The War On Civility

Circular firing squad threatens to derail anti-Bush momentum

One of the first articles I wrote for Democracy Means You was a hopeful look at the progressive renaissance. I still believe that we have much to look forward to, but our chances in ’04 seem to be diminishing. I refer not to the capture of Saddam Hussein — he’ll likely be long forgotten come November — but to the vicious infighting among the Democratic candidates. While a healthy, clean fight in the primary is good in the long run, the Democrats are long past healthy or clean. When Rove’s strategy for the general election is to recycle attacks from the primaries, things have gotten out of hand:

Bush’s campaign aides left little doubt that if Dean captured the nomination, those Democratic criticisms would be put to service in Republican television advertisements next year, a tactic that would fit with the White House’s general goal of keeping Bush personally above the partisan fray.

While much of the vitriol has come from desperate second-string candidates trying to shake Dean’s lead — Kerry, Gephardt, and Lieberman have attacked the front-runner viciously and relentlessly — Dean himself attacked Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, claiming that a predecessor would have done a better job of keeping the peace. The DNC fired back, of course.

This downward spiral is dangerous for the Democratic party for two reasons. First, obviously, is the damage it does to the likely winner, whether Dean or one of his more vitriolic opponents. Secondly, the viciousness could turn off Democratic voters. Even if a more temperate candidate should win the nomination, a dirty primary could leave some progressives and moderates feeling disillusioned. Wherever Rove is, he must be having the time of his life watching the primary season get ugly.

It isn’t as though 2004 will be known for its civil and reasoned discourse, either. Conservative pundits are already checking their thesauruses for every foul, nasty, vicious word they can find to label anyone who isn’t slavishly devoted to the Bush regime. Meanwhile, they accuse liberals of being foul, nasty, and vicious. Sometimes in the same column:

[Dean’s] arrogance is so hot it throws off sparks. Speaking of hate, his campaign has so far been about little else.

In just two sentences, we go from baseless vitriol to baseless accusation of vitriol. Even I’m impressed — and when it comes to vituperative right-wing nutcases, I have high standards (O’Reilly and Coulter).

Liberals, progressives, moderates, and true conservatives — in other words, my fellow sane Americans — this is what we are going to face in 2004. Bush’s backers are going to break out every dirty trick in the book. There will be no shame, no honor, and no mercy. We know this. And no matter who we back in the primaries, it will be down to two candidates by April — Bush and our nominee. Candidates (and those among their supporters) who get so wrapped up in their egos that they forget what the true goal is here need to be reminded of it. Civility in said reminders is not required.

(/) Roland X
“Remember, whenever a Democrat slings mud at another Democrat, a neocon angel gets his wings.” –Mrs. Roland X

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