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November 03, 2009

Comments

I wrote the New York Times Public Editor about this column:

Are there any standards of decorum at all for op-eds? I ask in regard to Rich's column at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/opinion/01rich.html

In the course of one column, Rich compared conservatives to Stalin, to Hitler conducting a putsch, to Pol Pot, to the crucifiers of Jesus Christ. and to those who used the guillotine during France's reign of terror. Rich says conservatives show "maniacal contempt", "hysteria" and "pathology". He says they're conducting an "ideological war" using "communist tactics." He also implies that conservatives are racists, mentioning their supposed, "seething rage, fear of minorities..."

Now these are not fact-based claims, which can be judged as true or false. Still, does the Times have any standards at all for the level of insult in an opinion column? If they have no standards, I recommend they consider getting some.

Incidentally Rich has inadvertantly defended Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck better than their supporters could have. In comparison to Rich, Limbaugh and Beck are the utmost in politeness and courtesy.

David: Of course, you can't really use an example of extreme inappropriateness as a defense of arguably less extreme inappropriateness. When I last checked, two wrongs still did not make a right.

Saying Dede Scozzafava had engaged in 'bestiality' - as Limbaugh did - is politeness and courtesy?

We're missing a big dimension here: party. Scozzafava was the nominee of the Republican Party, chosen by the process available in a special election. Hoffman was the nominee of the Conservative Party, a regularly-constituted separate and, in this case, competing party. For allegedly regular Republicans, whether from New York or not, to politically and financially support the Conservative candidate and repudiate the Republican candidate is disloyalty to the Party. And it was done to force more room for movement conservatives and less for moderates in the Republican Party. Does anyone question that? It was a move against the Party, not just an individual candidate.

In 1984, a 32 year old (as I recall) Maryland GOP State Party Chair was asked why he had failed to invite beloved Republican Senator Mac Mathias to the national convention and he responded that Mathias was a "liberal swine." A very senior and expert Jim Leach of Iowa had his Chair of the House Banking Committee take away for ideological heterodoxy. There are lots more examples, great and small, of the slow exclusion of moderates and even Bob Dole conservatives from power and respect in the GOP. As the Republican Party has become increasingly anchored in the South and dominated by movement conservatives, there can be no question that there has been pressure on Republican moderates to go right or leave. But none killed that I know of, so Rich's rhetoric is unnecessary and demagogic.

As to Lamont and Lieberman: they competed openly in a full Democratic primary, prior to a general election. Every Democrat who wanted to should have and did compete, and donate and support whom they wished. When it was over, Lamont won the Democratic nomination and Lieberman set up his own party. Regular Democrats who repudiated Lamont and supported Lieberman after he lost the primary - and many did - were disloyal to the Party, although Connecticut for Lieberman was not a regularly-constituted party. And Lieberman has more than supplemented his supporters' betrayal of the Democratic Party. Opposition to Lieberman was as an individual candidate in a primary or as the nominee of another party, so I'm not seeing any party purge going on here in any sense. In fact, Lieberman has been rewarded while being disloyal to the Party. Cases not comparable.

When Scozzafava dropped out and endorsed a Democrat, Limbaugh joked that she was guilty of widespread bestiality because she had "screwed every RINO in the country."

This is a double pun on the words "screwed" and "RINO" (Republican in name only). It would be obvious to any listener that Limbaugh wasn't claiming that Seozzafava literally resembled people who have sex with rhinoceroses or other animals.

This joke is clever, but I think it's in bad taste, because people could repeat the beastiality accusation wihout the rest of the joke. E.g., Bobo Berlin may have been unaware that the comment was part of a pun. Still IMHO this crude joke is a far cry from explicitly claiming that conservatives are insane, that they resemble Hitler, Stalin and other mass murderers, etc.

The "joke" is not clever, but the fact that right-wingers think it is - and you think it needs explanation - tells me a lot about Limbaugh's appeal. "Bestiality" used on a lady who is utterly undeserving is not polite or courteous in any context, especially not for the pretend "old-fashioned, family-values" party. Would you want it said nationwide - even in alleged jest - about YOUR mom?

As for literal resemblance being the discriminator in politesse or courtesy, Limbaugh said Obama resembles Hitler. So please, spare us Republican "humor" and Republican "manners." Rich's rhetoric is overheated and demagogic. So is Limbaugh's. Neither is helpful.

Bobo, since you ask, I think Scozzafava deserved harsh criticism. She took hundreds of thousands of dollars from one party's donors. No doubt she benefited from all sorts of unpaid volunteer work by people who believe in that party. Then she turned around and endorsed the other party's candidate. To me, that's scummy behavior. I cannot recall another politician from either party ever doing this.

Did she do that before or after the right-wing attack machine went after her FROM OUTSIDE THE PARTY? The US nuked Japan. Doesn't Pearl Harbor count in that decision-making?

In your mind, would it have been equally "scummy" if she had endorsed Hoffman?

No, because Hoffman is a Republican. If he had won he would have caucused with the Republicans, bringing them one vote closer to having control of the House of Representatives.

Perhaps you should revisit this in light of the fact that a more conservative candidate was in fact not elected. Perhaps the "party hacks" were smarter than you give them credit for and the conservatives were crazier than you were willing to allow.

Paul, you may be right. Maybe Scozzafava was the best choice. But, that doesn't excuse her endorsement of the Democrat.

Sadly, another mainstream liberal columnist has achieved hack status. Perhaps inspired by Frank Rich, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post compared Republicans to Stalinists and to the North Vietnamese Communists:

Republicans don't have time to think. They're too busy trying to survive the party's internal purge and avoid being shipped off to political Siberia. Will loyal members inform on others for harboring suspiciously moderate views? Will anyone judged guilty have to wear a sign saying "Republican In Name Only" as penance? Will there be re-education camps?

I'm sure David found Joe Lieberman's endorsement of "the Republican" (McCain, of course) inexcusable, as well.

Lieberman wasn't running against McCain. If Lieberman had quit the 2000 race a few days before the election and endorsed Bush/Cheney I would have considered that inexcusable.

Ways people can find Limbaugh's joke an outrage:

1) they don't appreciate compound double-entendres

2) they don't like Rush laying the wood to one of their sacred cows

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