Lie All You Want, But Be Civil About It

I could not agree more with Greg Sargent’s take on Mark Halperin’s “indefinite suspension” from MSNBC for saying, on Morning Joe, that Pres. Obama is “kind of a dick.”

I’m sorry, but this is crazy. Halperin’s crack was crude and dumb, but it doesn’t deserve indefinite suspension. Halperin’s use of an expletive is trival when compared with the degradation of our political discourse we witness on a regular basis from Halperin and many others — degradation that is seen as perfectly acceptable because no curse words are employed. Suspending Halperin only reinforces a phony definition of “civility” in our discourse, in which it’s unacceptable to use foul language and be “uncivil,” but it’s perfectly acceptable for reporters and commentators to allow outright falsehoods to pass unrebutted; to traffic endlessly in false equivalences in the name of some bogus notion of objectivity; and to make confident assertions about public opinion without referring to polls which show them to be completely wrong.

Which is the more serious impediment to political discourse? Calling for Congress to allow the nation’s borrowing authority to lapse and default on all of its existing spending obligations and commitments? Or calling Barack Obama “kind of a dick” on a morning talk show?

This really is nonsense. It’s not the word “dick” that’s the problem, fergawdsake. It’s not pictures of dicks either. It’s that these people have contrived this absurd set of shallow manners in which saying dick or taking a picture of a dick is wrong while lying, manipulating and cavalierly risking the country’s future (which is what Obama was allegedly being a dick about!) is considered perfectly acceptable.

Doug Mataconis has video of the incident that puts it into context. And when I say “puts it into context,” I mean that it becomes even more obvious when you watch this extended exchange, how incredibly screwed up MSNBC’s priorities are. Scarborough and Brzezinski spend almost a full minute shrieking, cackling, protesting about this catastrophic phrase Halperin uttered, before allowing him to get back to his point. And Halperin’s point IS the point here. He called the President “kind of a dick” because of what he said at his presser yesterday about Republicans needing to get to work and comparing them unfavorably to his daughters, who usually get their homework done the day before it’s due. According to Halperin, this showed Obama was putting partisanship above the nation’s welfare, posturing and playing to his base instead of working with the Republicans to come up with a bipartisan solution to the debt crisis.

As if Obama hadn’t tried everything he possibly could to come up with a solution. As if negotiations for a solution hadn’t failed entirely because Republicans refused to budge one inch unless they got everything they wanted. As if it had been Democrats, rather than Republicans, who stormed out of negotiations when they couldn’t get their way.

Here is Ezra Klein on that combative side of Pres. Obama that came out at yesterday’s press conference (emphasis is mine):

The best advice I’ve gotten for assessing the debt-ceiling negotiations was to “watch for the day when the White House goes public.” As long as the Obama administration was refusing to attack Republicans publicly, my source said, they believed they could cut a deal. And that held true. They were quiet when the negotiations were going on. They were restrained after Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl walked out last week. Press Secretary Jay Carney simply said, “We are confident that we can continue to seek common ground and that we will achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction.” But today they went public. The negotiations have failed.“The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious,” writes Greg Sargent. “He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich.” That’s exactly right. But he didn’t want this fight. He wanted a deal. And he wasn’t able to get one that the White House considered even minimally acceptable. After putting more than $2 trillion of spending cuts on the table, they weren’t even able to get $400 billion — about a sixth of the total — in tax increases.

The reason I put this in here, in case it isn’t obvious, is to illustrate the offensiveness of Halperin’s assertion that Pres. Obama is “kind of a dick” because he publicly lectured Republicans about not doing their job (and that makes Obama a dick, according to Halperin, because Obama is just posturing for his base and has shown no willingness to work with Republicans). What’s offensive is Halperin’s accusing Obama of partisan posturing and failing to lead when that is a shameless and brazen lie — NOT the vulgar word he used.

I’m sorry, but “the vulgarization and coarsening of America” has nothing to do with a right-wing talking head calling Pres. Obama “kind of a dick” on a popular morning talk show, and everything to do with the all but total disappearance of any concern for honesty and accuracy in public life anymore — of any awareness, even, of the difference between fact and opinion; of any felt obligation, when speaking or writing, to demonstrate that what you’re saying or writing is truthful; of any perceived need to read, and research, and (as Obama said) do your homework before leveling accusations against other people. There is a dismaying trend — in the broadcast media, in the blogosphere, and even in supposedly respectable news organizations — to shoot from the hip without making the slightest effort to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Personally, if I were the POTUS, I would be far more offended by the hosts of a news talk show lying and distorting the facts about my policies, and allowing their guests to lie and distort the facts about my policies, than I would at being called “kind of a dick.” When naughty words become more important than truthful or honest or factual words, then we all need to take a long, hard look at our priorities.

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