Obama and the new civility

At NRO, Victor Davis Hanson celebrates the new civil tone in our public discourse brought about by the ascension inauguration of Barack Obama:

At last there is a return to civility. If we were confused in recent years as to whether “hate” was a permissible word in public discourse — as in the outburst of Democratic national chairman Howard Dean, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for,” or the infamous essay by The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait that began, “I hate President George W. Bush” — we now accept that such extreme language in the public arena is not merely uncivil, but is an incitement to real violence. The use of the word “hate” at last has become “hate speech.”

With Rep. Joe Wilson’s improper outburst to President Obama — “You lie!” — we also have at last come to appreciate that those in Congress have a special responsibility not to use incendiary language to defame our government officials. That’s why we now lament Rep. Pete Stark’s slur of George W. Bush from the House floor as a “liar” — the same Rep. Pete Stark who said of our troops that they had gone “to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.”

But since 2009 Americans have finally learned that our soldiers are sacrosanct and must not be smeared — as in Sen. Richard Durbin’s characterization of American military personnel as synonymous with Nazis, Stalinists, or Pol Pot’s murderers; as in the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s comparison of American troops to Saddam’s lethal jailers; as in Sen. John Kerry’s smear of our soldiers as acting in terrorist fashion. Evocation of Nazi or Brownshirt imagery particularly coarsens the public discourse; it demonizes opponents rather than engage them in real debate. So we can all concur now that Sen. John Glenn, Sen. Robert Byrd, and former vice president Al Gore spoke quite improperly when they compared their president’s governance to that of the Third Reich.

Although a progressive, if put to the question* of how what was once patriotic dissent could now become sedition, might answer “But that was different.”

*(Note to certain readers: that is not a euphemism for the rack, in this case. Sorry. 😦 )

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