2005-08-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Intolerance
by Stuart W. Mirsky


One of the things that really intrigues me these days is why there’s so much vitriol coming out of the political Left. From Ted Kennedy to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, in the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” to the academic elite and radical leftovers of the Sixties, political discourse in America seems to have lost the civility that once characterized it.

It began with the Reagan presidency when the Democrats lost a White House they thought was theirs by entitlement because of the sins of Richard Nixon. But it’s markedly accelerated since George W. Bush won his first presidential term in 2000. When the apoplectic Left’s not screaming about the evils of the scheming Bush administration these days, or savaging the president personally, they go after whoever they presume has some influence on him. Like Karl Rove. Or their perennial favorites: the so-called “neocons.”

The neocons are a group of policy wonks who mostly started their political lives as liberals and Democrats but who moved, over time, into the conservative camp. What makes them conservative is their tendency to favor strong national defense and an internationally proactive foreign policy. They also harbor a strong sympathy for traditional public values and institutions.

In the heat of the Cold War, many of them were among the now seemingly prehistoric conservative Democrats who believed in liberal social policies and a robust government but were strongly anti-communist, as well, and opposed to the kind of morally equivalent rapprochement that became popular in the latter days of our confrontation with the Soviet Union.

Some, like policy expert Richard Perle, former Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and journalist Bill Kristol trace their intellectual roots to a political theorist at the University of Chicago in the mid-twentieth century, a reputed admirer of Plato, Leo Strauss. But Strauss and his students have come in for more than their share of condemnation and contempt from the Left since they gained access to the halls of power after Bush won the White House. (Just Google Strauss’s name if you want to get a sense of how ferocious some of it is.)

Perle, who had a position as a Bush adviser in the president’s first term, was forced out over allegations of impropriety (which turned out to be much ado about nothing but killed his service in the Bush administration nonetheless). Wolfowitz was the target of a barrage of endless insults and recriminations and left the administration for a presidential appointment to the International Monetary Fund. Kristol, who serves as a commentator on Fox News when he’s not editing the Washington Weekly Standard, recently had a pie thrown in his face, while speaking at a public forum in a Quaker university, to the heady delight of a gaggle of on-line leftists, some of whom offered these choice comments on the left leaning blog, truthout.org:

“ . . . Kristol is not some harmless politician expressing ‘opposing views’, he is a lethally dangerous enemy of the state - indeed, of humankind - and a pie in the face is the mildest possible response to such a creature . . .”

“. . . This man is directly responsible for the slinging of cluster bombs and other heinous devices in the faces of those with whom he ostensibly has a disagreement. He is a neofascist thug hiding behind mendacious words, large guns and obscene wealth.  That one of the dainty pies of his gluttonous feasting should find its way into his rapacious maw is hardly out of character. . . .”

“Yeah, too bad (the pie thrower) didn’t do it to Dubya!”

If you’ve ever seen the almost shy, self-effacing Kristol, you’ll know just how incredibly inappropriate comments like these are. But shocking as they may be, they’re only the tip of an uncivil iceberg that has continued to afflict our political discourse. Those with whom the Left disagrees are routinely pilloried in their rhetoric, represented not as people entitled to their opinions but as “neofascist thugs” and “enemies of the state.” (The last time I heard this latter phrase, by the way, was when it was used by spokesmen for the old Soviet Union to describe political dissidents!)

But wait, there’s more:

“. . .  To imagine the exquisite moment when the pie smacked Kristol in his piehole, the sheer pleasure of that image captured in time. The mundane pastry flung in his mug, transformed into a sublime snapshot of perennial embarrassment for this smug, elitist, rhetorical snob, an enemy of truth, justice and the American Way . . .”

and, “. . . In a regime—yes, a regime—that is as arrogant, autocratic, tyrannical, unresponsive, and criminally negligent as the Bush administration, it is virtually impossible to make headway without resorting to some sort of stunt or civil disobedience. In the 60s, people resorted to violence to get their point across because official channels had broken down. These are the kinds of things that happen when government oppresses its people. I place the blame for this squarely on Bush and his cronies. . . .”

So, according to this writer, it’s not the fault of the perpetrator of the pie-driven assault but of those assaulted, either literally or figuratively!

Recently, at an on-line site maintained by a Brooklyn College professor of philosophy and almost exclusively frequented by those with whom the professor agrees, I was told that everyone knows the neocons had a secret plan to invade Iraq years ago and that the events of 9/11 were merely their excuse for putting their nefarious scheme into operation. Another poster there informed me that it’s common knowledge the neocons want a “master-slave” relationship with the rest of the world.

Good grief! A “master-slave” relationship? How does that reconcile with the expressed neocon conviction that political freedom, American style, is the solution to the world’s ills? Or doesn’t it have to? I suppose if you don’t respect others’ viewpoints, there’s no reason to characterize them accurately. But one is moved to ask how is it these people seem to lack even a rudimentary sense of their own intolerance? And should we care that they’re lacking it?

If we don’t tolerate disagreements among ourselves, how can democracy sustain itself? Yet these folks have not only demonized those with whom they disagree in their public discourse, they’ve seemingly got themselves convinced that people like Kristol, who hold different views than they do, are somehow subhuman, unworthy of the tolerance afforded full human beings . . . only fit, in the end, for obliteration as “enemies of the state” or humiliation by a pie in their face. 

Hasn’t the Left gone off the deep end here with this tilt toward ever increasing hatred and intolerance? Would they countenance the same thing from others if it were directed at them? And haven’t they told us we have to understand and feel the anger of the terrorists who brought us 9/11 and similar attacks if we want to regain security for ourselves? How can we take people like this seriously, in the end, when they demand justice and freedom for themselves but want to deny it to others? Did Kristol deserve to be assaulted for expressing his opinions, or do other neocons deserve to have their reputations sullied for saying and doing what they believe is right? Do the principles of free speech and tolerance only apply to people with whom we can agree? rockirreg@aol.com

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