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The true incivility

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 11:40 EDT
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Yesterday for RH Reality Check, I wrote a piece about how civility is really impossible in political discourse for those who political opinions are uncivil.  I'm sick of how the focus on "incivility" has been around the least toxic aspects of our political discourse, namely joke-telling and an unwillingness to pretend to like the opposition more than you do. I don't really have a problem when people make fun of each other or call each other assholes, Wingnuts are poised to call me a "hypocrite" on this, I'm sure, but trust me, I get called every name under the sun and I don't really waste time worrying about it.  I do have a problem with bigoted language—every man out there who calls me a "cunt" isn't just calling me a name, but adding to the overall message that women aren't worth anything—and sexual harassment, but if someone ever bothered to call me an asshole or try (they almost always fail) to make fun of me, I shrug it off.  Who gives a shit? It is worth noting that the vast majority of negative response I get is gendered, either in the sense that it's sexual harassment, bigoted language against women, or mansplaining. Which says a lot about the opposition's limited imaginations, but has no bearing whatsoever on the use of snark as a tool of political discourse.  Public figures should not whine about having people making fun of them. (Though I will retain the right to ban trolls who have nothing to add our discourse on this blog, though in my experience most of the worst ones have a creepiness stemming directly from deep-set misogyny and racism.)

No, as I note in the piece, what bothers me is that all this focus on civility doesn't dive into the very real problems of incivility in our political discourse, the vast majority of which is, like it or not, coming from the right: lying and abusing private citizens for the "crime" of being human beings with needs/rights where the two I discussed. I was focused on anti-choicers, and my point was that the incivility of their position—civil people do not lay claim to own the bodies of others, even if "only" for the limited purpose of forcing them to bear children against their will—made their lying and clinic abuse inevitable. Of course, an anti-choicer showed up in comments and immediately proved the point about lying, but he was focused on a very specific lie that is really more of a double standard.  (I'd call it a lie because people who employ double standards always deny it.)  Double standards are a constant incivility of the right; in fact, I would say it's the engine that drives their movement.  The Tea Party's motto should be "Rights and privileges for me, but not for thee."  Their rationale is always that they clearly deserve all the advantages, but other people, who are clearly inferior (no proof needed; bigotry will do), deserve nothing. 

Take, for instance, the tendency of Republicans to make fun of Obama for using a teleprompter by reading those jokes off teleprompters. Rick Scott took this double standard to a whole new level recently by acknowledging that's exactly what he was doing:

That was exactly what Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) did to kick off the Florida straw poll on Saturday. TPM reports that Scott read his remarks from a set of teleprompters at the podium, including this jab (which was underlined in his script to emphasize the joke): “I have to admit, I was a little nervous When I looked out here. I saw all the TV cameras and a teleprompter. I figured President Obama must be here – giving another speech about raising taxes!”

The message of jokes about Obama using a teleprompter is, "Obama is stupid."  Being able to speak without one is used as a measure of intelligence, and it's sold to an audience that doesn't engage in public speaking very much, which allows the audience to laugh and feel superior, without ever actually having to prove their own self-assurance that they could make flowing, articulate speeches with nary a note to guide them. But how does that explain all the Republicans who straight up read a teleprompter, even while making fun of Obama for doing so?  

Well, having spent plenty of time around wingnuts and reading their self-rationalizations, I would say that their reasoning is, "That's different. They don't need the teleprompter; it's just a tool for them. But he's dependent on it."  The evidence for this is crickets, of course, since both Obama and the people making jokes about him use the teleprompter at equal rates. But people making teleprompter jokes assume that it's self-evident that Obama is dependent and his critics aren't.  Of course, the reason that they assume it's self-evident is their racist mythology about "affirmative action"—their knee-jerk assumption that a black man holding a job previously reserved for privileged white people is given advantages because he certainly isn't smart enough to have done it on his own.  The advantages of privileged whiteness are considered not-privileges, but just natural results of inherent superiority. 

I'd say that kind of routine bigotry is far more uncivil than the snark that obsesses people clamoring for more civility. It's not that teleprompter jokes are snarky that's the problem.  It's that they only work if you assume a racist double standard. 

I think that this double standard is worth considering when you look at the tedious "affirmative action" bake sales being conducted by a bunch of kids who conveniently forget all the privileges that got them a seat at prestigious universities, a seat that many less privileged people with far more native intelligence didn't get because they weren't beneficiaries of the higher levels of education, investment and attention that the nimrods running this bake sale got as a matter of course. It's pathetic seeing a bunch of C students rounded up to B students because the system is invested in seeing them succeed turn around and dog on people who generally have to demonstrate A student talent to be cut a break. 

It's worth noting that when I googled "teleprompter" to get an image for this, I found mostly pictures of Obama using one. Wingnuts are positively obsessed with the idea that his teleprompter "proves" he's stupid, which means they are going to elaborate lengths to believe that it's a completely different thing for a white conservative to use one then for a black Democrat to use one. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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