January 12, 2011

It's the lack of civility, stupid!

And before you yell at me, the title of this post references Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign mantra '"it's the economy, stupid." 

As updates continue to stream in from Arizona following the shootings last Saturday, we’re hearing more about the alleged shooter, his mental issues, his family, and how he decorates his back yard. And we’re hearing at least some encouraging news on the condition of Representative Gabby Giffords, which is both remarkable and a very good thing.

We’re also hearing from a whole host of pundits of every stripe chiming in with their thoughts on whether politics had anything to do with the shooting, or whether it’s right to put out a map with gun sights…er I mean surveyor’s map icons...over political districts and call for a ‘reload’, or whether it’s right for Americans – politicians or not – to be using ‘violent’ metaphors (battleground, taking shots, fighting hard, etc) in our political speech.  

And of course now there are the calls for limiting what can be said, or how it can be said, or regulating ‘fairness’: 
  • Rep James Clyburn (D-SC) wants to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, and have the FCC engage in ensuring ‘fair and balanced’ is more than just the tag line for the partisan Fox News Network.
  • Rep Robert Brady (D-PA), with support from at least one colleague (Ruben Hinojosa, D-TX), is looking to make using ‘threatening symbols’ such as gun crosshairs illegal in ads targeting… I mean aimed at… I mean pointed at… members of Congress or federal employees. See how easy it is to innocently use common phrases in a bad way?
  • Brady, when asked if he thought the crosshairs map could have incited the shooter in Tucson said temperately “I don’t know what’s in that nut’s head. I would rather be safe than sorry.” Given the backlash from the mental health community in response to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller’s comments that Juan Williams should have kept his views on scary Muslim garb “to himself or his psychiatrist", and now this comment from Brady, can bills barring speech unflattering to mental illness be far behind? 

Anyone who calls for censoring speech in reaction to the shootings in Arizona is missing the point.  

We don’t need laws telling us that we can’t say really stupid stuff, or violent stuff, or rude stuff, or disrespectful stuff. We don’t need to stop pointing out where we disagree, or even that we disagree.

Rather, what I think would help is if we remember that not everything is ‘us vs. them’, not everything is a conspiracy, and not everything can or should be blamed on Donkeys, Elephants, or Teapots. Not everything is about being in the majority and lording it over the minority. Not everything is a mandate –-in fact, most things aren’t mandates, and we should stop pretending that they are. And not everyone with a different opinion is un-American, a traitor, a moron, an idiot, and so on and so forth. 

And politicians should be a little slower with their legislative trigger finger, and not try and force us be nicer to each other. 

Oh wait. Can I still say ‘trigger finger’?  I’d better be careful...