Terror Monday on Wall Street confirmed my opinion that the tea party is poison to America and its economy. I can’t argue with its members, because they don’t deal with the facts as I and most of the world know them. But I do argue with the Republican leadership for not having marginalized this national wrecking party and with Obama for letting the full faith and credit of the United States become subject of “compromise.”
As many know, I am currently president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which is embarked on a Civility Project whose mission is to raise the quality of the national conversation. The Civility Project’s director is Frank Partsch, who served as editorial page editor of the Omaha World-Herald for a quarter century.
Last week The Wall Street Journal blog stirred up the tea party swarms by noting that I’m president of a group that promotes civic discourse and then quoting from the column.
My column was tough but not uncivil. In my experience, the columns that raise the most ruckus are often the ones that hit the mark.
So I take back not a word of it. Subsequent events — the collapse of the Grand Bargain at the hands of the tea party and the downgrade of America’s credit rating — support my case.
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera also referred to the tea partiers as terrorists and subsequently apologized. I have great respect for Nocera, but I hope that this change of heart did not reflect his being overwhelmed by the orchestrated tea party attacks with which I am quite familiar.
Meanwhile, let me quote Partsch on the Civility Project:
Let’s give some individual thought to what incivility is and what it is not. Let’s be thinking about where we, individually, might draw the line between robust, hard-hitting, withering commentary and, on the other hand, cheap-shot, below-the-belt incivility. Most of us know that effectively scoring on a point of argument opens us to the accusation of mean-spiritedness. It comes with the territory, and a commitment to civility should not suggest that punches will be pulled in order to avoid such accusations.
It’s possible that a good part of the audience isn’t ready for the finer distinctions. So our commitment to civility may have to involve, in part, building up the understanding that not every smartly-targeted rhetorical barb is an automatic example of incivility.