"Incivility" Defined: It Means Criticizing Obama

I have had hard time parsing exactly what the intelligentsia means by "incivility."  On the one hand, they often call for more civil discourse and lament the lack of incivility in government nowadays.  But on the other hand, people like Obama very frequently argue by ad hominem attack, preferring to question the motives of the NRA or climate skeptics rather than engage their criticisms of gun control or CO2 limitations.

This has confused me, because I have always defined civility in discourse as the willingness to accept your opponent as a person of good will who merely disagrees or is misguided.  But if this is civility, why the frequent "othering" of political opponents by the same folks calling for civility?

Well, it turns out I have been using the wrong definition of civility.  As Donna Brazille makes clear, "incivility" means criticizing the President or attempting to hold him accountable for missteps of those who report to him.  She actually beings by defining civility in a way with which I mostly agree:

A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.

But then she goes on to say

We, the people, need to stay focused on facts, causes and solutions. Let's begin with the findings of the Treasury's inspector general who uncovered it: That it was bureaucratic mismanagement, but that there was no evidence of any political motivation or influence from outside the IRS.

And that, according to acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who just resigned, the problem started because the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision created a surge of requests by political groups for tax-exempt status.

LOL - don't let politicians dictate our course - but everyone needs to shut up and take the word for two IRS officials that there is no scandal here (noting that we know from the IRS's own data that the last statement she urges us to accept in the name of civility is definitely false).    Further, she says

Why am I alarmed? Because two "scandals" -- the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice's tapping of reporters' phones -- have become lynch parties. And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself.

So let's of course all be civil, and civility means calling folks criticizing a black President "lynch mobs."

By the way, a bit off-topic, but this paragraph is a textbook example of tricks editorial writers use

The IRS scandal has sparked bipartisan outrage that should require a bipartisan solution. The director who oversaw this was a Bush appointee who was confirmed by a Democratic Congress. Even Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says he doubts very much that Obama was involved

Each sentence here as a master-stroke of the spinmeister's pen trying to defend her guy in the White House.

  1. Note the effort in the first sentence to shift this to a bipartisan issue.  Both sides are upset.  It is a good government issue.    The implication we are supposed to draw is that this no longer can be a critique of this particular administration.  It has transcended.  This is how red-blue team political invective works.  If the outrage is coming from just one party, it should not stick to the President because because it is petty partisanship.  If it comes from both sides, it should not stick because it is a larger issue for all of us that transcends this particular Administration.  In fact, through the article, she actually makes both arguments simultaneously.  Brilliant!
  2. It's Bush's fault.  This is just so well-worn that Obama officials simply cannot help themselves.   How can a man the Left thought to be so stupid and incompetent still be directing affairs four and half years after he left the building?
  3. This one is really funny.  Is, as implied by the structure of this sentence and the world "even", Carl Bernstein the least likely imaginable person to excuse Obama of such a charge?    I think I am going to start writing this way.  Even Warren Meyer thinks climate change has been exaggerated.  Even Kim Kardashian thinks its important to get a lot of PR.  Even Tia Carrere says its OK to make a bad movie once in a while.  Hey, this is fun.

By the way, as I wrote before, it is unlikely Obama gave a specific order to harass the tea party.  However, he has created a strong culture of "othering" his political enemies and impugning their motives as evil, sending a strong signal to his supporters such that actual orders were unnecessary.  No one ordered from the top that Princeton students harass Yale at every opportunity (or even better, Penn).  The culture takes care of it.


  1. Morven:

    Obama is still responsible in the sense that he's the guy in charge when it happened. That's accountability. If the buck for executive-branch outrages doesn't stop at the President's desk, where DOES it stop?

    Regardless of whether he, personally, ordered it or approved it. He's responsible for the dog that shat on the lawn. It's his responsibility to clean it up.

    ESPECIALLY since it was done to his and his party's advantage. Damn straight it looks bad if the low-level functionaries go after the boss's enemies in so blatant a manner.

    Although I suspect the motive was as much that the groups they went after were the political enemies of the IRS, enemies of the bureaucracy. Job #1 for any functionary is to preserve his job and work toward the greater glory of the organization, and this fits in well with what happened.

  2. mesaeconoguy:

    This is the delusion of modern leftists: only others can act “political,” and their motives are never legitimate. They are never politically or otherwise motivated.

    The bizarre, nonsensical comments of Obama proxies this weekend reveal they see absolutely nothing wrong with using the IRS to target their enemies, and that Obama’s criminal mishandling of a terrorist situation is “irrelevant.”

    The left has gone over the edge.

  3. mesaeconoguy:

    Also, it bears mentioning that this

    "Let's begin with the findings of the Treasury's inspector general who uncovered
    it: That it was bureaucratic mismanagement, but that there was no evidence
    of any political motivation or influence from outside the IRS. "

    was the result of an audit, not an investigation. Those are 2 very different things. If Ms. Brazile wishes to be taken seriously, she should go on to say that further investigation may well uncover additional malfeasance missed by the initial audit. The audit only suggests lines of inquiry – the subsequent investigation (which will occur) digs deeper than the audit.

  4. NL7:

    Didn't they start developing Tea Party scrutiny criteria in 2009? That would predate Citizens United and Speechnow. In any case, Citizens United said that regular corporations had freedom of speech directly, without an intervening nonprofit group, so I don't see exactly why it bears on the issue. I get that some people think that "monied interests" are buying elections or whatever, but Citizens United didn't authorize Tea Party groups at all. Am I missing something else or is this just an instance of sloppy thinking and guilt by association?

  5. Matthew Slyfield:

    "where DOES it stop?"

    Who says it stops at all?

    Blame it all on the previous administration. Applied retroactively this means that the IRS scandal is George Washington's fault. :)

  6. obloodyhell:

    }}} Even Warren Meyer thinks climate change has been exaggerated.

    Even Obama thinks the White House is incredibly inept and clueless, and should resign en masse.

    Ah, me. To dare, to dream.... :-P

  7. Morven:

    Well, yeah. The problem is when each successive administration pushes the boundaries a bit further, which they have a tendency to do. Every so often they push too hard, too fast, and there's something of a correction, but the overall trend is one of increase regardless.

    The buck SHOULD stop, though. I know, foolish idealism.

  8. Benjamin Cole:

    And anyone who says we spend way, way too much---$1 trillion a year---on the VA, Defense and Homeland Secuirty functions, is not a patriot.

    That is civil discourse too.

  9. wintercow20:

    The culture thing ought to stick. Remember when folks actually ask members of the "progressive" team to point to actual deregulations in the 1980s and 1990s that occurred and which tanked the economy and led to income inequality, they end up hemming and hawing and pointing instead to a "culture and climate of deregulation."

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    Yes, but what politicians usually do is gather into a circle so that the buck may be passed indefinitely.

  11. mlhouse:

    Compare and contrast how "civility" is viewed in two presidential "scandals". The Bush Administration "scandal" of firing US Attorneys and the IRS scandal of the Obama administration. The US attorney issue was completely manufactured, completely media led, and caused the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general because of the push of the media.
    Now, look at "scandal" in the Obama Administration. These charges are actually very old, are sourced by 3rd parties outside of the main stream media, and that media is trying to protect Obama and key figures in his administration.
    This is a sad day for America and even the left should be concerned that we have a press corps that does not cover events.

  12. xbox361:

    even the Obama white house agrees they lie all the time

  13. Rob Crawford:

    "Citizens United" is lefty code for "our opponents can speak freely". That's why it enrages them so much.

  14. Mr. Fever Head:

    Even Donna Brazille defends Obama.

  15. Ritchie The Riveter:

    About the VA, I have to disagree ... though how efficiently it is spent could be questioned.

    As for Defense/DHS, there is a lot of spending directed more at fighting political wars with pork, than the real kind with bullets. The political-war funding needs to be cut.

    But strong, effective, PROACTIVE -, even pre-emptive - defense is a good insurance policy for life and liberty ... something both Progressives and the Pharisaic paleoconservatives/libertarians do not get.

  16. Ritchie The Riveter:

    They believe that what they believe is the One True Way and above challenge ... it is "reasonable" and "logical", even though it takes more BLIND faith to believe a lot of it than it does for me to believe in my God.

    And they attempt to jam it down our throats, with a fundamentalist zeal that makes Baptist preachers look like loose-topped libertines out for beads at Mardi Gras.

  17. Ritchie The Riveter:

    Civility in response to intellectual dishonesty is counterproductive in the defense of liberty.

    And Progressives have embraced the idea that ends-justify-the-means relativism is a feature, not a bug ... far more than conservatives.

    So they shouldn't expect us to always be civil, in response to their words and deeds.

  18. Old_School_Conservative53:

    The intellectual dishonesty of the left knows no bounds.
    There is a ton of irony in the AP scandal - the AP has spent years wording "straight news" articles carefully in order to not-so-subtly support Democrats. Let's suppose a Democrat senator rapes a nun at high noon on the White House lawn with 500 witnesses. The AP story in former years would read "Sen. Blowhard accused of sex impropriety" and if his party affiliation is mentioned at all its in the 4th paragraph after the page turn.
    If A Republican senator does the same thing the AP headline is "REPUBLICAN

  19. Old_School_Conservative53:

    Prematurely posted. "REPUBLICAN Senator Blowhard Brutally Sexually Assaults Mother Teresa on White House lawn. The REPUBLICAN lawmaker has entered a plea of not guilty, but the REPUBLICAN faces an uphill battle."

  20. Diggsc:

    Please don't mention George Washington when talking about Obama's anything. Obama isn't worthy to shovel the shit from Washington's horse.

  21. Mark81150:

    I agree, Brazille has no other point than the usual leftist refrain..

    He's my president ruling like a third world thug.... so shut up and take it like a "civilized" person should../sarc..

    Journalism is largely dead as an exercise in fair minded truth telling, now, it's the democrat party propaganda wing, and damage control agency. Brazille can't even see how much a lackey she is.. there is no debate of ideas, the left pontificates, then grabs a torch and a chair, snarling at any differing opinions... and apparently using the government as a club to bash dissent.

    Imagine Brazille's outrage, were it Bush going after liberal 501's.. then treat her opinions accordingly.. meaningless rabidly partisan spin.