Remember when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in Tucson by a mentally ill gunman? Do you remember the many voices calling for civility in our political dialogue that sprang from that event?
That happened only eight months ago, but civility has evidently become passé already.
We’ve received a few recent, unpleasant reminders of this fact. Just before the holiday weekend, video emerged of Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., telling a friendly crowd that some of his fellow members of Congress would like to lynch him because he is black. Given that Carson obviously made this up (if he didn’t, he is free to return The Examiner’s calls at long last and name names), it’s a cheap way of spreading false fears and exciting base voters.
On Labor Day, Teamsters Union president James Hoffa had choice words for Republicans at a union rally: “Let’s take these sons-a-bitches out and give America back to America where we belong.” The first part of that sentence seems slightly more serious than putting “targets” on a campaign map, doesn’t it? (And no, I have no idea what the second half means.)
Despite the fact that President Barack Obama appeared on stage about 20 minutes after Hoffa, the White House declined to comment on Hoffa’s remarks. It’s just as well, because if Obama had commented on the “sons of bitches,” he might have also had to comment on the equally absurd (if less salty) declaration from his own vice president to an AFL-CIO rally the same day: “You are the only folks between the barbarians and the gates.” (Biden actually said something very similar at an Obama-Biden fundraiser in 2008, except that he included trial lawyers among those guarding the gates.)
There is nothing more annoying than the sound of pundits bleating for the civility of the old days. It’s as if they never studied history and read about how Thomas Jefferson attacked John Adams (by proxy) as “hermaphroditical.” Adams, in turn, called Jefferson “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw.” He didn’t mean it in a nice way. Still, uncivil behavior in politics doesn’t really help politicians. It makes them look small.
In January, Obama handled the Giffords affair masterfully. But other liberal public figures decided that they had found their opportunity to condemn their political adversaries once and for all. They went into high dudgeon about conservatives’ rhetoric and its supposed connection to the shooting. Obama refrained. He gave a great, unifying speech at Arizona State University in which he actually rebuked them. And his approach spared him the embarrassment that so many other liberals suffered when they were proven wrong about the shooter’s motivations.
But you have to sympathize with Obama’s predicament now. He is looking more like an underdog for re-election.
He cannot scold unionists as they watch their privileges dismantled by state legislatures. He is in no position to start a nasty fight with Carson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus when he knows he will need a huge black turnout to save his political career.
And that’s why, even with the Carsons and Hoffas of the world demonizing their ideological adversaries, you probably won’t hear too many lamentations about the lack of civility.
Columnist David Freddoso is The Washington Examiner online opinion editor.