'I Hope You Get Cancer' (and Other Thoughtful Critiques)
I've been writing quite a bit about Planned Parenthood and the media campaign on its behalf that we've been subjected to in the last week or so. Over at CNN, commenter Teddy N. kindly wrote in response to my substantive critique:
"Karma will hit and Mollie will be struck with breast cancer tonight and have to have a double masectomy [sic]. That's what she gets for being against the poor being able to have mammograms done. May her Chemo be very painful."
I have long joked that my spiritual gift is not backing down in the face of strong resistance (in a way, it might even fuel me). But still, I recognize that this incivility is problematic.
Another media critic, the highly respected NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen, has been attempting (but largely failing) to defend the media campaign on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Biblical Studies professor Denny Burk politely engaged him in the comments to a post he wrote and Rosen responded poorly, ending with "Have a nice [expletive] day." Burk responded politely again and Rosen told him to leave.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas told a crowd at CPAC earlier today that Rachel Maddow was a good argument for birth control. How utterly vile.
Yesterday Philip Klein pointed out that if you Googled "Santorum," you got a paid ad and then results of him winning 3 contests. "That's victory," Klein said. I pointed out that for a country that decries bullying, this is something we could all support no matter our personal views. See, some people had tried to sully the Senator's family name by comparing it to a fecal byproduct that results from sodomy and then ensuring that this definition is what showed up when you Googled his name. It made no sense but far from being decried, it was celebrated. The New York Times even ran a fawning profile of Dan Savage, the man who led the bullying campaign, and his view that monogamy was a bad norm.
But a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, someone whose work I admire, defended the practice as simply being rude. I pointed out the damage to his children, who are also affected. He justified the campaign because he was under the impression that Santorum, in discussing Lawrence V. Texas, had wished to make this fellow's sexual practices a crime. Santorum has said he doesn't think it's in the state's interest to intervene but that sodomy laws existed for a reason. Anyway, I pointed out, the best way to disagree with someone's politics is to disagree with their politics as opposed to resorting to juvenile behavior. If your views are rational, they'll compete well. Name-calling, on the other hand, suggests you can't rationally fight the reasoning. My interlocutor seemed surprise that I'd encourage him to be polite when discussing sodomy and marriage law.
Finally, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait has a piece in which he attempts to defend his general incivility. He writes that someone he disagrees with is so stupid (she's not) that "this is why I am forced to be so mean."
Really now. Many years ago I was a peer counselor and I remember the many pamphlets we distributed about domestic violence. One of them was headlined "Don't Make Me Hit You," or something like that. It was all about how no one forces you into domestic violence, even if they have upset you. You have to be responsible for your own behavior and rhetoric. Period. Nobody makes you hurt anyone else.
Perhaps we need similar pamphlets for folks engaged in political discourse these days.
Don't get me wrong. We must speak truthfully and forcefully and these things are difficult for targets. But there's a difference between speaking clearly and descending into assaults and slurs.
And now a few questions: is there some underlying reason for all of this incivility? And how do we curb it? I've decided to just encourage friends to be nice in disagreement and also to do a bit of shaming when people are not nice. Sometimes a quick reminder is all that's needed (it works for me!). What else can be done?