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Mark Kleiman Headshot

Calling fouls on our own side

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One of the sick facts about American politics is that the Right Wing Noise Machine routinely gets away with misrepresenting what liberal politicians and journalists say. The latest Hillary Clinton pseudo-flap is a typical sad example.

But that doesn't mean that our folks don't sometimes say unutterably mean and stupid things. And it seems to me that we would be stronger, not weaker, if we admitted it.

Imagine, for the moment, that there had been (Heaven forbid) an assassination attempt on Jack Murtha. And now imagine that Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh were to say, about someone's complaint that the bomb intended for Murtha had been "wasted," that the complaint was "a very funny joke."

And let's further imagine that Coulter or Limbaugh went on to say:

I have zero doubt that if Jack Murtha were not in Congress, people wouldn't be dying needlessly

and then added:

I'm just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That's a fact.

Wouldn't you call that "hate speech" and "eliminationism"? I would.

(Yes, you and I disagree with the claim that Murtha's attempt to save American lives is instead encouraging our enemies in Iraq to fight harder. But the question here isn't about military policy, it's about what it is -- and isn't -- OK to say about your political opponents.)

And if Coulter or Limbaugh were to say, after a firestorm of criticism,

I believe that were he not in Congress, our troops would likely come home sooner. But I don't wish him dead.

wouldn't you join me in a nice, rousing chorus of "Buuuuullllllll-SHIT!" and start talking about how it was about time for the Right to distance itself from that sort of violent talk? To say, just after someone has tried to kill X, that X's death would save lives, isn't quite the same thing as calling for the assassins to try again, but it's much, much, much too close for comfort.

So what would it cost us, really, to admit that Bill Maher is sometimes a very funny guy, but that he doesn't always make sure that his brain is engaged before putting his mouth in gear, and that in this case he owes Dick Cheney an apology?

Or take Max Blumenthal. (Please.) What he said to Ann Coulter at the CPAC conference, and then proudly posted all over the web, was crude, ugly, and illogical, and set her up for a slam-dunk response. Why pretend otherwise?

To be a "conservative," as that term is used in its debased modern sense, you need to check your common sense, your taste, your manners, and your morals at the front door. Self-respect be damned: a true conservative thinks -- or at least says -- that his enemies can do no right and his friends no wrong.

But to be a liberal is different.

Isn't it?

Update

A couple of responses to comments:

1. No, Coulter never apologizes. That's what I'd like my side to be different from.

2. And no, Maher isn't really a liberal. Even less reason to defend him when he sticks his foot into his mouth all the way up to his knee.

3. And no, I'm not for the wimpy "civility" that won't say "sh*t" when it's got a mouthful. Criticizing mistakes by your own side or unfair attacks on your opponents has nothing in common with taking unfair attacks on yourself or your friends lying down. Kerry should have stuffed Rove's SwiftBoat lies back down his throat by going full-out after Bush's draft-dodging. As Harry Truman said when urged to "Give 'em Hell," "I'll just tell the truth about 'em, and they'll think it's Hell."