Have We Bottomed Out Yet on Coarseness?

06/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We seem to be in the eye of a perfect storm of incivility, with the political parties' rhetoric thrashing about to the point that Thomas Friedman has indicated that the world is now referring to political instability hovering over our nation.

It's not just the parade float of political speech from which the wheels have fallen off. Culture has also shifted hard toward coarseness.

As if catering to the America's increasing taste for coarseness, a German company has secured a tricky name for a new beer, Fucking Hell, which was allowed because in Austria there is a town named Fucking, and in German the term Hell denotes a light ale. Residents in the 100-person town are right to object to this exploitation as they have no brewery or interest in this venture, plus they shun publicity because it leads to their signs being stolen.

A dumb game is being played through this branding, with us as the likely stooges. There is no reason to put together those two words but to provoke and titillate English-speaking, rather than German speaking, people into buying the suds.

The ploy seems to condemn English speakers as morons who would fall over themselves for a witty obscenity, particularly if it's mean. While it's popular to use the logic of liberty to dismiss dorky stunts like this, we should pause to see that this stunt comes, like the referred pain of an injury, as a sign of widespread damage.

Like shooting nerve pain comes the news that some Massachusetts teens wrote trash onto the memorial Facebook page of their classmate, Phoebe Prince, after they allegedly bullied her into suicide. Even more lugubrious, cyber stalkers known as trollers amuse themselves by sending foul messages to parents, whom they have never met, of another daughter recently lost by suicide.

No one can say the tree of incivility is not richly watered by the bloody language of national leaders. In the last several months we have seen acts of coarseness that are literally historic. Two lawmakers in open session in Congress hurled invective such as "You lie!" to President Obama, and "Baby killer!" at the notably pro-life Congressman Bart Stupak. Both of the cat callers gave a perfunctory apologies then promptly used their stunts for fundraising, inadvertently resembling celebrities like Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton who created sex films which accidentally-on-purpose got released to the public so they could be famous for being famous.

How auspicious of our conservative lawmakers. But these outbursts are less about policy convictions than they are a savage dance for conjuring crude emotions.

Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote that the racial and homophobic slurs hurled at elected officials at the culmination of health care reform hit those who were not notable leaders of the effort but figureheads of the social change won since civil rights, being two African Americans and an openly gay man. The worst ranting we've heard is identity politics writ wild, and in light of the demographic changes underway the rants are as effective as shouting at the sun.

Once the bill was done, former Governor Sarah Palin used gun sights on a map to show legislators targeted for political punishment -- in a season when protesters have taken weapons and images of them to public events. How responsible. Particularly responsible since Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has encouraged to her supporters to be "armed and dangerous" in the event of the passage of a climate bill.

But playing with gun imagery can backfire, as found by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which disbanded this week on concern that the patrol group might actually follow instructions to arrive at the border "locked and loaded" after the passage of health care reform. The group's leadership wished to avoid liability.

This welcome retreat from the precipice of gunplay is like the still small voice nudging us to our better senses, and others are speaking out lyrically from the vantage of the turned cheek. Van Jones, the ousted former green jobs czar for the administration, describes himself as one who has been so fired he can no longer burn. He shuns the "politics of outrage and confrontation" in particular when working with people who face real obstacles leading to frustration and division, including his former opponents, in a vision he calls love-fueled politics.

We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail, be it through the self serving discretion of the Minutemen or the lusciously redemptive view of Jones. And maybe, when this foul national mood blows over, the lager dubbed for an infernal f-bomb will convey the same avuncular mirth expressed by Joe Biden when he lauded the passage of health care.

This column first appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera