An effort to calm the villains of vilification
By Marion Edwyn Harrison
In myriad manifestations a numerically large -- one must hope, smaller percentage -- of Americans continue unabated the vilification of those fellow citizens with whom they disagree. Personal attacks aren't new in American history. The 1828 Election witnessed outrageous attacks from both sides. Almost as nasty, if more poetic, was the 1884 Election: "James G. Blaine, James G. Blaine, continental liar from the State of Maine." And, alliterative, but even more expansively insulting, "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion." We are too familiar with some of the vicious, and very personal, liberal attacks begun in the 2000 Election and, most indefensibly, continued in the 2004 Election and to this day.
Perhaps reflecting a broad decline in acceptable cultural norms, nasty demonstrations, vicious defamations of federal judges and nominees, and more and more orchestrated attacks upon, among others, President George W. Bush, infect the public square, all forms of media, the Internet and the Congress. (Quick references in these Notable News Now columns: "Protest and Riot: A Call for Civility," August 21, 2004; "Respect for Federal Judges, Ex Officio and Ad Hominem," December 14, 2004.)
Examples crop up daily. Among the more recent: The abortionist NARAL Pro-Choice America's calling the President, a Supreme Court Justice and several Senators a "prehistoric brotherhood . . . [of] creatures from the far right . . ." Senator Edward Moore Kennedy's repeated reading of denunciations of judicial nominees obviously written by staffers more articulate and literate than he but implementing his instructions to go personal and nasty. Senator Harry Reid's attacks upon defenseless judges brighter and more qualified than he, dating back a year to his accusing the brilliant and experienced Senior Judge Lawrence Silberman of the "crime" of accepting a certain Presidential appointment. Even to a more local milieu, as Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's likening President Bush (on account of some proposed budget cuts) to the al-Qaida terrorists who blew up buildings and killed some 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 -- an attack so outrageous even the very liberal Washington Post was obliged to criticize (albeit under a byline, not a lead editorial -- don't offend too much of the left).
There now comes an organized effort to promote some civility. The National Committee to Unite a Divided America is the diplomatic name. The group was formed by "[t]wo of this country's most respected elder statesmen -- Republican David Abshire and Democrat Max Kampleman . . ." as The Washington Post accurately phrased it. Because several of the prominent volunteers are my friends I forego personal commendation. Suffice it to say that more than one hundred prominent Democrats and Republicans have signed on to the effort -- former Senators, ambassadors, Cabinet members, so on.
Because the effort manifests a new approach who could opine as to the measure of success? That the effort direly is needed none could doubt. Perhaps some in the group could begin by discussing evidence and civility with Senator Reid: Whether Judge Silberman committed a crime? Whether Justice Clarence Thomas is incompetent? With Senator Kennedy, among other things, whether Bush judicial nominees are Neanderthals? With Mayor O'Malley, whether the President is like unto an al-Qaida terrorist? With NARAL, whether the President and others are like "movie monsters" and prehistoric men?
Come to think of it, maybe somebody could find out how NARAL and Senator Kennedy know so much about prehistoric men.
Meantime, as the Blaine rhyme sounds milder and milder, we must hope that the National Committee to Unite a Divided America will have at least some modulating effect upon public discourse and indeed must commend those volunteers for their efforts.
Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq., is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.
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