Patrick Garry
An hypocrisy on civil discourse
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By Patrick Garry
April 5, 2011

Short memories come from short attention spans, which in our hyper-active media age can be quite short. And it is short memories that perpetuate hypocrisy.

Just two months ago, liberals were blaming the Tucson shootings on the 'combative' political rhetoric of conservatives. They condemned conservative criticisms of government as the cause of a declining civil discourse.

Now, two months later, the Left is waging a verbal war on conservatives. It has called Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a Nazi and has likened him to Hitler. Threats of violence have been made against the Republican legislators who voted to reign in the power and privileges of public sector unions. And similar threats and accusations are being made against Governor Kasich and Republican members of the Ohio state legislature.

Even in the budget debate, the Democrats' strategy is to slander Republicans. Their focus is on trying to depict Republicans as "extremists." As Senator Chuck Schumer acknowledged, Democratic leaders counsel their congressional members on how to vilify conservative proponents of cutting the federal budget. While Republicans are offering specific plans on addressing the run-away deficit and President Obama is totally removing himself from this all-important issue, Democratic congressional members are devoting their efforts to figuring out how to negatively portray conservative deficit-cutters.

According to Democrats, those conservatives who simply want to cut the deficit (not eliminate it, just cut it) are dangerous 'extremists.' Imagine this scenario. A married couple is deep in debt. Their debt increases each month, each week, and even each day. They not only spend more than they earn, they are increasingly spending more than they earn. The wife decides to do something. She proposes that they cut their spending. But her husband is obstinate. He claims his wife's debt reduction plan violates the values of their married life. He'll agree to cutting back on the expensive wine he drinks on his Saturday night outings, but that's it. He'd rather shut down their marriage than go along with his wife's obsession with debt reduction. So the question is: who is the extremist?

And since when was it extremist to adhere to the principle of limited government and a balanced budget? Theodore Roosevelt believed in those principles, as did Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Since when did all these presidents become extremists?

Partisan and ideological conflict is normal and even healthy in a democracy. Differences in opinion and beliefs help a democratic society find the best path toward future prosperity. But along with this sphere of inevitable conflict needs to be a realm of consensus — a set of principles to which all of society can agree. One such principle should be the elimination of escalating public debt. Everyone should be able to agree that no society or government can continue indefinitely to keep increasing its debt. Everyone should agree that one generation's spending addiction should not be paid for by succeeding generations. Everyone should be able to agree that when you have such a monumental debt that costs hundreds of millions of dollars each day in interest alone, you need to take drastic measures to get that debt under control. Everyone should agree that uncontrolled debt will eventually destroy a society.

But such agreement does not exist. And why? Because one side is extremist?

Conflict is unhealthy when it becomes so engrained that consensus is never pursued, much less contemplated. Even while they accuse conservative budget-cutters as being extremists, many Democrats want the government to shut down. They want a shutdown because they've already worked so hard to blame conservatives for it.

Consensus isn't impossible. But it will never happen in the midst of hypocrisy. And it will never happen when one of the sides does everything possible to undermine any chance for consensus.

© Patrick Garry

 

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Patrick Garry

Patrick Garry is a professor of law at the University of South Dakota, and Director of the Hagemann Center for Legal & Public Policy Research... (more)

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