It is with a heavy sigh and a heavier heart that I finally admit that civility in public discussions is dead.
Perhaps I am late to this life lesson, and perhaps I am naïve in thinking that people can actually have a respectful dialogue from different sides of the aisle. But after watching both Romney and Obama grimace at each other during the debate (biting their tongues, no doubt), reading the astoundingly narrow-minded and self-aggrandizing words of Ann Coulter (once again), seeing the hateful responses to links posted on Facebook, and being personally insulted for adding my perspective to such discussions, I’ve come to believe — with much grief — that it is human nature to demonstrate our disrespect for people who think differently from us.
Disrespect is the mother of all understatements. Here is a tiny sampling: dummycrat, slut, retard, Oblabba, authoritarian bullying victims (the latter being a confusing oxymoron at best, or just plain gibberish). Given that I don’t watch much television, I’m sure I’ve missed most of the mud-slinging, as some people are careful about what they say in print. Yet what I’ve read sickens me, and makes me wonder what all the low-brow name-calling is about.
UC Berkeley professor Henry Brady discusses the current lack of civility in politics as a return to prior contentious times after the relative bipartisanship of the post-Depression and World War II era. I can see his point. Mud-slinging is, after all, a centuries-old tactic in politics. I get that many current issues touch on very personal and fundamental beliefs: religion, relationships, family. I understand that in such arenas, passions are apt to rise and tempers flare. People used to fight duels over less. But I like to think we’ve made some societal progress. In my world view, heated debate in the public forum is acceptable, but crass insults are not.
Ann Coulter may have earned a place near the top of pop-politics’ hater list. Ms. Coulter delights in provoking: lobbing nasty one liners with a toss of her Barbie-like mane. She makes a mockery of a woman’s perspective, hogging the spotlight, which shines on her precisely because she is so media-ready and uncompromising. She plays on the quintessential TV vixen, a desperate housewife with a law degree. Audiences love it (largely male, I’m assuming): “Oh, look, a strong woman; and she’s attractive, too! But watch out, she might bite. Ouch, Ann, bite me some more: I love the way you hurt me.” Unfortunately for the real strong women of the world, what Ms. Coulter says is lacking in substance or factual underpinnings, yet the way she says it makes headlines. Her no-holds-barred approach hides her empty reasoning; nevertheless her blunt refusal to budge might be viewed by some as admirable.
I don’t know her personally, so I can’t judge who or how she really is. However, her onscreen persona presents one of the worst kinds of women: rude, insensitive, and stubborn, but tied up with a pretty ribbon. Take away the wardrobe, make up, and long flowing locks, and all you’ve got is shrill and vacant monologue worthy of the word harpy.
And look, I’ve resorted to name-calling. I guess Ms. Coulter’s provocative approach is more enticing than I realized. But it is not the way I usually choose to conduct my conversations. I challenge Ms. Coulter to drop the mouthy façade and get in touch with her intellectual side. Perhaps with brainier arguments she wouldn’t resort to saying “screw them” to her critics. That just smacks of a lack of anything smarter to say, which is beneath even her base level of assault.
I would like to see the bar raised in our public forums, and the discussion based on a modicum of civility and a foundation of respect for difference. This is not because I’m attempting to be the “word police.” But if the best critique Ms. Coulter can offer is “retard,” perhaps she should have her microphone muted.
[I’m not offering a reference for the citations because I don’t want to promote Ms. Coulter’s soundbites. Feel free to search the Internet for anything in quotation marks, aside from my lapse into imagined male fantasy (in an attempt to understand her appeal).]