Politics & Policy

Let’s Get Normal

Down with unhinged politics!

Minutes after Harriet Miers’s withdrawal as the nominee for associate justice to the Supreme Court was publicly announced, conservatives who opposed the nomination based on principle (count me among them) were being tagged as “extremists” by the political right and left.

#ad#After a few weeks of right-on-right debates, there was some comfort to be taken in the partisan planets being placed back onto their axes. At least the political enemies were clear again, right? NARAL Pro-Choice America ominously warned of the “right wing’s real agenda,” which roughly translates to this: Conservatives want a nominee who won’t legislate from the bench or protect a right they believe judges wrote into the Constitution in the first place (Which–sorry, NARAL sisters–seems like a fair political position to me, one that the current president basically ran and won on).

Familiar faces, like Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.), were out in force wearing their outrage masks. Kennedy said that “extreme factions of the president’s own political party” were the only voices allowed to be heard on the Miers’s pick. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened the president with fear of the right-wing reaper (those allies who couldn’t get behind his Miers’s pick), who would dash the president’s future Supreme plans.

But the overheated rhetoric stemming from the Miers’s nomination was circulating all around the political world. This was not exclusively a left-wing sport. In the early days of the doomed nomination, surrogates for the president on the right were calling conservative critics “sexist” and “elitist.” Capitol Hill staff reported one White House aide patronizingly assuring them that Miers was “no slap-ass,” as if critics assumed a woman would be a ditz just by virtue of being a woman. There were principled reasons to oppose the nomination. Many conservatives looked at the absence of a clear record on Miers’s judicial philosophy and saw the pick as too much of a gamble, especially with a candidate who didn’t seem to be Supreme Court material in the first place. Once Miers graciously withdrew her nomination, some of her campaigners claimed that she did, in fact, have the votes in the Senate. But Senate Majority Leader (and presidential hopeful) Bill Frist, who went to the White House and effectively ended the nomination, knew otherwise.

I gleaned this from my own readers’ reactions. Readers on the right were far from monolithic on the Miers’s nomination. The critical e-mails I would usually get from angry conservative readers suddenly echoed the ones I regularly get from liberal readers (like the many furious e-mails doused in expletives I received for my mild defense of the president’s post-Katrina performance). In the wake of the failed Miers’s nomination, readers sounded off with “idiot,” “pathetic,” and even blamed me for “destroying the Bush presidency.”

This mentality is hysterical and “unhinged” politics. Michelle Malkin addresses this in her new book Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild. Malkin focuses on “Liberals who’ve lost their grip on sanity and reality.” She writes, “From the grass roots to the top suits, Democrats have abandoned arguments in favor of ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories.”

I’ve seen the unhinged at rallies. And I told you about my nasty e-mails–left and right. This is not how normal people deal with politics. On the other hand, if a quick look at many of the cable-political talk shows, blogs, and congressional press gaggles is any indication, “normal” in politics is somewhat relative. It’s only human, I suppose, but it’s not all that constructive.

Elections are won. Supreme Court nominations fail. We move on. But why increasingly further away from civility, too? If you’ve got good, substantive ideas, why bury them in invective? If you don’t, and insanity and anger is all you have to fall back on, you might want to reevaluate what you’re standing for in the first place.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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