Wednesday, January 12, 2011


"The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it. "
Abbie Hoffman

Just in case you think we're living in the last days or that political incivility is at some kind of all time zenith, here's a bit of history.

When Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1864, he had to sneak into Washington DC dressed as a woman in his carriage (and what a hideous woman he'd make) for fear of attackers and rioters. The film Gangs of New York is historically accurate at least in the parts in which they showed the riots, triggered by Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in his bid for power over New York politics.

And more recently, don't forget the 70's. Bombs were going off in American cities, people were shot to death. In the same year, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King jr were both shot to death and George Wallace was crippled for life just a few years later. Roger Simon reminds us how those days were in a recent Pajamas Media column:
Hey, hey , LBJ…
How many kids did you kill today?

Remember that one? I certainly do because, as a young leftie, I shouted it at many demonstrations. I also shouted “Off the pig!” and even went so far as to support, at least from a distance, the “Days of Rage” as described by John Jacobs of the Weatherman faction of the Students for a Democratic Society:
Weatherman would shove the war down their dumb, fascist throats and show them, while we were at it, how much better we were than them, both tactically and strategically, as a people. In an all-out civil war over Vietnam and other fascist U.S. imperialism, we were going to bring the war home. “Turn the imperialists’ war into a civil war”, in Lenin’s words. And we were going to kick ass.
And kick ass they did, hurling Molotov cocktails, setting off fatal bombs, and shooting police. Well, it was the sixties and the early seventies and that was what we did and said then. Ask Bill Ayers and others of the time who remain unrepentant. I’m not one of them. I think it was crazy.
In a way I wonder if some of the leftist warnings of right wing violence due to talk radio isn't due to a sense of regret or guilt over how their extremely violent, hate filled rhetoric caused real violence in the past. There were real riots in the streets with burning buildings and dead people. There were explosions and shots and the nation seemed to be ripping its self to shreds. And it wasn't just restricted to America. In Europe violent terrorist groups set up by the Soviets were killing and kidnapping people.

Political incivility isn't new, nor is media extremism or exaggeration. The use of fear or anger to manipulate the public isn't new, it was standard in the past. People used to kill each other over political disputes, especially during the build up to and during the civil war - and not in uniform, on the streets of places like Kansas and as far away from the South as Oregon.

This is an uncomfortable, sometimes frustrating time, but its pretty mild compared to other times in the past. We aren't any more uncivil now than we've been before, and really the biggest difference now from days past is this:

Today, the right has a strong voice to answer back when attacked by the left.

And to me that seems like the real source of concern about the "tone" of discussion for many on the left. Not that things are so especially bad, but that the right won't take it and like it when they're attacked, belittled, demeaned, demonized, and lied about.

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