Civility and moderation

Ever since the Red Hen restaurant told Sarah Huckabee Saunders to leave the premises, the media (as noted at the link) have been protesting that it’s outrageous! How can Democrats/liberals be so — so uncivil! How would they like it if Republicans played that game?

As multiple people have pointed out, Republicans play that game all the time, particularly the current party leader (but it’s hardly unique to him). Right-winger Bill Deagle, for example, says anyone who harasses him will die; it’s not front page news. Neither as No More Mr. Nice Blog points out, is the constant harassment of abortion providers and patients; the WaPo had an editorial that pretends that would be a new thing. Nor right-winger Liz Crokin claiming there’s a video of Hilary Clinton torturing children.

And it’s not just actual confrontation that grabs attention. Liberals refusing to date conservatives is hardly uncivil, but NBC News still devoted a column on its website to how awful it is.  Trump supporter Alan Dershowitz has been the subject of several news stories because people in his Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood burned his house — oh, wait, wrong, they just don’t invite him to parties. Similarly, I remember a few years ago, there was a profile of New Jersey governor Chris Christie which mentioned how much he loves Bruce Springsteen and how it hurts him that Springsteen doesn’t want to meet with him because of politics.

I’m inclined to agree with NMMNB and others that there’s a double standard. The media may not like Trump’s meanness, but they aren’t shocked the same way. And some of them are actually fine with it; a while back Chris Cillizza had a column admiring Trump’s habit of slapping nicknames on people (e.g., “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren) because that dude really knows how to target his enemies’ weak spots!

Why the double standard? It may be, as Jonathan Chait suggests, that having Republicans in the White House for most of the past 50 years tilts the media Republican. Similarly, in a country where white male rule has been the norm, white men lashing back as they become a minority may be seen as more acceptable than when the lower orders do it (as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, white male grievance is always taken seriously). Or as Echidne suggests, it’s that Democrats are supposed to be nurturing and kind, Republicans are the strict father-figures. Similarly, I wonder if that’s liberals prize tolerance and respect as values while conservatives don’t.

It reminds me a little about how the media are always, always warning Democrats not to be too liberal. The linked article contrasts “centrist pragmatic” Democrats with the wild-eyed extremists who focus on divisive issues instead of jobs and the economy. The extremists aren’t realistic, they’re just passively counting on a blue wave in November to get them elected by not being Trump! A NYT column linked in the article argues the centrists have the right ideas, in contrast to the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with her crazy talk about abolishing ICE (which actually has surprising support for a fairly new proposal).

It’s quite possible the centrists are right about what sells in their districts; I don’t have the expertise to judge. I’m not so sure it follows that centrism is the way to go everywhere or everywhere outside extremely liberal areas. It’s hard to see how a call to abolish ICE or provide better health insurance constitutes not actively competing for votes. Or that we shouldn’t focus on divisive issues; abortion, immigration, and equality before the law are all divisive and those are important to a lot of people in the base.

My point is, of course, that I don’t see anywhere near as much coverage arguing that Republicans shouldn’t be divisive. Just like they’re not denounced as much by the mainstream media for engaging in identity politics. I’ve seen articles over the years demanding Democrats (Obama, for instance) refuse to do what voters want to prove he’s his own man. I don’t see articles demanding Republicans should refuse the religious right or the anti-gay hatemongers to prove they’re independent. It’s what they do.

As others have pointed out, this may be a problem with the media this fall, and in 2020; whoever the Democrats pick will be too liberal. Whatever criticism they offer will be too uncivil. But I don’t think tacking to the center and being nice is the answer.

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