Where’s The Line?

It’s been a long time since I started blogging under the pseudonym of Mr. M, and, understandably, I’ve changed much since first establishing Left of Center about three years ago.  In truth, much has changed since dropping my alias.  I curse a lot less, and I’ve noticed that I approach the issues with a greater level of seriousness, while at the same time toning down the hack and slash aspect that had been a part of my persona for years.

That’s not to say that I’m not fully aware of what I do and where I do it.  One thing that is true about the political blogosphere is that it’s definitely played no holds barred with all participants on full frontal assault.  The very nature of the blogosphere, that nature which has at times been characterized as self correcting, is very unforgiving, and any who submit themselves to the process must be ready to have their ideas and sometimes themselves, ravaged by a well armed and unfettered free market of opinion.

To this extent, the blogosphere is everything now that I hope that political debate will one day cease to be.  It is in this milieu that the most basest of political attacks are leveled upon opponents as ideas raw, uncut, and unsanitized for mass consumption are expressed en masse everyday.

And to be totally honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It is this kind of interactive free speech that has been starved from the body politic by television and radio and mass print.  Before political blogs were on the map, your best bet as an average citizen who was not willing to dedicate their life to the pursuit of politics was to write a letter to the editor for the newspaper and hope it got printed.  For my local paper, such letters have a six month dead time in which you can’t submit another.

It is this inability for ordinary citizens to easily inject themselves into the political debate that has allowed mass media to railroad us on political coverage and issues.  In this most unchained of political arenas, real Americans not bound by party or sponsor are allowed to weigh in and increasingly have an effect.

But nothing illimitable can be good.  Too much oxygen will kill you.  A radio show contestant, trying to win a Wii, actually died from over hydration when she drank too much water in a “hold your wee for a Wii” contest.  Sugar is a poison, as any diabetic who has to take insulin shots should be able to tell you.  Before I go to far, I am not advocating any kind of regulation on the blogosphere, but I do believe that somewhere out there, there is a “too far” to reach.  But the question is, where’s the line?

It began when Graeme Frost delivered a radio address in a Democratic preemptive move against Bush’s veto threat of the SCHIP bill, and ended with the left and the right holding each other at gunpoint. Rush Limbaugh has lumped Graeme in with his “phony soldiers”, while Michelle Malkin has seen fit to interrogate the neighbors of the Frosts to find out exactly how well off or not the family is.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein emptied the missile silos on Malkin.

Something has gone wrong on the Right. Become sick and twisted and tumorous and ugly. To visit Michelle Malkin’s cave is to see politics at its most savage, its most ferocious, its most rageful. They say they’ve spent the past week smearing a child and his family because that child was fair game — he and his family spoke of their experience receiving health care through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. For this, right wingers travel to their home, insinuate that the family is engaged in large-scale fraud, make threatening phone calls to the family, interrogate the neighbors as to the family’s character and financial state.

This is the politics of hate. Screaming, sobbing, inchoate, hate. It would never, not in a million years, occur to me to drive to the home of a Republican small business owner to see if he “really” needed that tax cut. It would never, not in a million years, occur to me to call his family and demand their personal information. It would never occur to me to interrogate his neighbors. It would never occur to me to his smear his children.

The shrieking, atavistic ritual of personal destruction the right roars into every few weeks is something different than politics. It is beyond politics. It was done to Scott Beauchamp, a soldier serving in Iraq. It was done to college students from the University of California, at Santa Cruz. Currently, it is being done to a child and his family. And think of those targets: College students, soldiers, children. It can be done to absolutely anyone.

This is not politics. This is, in symbolism and emotion, a violent group ritual. It is savages tearing at the body of a captured enemy. It is the group reminding itself that the Other is always disingenuous, always evil, always lying, always pitiful and pathetic and grotesque. It is a bonding experience — the collaborative nature of these hateful orgies proves that much — in which the enemy is exposed as base and vile and then ripped apart by the community. In that way, it sustains itself, each attack preemptively justifying the next vicious assault, justifying the whole hateful edifice on which their politics rest.

Strangely enough, Malkin’s criticism of us sounds curiously similar.  In essence, we call them a bunch of nasty names for attacking a twelve year old boy, and they launch those names right back at us for using him in a politics, and through this all, nothing useful actually gets accomplished.

Somewhere along the line, I think this is the dance, and that’s how it is supposed to be.  no matter how independent you think you are, you’re on a team, whether you want to believe it or not.  You may not be on the Democrats’ team, or the liberals’.  You may not side with any one group on all issues, but on at least some of the issues you side with some of the players at least some of the time.  So the teams themselves become amorphous and fleeting.

A personal example for me would be the Gun Toting Liberal with whom I often agree, but you will probably never find us in agreement on gun control or illegal immigration.

Still, we play on teams, and we want our teams to win.  Occasionally, and I’ve done this in the past, you will see your team commit a foul, and call them out on it for the sake of integrity.  I think for me this would be the fairness doctrine, something I, even though it would help my team, cannot endorse.

And I think this is where the line is drawn, and if you can’t draw it, then you have fallen off and lost a key component of humanity.  We are none of us perfect, and we are always prone to make mistakes.  It is equally natural for us to be tempted to hide our mistakes, pretend they never happened, and dodge the fallout.  Even giving into this temptation can be to a degree forgivable if the proper amends are sought, and the episode is used to make better yourself.

But what Ezra speaks of, what we see in Michelle’s defense of herself, is something completely different.  There is an unwillingness to admit that most human trait of fallibility.  When Larry Craig’s arrest was made public, not a single moment was spent in quiet reflection, not a single sincere and germane apology was delivered.  It has been all about removing the mistake because he could not make one.  When Rush Limbaugh referred to those men and women in the military who disagreed with him as phony soldiers, rather than admit that he erred, he accused the left of conspiring against him, he scrubbed his transcript, and he twisted the context of his words to try and make the result not so condemning.  And with Malkin, even though she accuses the left of a substantive debate, she refuses to enter one herself, about SCHIP, or about her conduct in the Graeme Frost story.

The substantive debate regarding SCHIP is an easy one, and one that can be characterized outside of politics in such a way that doesn’t necessarily demonize opponents.  True, there are some that are so entrenched in their ideology that they believe unequivocally in the ant and the grasshopper in strict black and white terms, but I think most Americans believe children should, without question, get medical care when they need it.  The debate surrounds how to get it to them in a way that is fair.  Even universal healthcare is something that need not be an exercise in bloodletting and partisan invective if cooler heads from the differing parts of the debate got together and worked it out.

But to even consider such a thing, humility must be had by all players involved, and what we see, particularly among the opinion maker class of the right, is an utter lack of humility.  In today’s modern bravado based politics, humility is weakness, and therefore unacceptable.

This is the line. This is the metaphysical “too far” from which there is no return, and the poison that eats away at the national debate.  The likes of Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh will continue to do what they are doing, and when they reach the boundaries of what is right and what is wrong, they will not even hesitate a second to cross it because they long ago crossed the line that prevent them from seeing such boundaries in the first place.

The only hope is that one day, such transgressions will make them irrelevant.

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