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WP Op:Ed The Ugly Party vs. the Grown-Up Party


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The Ugly Party vs. the Grown-Up Party

By Michael Gerson

Wednesday, June 30, 2010; A17

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, "I hope he fails." Matt Drudge is an "amoral shut-in" who should "set himself on fire." Opponents are referred to as "ratf -- -ers" and "[expletive] moronic."

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics -- the dehumanization of political opponents.

Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party -- liberal and conservative -- have little interest in keeping their views private. "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh," Ann Coulter once said, "is he did not go to the New York Times building." Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck "do the honorable thing and blow his brains out." Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: "We Came Unarmed (This Time)." Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: "Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush." Says John Avlon, author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America," "If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you're part of the problem."

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy -- a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

Such sentiments have always existed. But the unfiltered media -- particularly the Internet -- have provided both stage and spotlight. Now everyone can be Richard Nixon, threatening opponents and composing enemies lists.

But the Internet is also a permanent record, as Weigel found. His reaction to exposure was honest and admirable. He admitted to being "****y" and "needlessly mean" -- the kind of introspection that promises future contribution. But when members of the Ugly Party are exposed, generally they respond differently. Obscenity? The real obscenity is an unjust war, or imposing socialism or devotion to Israel. It is an argument that makes any deep policy disagreement an excuse for verbal violence. Or an offense against taste and judgment is dismissed as humor and satire.

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party -- less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute -- presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks -- on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

Many of the entrepreneurs of the new media, on left and right, are talented, vivid and entertaining. Many are also squandering important things they do not value. They are making politics an unpleasant chore, practiced mainly by the vicious and angry, and are feeding dangerous resentments in a volatile time.

Eventually, all edginess becomes old. Obscenity reaches the limits of language. People read yesterday's hot blogger, watch yesterday's cable star, roll their eyes and say, "Not again." And maybe then the Grown-Up Party will prove more enduring and interesting after all.


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It's okay to get ugly every so often. Frustration is natural and can even be adaptive in limited doses. That said, I long for more grown up debates more Tim Russert and less Rush Limbaugh. More Jim Lehrer and less Keith Olberman. I wish the airwaves and the papers (virtual and physical) were filled with constructive ideas more than destructive attacks.

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Unfortunately, it's a vicious cycle. You hear or read something ugly, it brings out the ugly in you. And that brings out the ugly in someone else, who reads what you just wrote. And so on.

My worst moments in the Tailgate have been in response to something someone else wrote that I found offensive, ignorant or hostile. I stooped to thier level, and we both ended up covered in :pooh:

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I think there is a place for both the Ugly Party and the Grown Up Party. And I think that members of the Ugly Party can transition to the Grown Up Party. By all accounts, Bobby Kennedy was a proud member of the Ugly Party for most of his adult life. But he turned into one of our greatest statesmen before his death. Compare the man who worked for McCarthy and was his brother's political hit man to the man who uttered these words - essentially off the cuff:

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

The problem in America's politics today is that the ugliness that used to be only seen in private now shows up in the State of the Union. "The Worst Person in the World" segment (which admittedly I love) would once be an inside joke at The New York Times, not the highlight of a nightly news telecast. Ann Coutler would be spewing her venom at small John Birch Society meetings, not on national networks.

The great sin of Nixon was that the he turned the power of the executive branch into a tool for settling a lifetime of grievances. Seemingly, that is now the purpose of the entire political system - including the fourth estate.

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I saw Glen Beck in action today for the first time. Who watches that crap?! I'm conservative so I was so embarrassed at his manipulative delivery of distorted facts dressed up as conservatism. Its an embarrassment. Vaudevillian tripe.

The ugly party has to go.

mardi, you (and a handful of others in the forum) are an example of how simply being conservative or liberal, "left" or "right", is hardly the most significant quality in the worth of a viewpoint.

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I think the best way to proliferate the "grown-up party" is to split both the Democratic and Republican parties, going from two to four major parties. Both parties are two suceptible to the whims of its extremes. We need parties that fight for the center, not push us to the fringes as the "ugly party" has done.

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I'm voting for the Wild Party:

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That's pretty weak.

Or are we all comparing opposing defenses to nazis every Sunday when we say the blitz is coming.

No, I do think Biden's e-mail was phrased the way it was to associate republicans with evil. I appreciate that he at least had the tact to make his asinine association subtle.

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