Am I uncivil?

The Wall Street Journal best-of-the-web column gives me an unfavorable mention today. It explains my position as head of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which runs a Civility Project to raise the standard of public discourse, then excerpts my recent column likening tea partiers to al-Qaeda terrorists.

I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece. It’s not about offering strong opinions. If someone’s opinion is fact-based, then it is permissible in civil discourse.  Of course, there are matters of delicacy, and I dispensed with all sweet talk in this particular column. And I did stoop to some ad hominem remarks, I’ll admit.

However, it was a Wall Street Journal editorial that first called the tea-partiers “hobbits.” After John McCain picked up the hobbits theme in a much-quoted remark,  a subsequent editorial expanded on it, ending with:

The debt-limit hobbits should also realize that at this point the Washington fracas they are prolonging isn’t helping their cause. Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust the government.

Yes, I was angry, but I’m engaging in the defense of my country. I know the tea partiers say the same, but their behavior is that of a national wrecking crew. Most may be nice people who don’t know what they’re doing, but many a country has foundered on the passions of nice people.

As far as the facts are concerned, I stand my ground.  Terrorism is not confined to physical attacks. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported this:

The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force.


“If you shut down our power grid, maybe well put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official.

Blowing up the U.S. economy to make a point would be an even more serious attack, in my book.  And that’s what the tea party saboteurs were threatening. They are what they are.