Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Civil War

It seems back-to-back outbursts by Rep. Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West have given our news media pause. They wonder: is civility dead?
Individually, any of the events might have faded quickly into the global noise of Tweets, blogs and other digital gossip. But their back-to-back-to-back nature, as well as their high-profile forums, raise the question: Are we a nation of boors — or just keeping things real?

Oh, for crying out loud. Three incidents capture your attention in one week and it’s a national crisis. As if we aren’t assaulted with a lack of civility on a daily basis. As if all summer long we haven’t had people shouting over each other. As if it hasn’t been this way for years.

Have you folks not been paying attention?

Anyone remember back in 2004 when Vice President Dick Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy to "go fuck yourself” on the Senate floor? Cheney was angry because Leahy had criticized war profiteering by Halliburton. When asked about it by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Cheney not only admitted it but defended it. Criticize corporate war profiteering, get an expletive hurled in your face as a result. We haven’t had a civil discourse in this country for a long time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incident in Gulfport, Ms., in which a doctor spoiled Cheney’s post-Katrina photo op by yelling “go fuck yourself!” at him as the cameras rolled. He got arrested.

Anyone remember last July when Texas Republican Phil Gramm said we were a nation of whiners as the economy collapsed around us? Remember when John McCain referred to Obama as "that one" at a televised debate?

Closer to home, this morning Mr. Beale and I were nearly run over by a woman who couldn’t be bothered to brake for a two pedestrians with dogs crossing the street--at an intersection. She just plowed right on through, and when we hollered at her she never bothered to look our way. I guess where she was going was more important than the safety of people walking in a residential neighborhood.

Civil? We’re not civil anymore. We’re too self-absorbed to be civil.

Glenn Beck was right about one thing: On 9/12 I remember everyone being a little nicer to each other. We didn’t just donate blood by the gallon, we were nicer in other ways. Cars yielded, people stopped for pedestrians, we slowed down and looked at one another and talked to each other a little more. There was a little less huffing and puffing in the grocery store line. People had more patience for one another. A little more--dare I say it?--tolerance.

Not, as Glenn and the Tea Pot Army like to think, because everyone suddenly remembered they love America--something I guess they think we'd inexplicably forgotten until the World Trade Center fell. Not because we were all so overwhelmed with patriotism and love of country. But because everyone was shell-shocked.

We were shell-shocked because for the first time we realized we were vulnerable. And when you’re vulnerable, you’re a little less self-absorbed. You’re a little more aware that we’re all in this together. You’re a little nicer to your neighbors and fellow citizens.

Being vulnerable is a feeling easily forgotten, especially when you are told to go “live your lives.” We weren’t asked to sacrifice anything at all; we wanted to give, as evidenced by the lines at the Red Cross to donate blood. But we were told to go shopping instead. Kleinheider was 100% right when he said we squandered an opportunity.

So no, we aren’t civil. We haven’t been civil in a long time because it hasn't been asked of us. We're thinking about ourselves now. We’re self-absorbed and selfish. We’re like the lady protesting the public option in Max Blumenthal’s 9/12 video: she doesn’t have insurance but isn’t worried because “I have physicians in my family.”

OH, okay! Screw the public option, then. As long as you're okay, that's all that matters.

We’re supposed to be a Christian nation but we forgot that whole “love thy neighbor” stuff. We not only don’t care how someone without physicians in their family is supposed to afford healthcare, but woe be it to the person who speaks out on their behalf. They are, according to the 9/12ers, the “enemy within.”

Joe Conason wrote that Republican politicans have no empathy. I'm not really seeing much from the followers of Glenn Beck and the rest either. And you know what happens when you have no empathy? You lose your civility.