies.
The Democratic Party and their buddies in the news media would be wise to pay attention to the ground-swell of opposition to Obama’s deficit spending and health care meddling. This is a real movement, and pooh-poohing it as a fabrication of some ‘vast right wing conspiracy’ will only help to inflame it. Many Americans—left and right—are appalled by the deficit spending under Obama that, in his first year in office, has already made Bush’s deficits (which we also opposed) look like minuscule drops in a bucket. Many Americans are suspicious of government becoming involved in health care after so successfully botching most of the other things it touches.
The increasing federal power-grab under Obama has made lots of real people—left, right, and middle—angry. People who opposed Obama in the election are angry because their worst fears (that Obama was an unmitigated ‘tax-and-spend’ liberal, despite his claims to the contrary) are coming true. Worse for Obama and the Democratic Party, many moderates and even some centrist Democrats who supported him in the election are feeling more betrayed by the week. He promised reduced federal spending, not a tripling of the annual deficit and massive new federal programs of dubious value (like buying GM, or moving toward nationalized health care).
Bottom line: A lot of us are legitimately upset about the direction of our federal government. If Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress don’t make a serious course-correction, I suspect that the voters will force a correction when the 2010 mid-term elections come around. Pretending that widespread discontent is some fabrication of the Republican Party is a simple denial of reality, and it will come back to bite them.