Do we really care about civility?
by Kelvin Wade
When I first started my column in the Fairfield Daily Republic I had a few right wing critics. One man in particular regularly wrote letters to the editor taking me to task. He blasted my views. He blasted my age. One of the things he wrote was that I was the “Daily Republic’s very own affirmative action project.” One time he agreed with something I wrote and he wrote me a letter agreeing. I noticed that when he agreed, he wrote to me and when he disagreed he wrote letters to the editor.
Needless to say, I didn’t care for the guy.
One day I picked up the paper and saw my detractor’s name in the obituary column. It didn’t’ cause me any glee or joy. I just knew that there would be no more of his bitter letters about me.
On March 1, conservative bomb-thrower Andrew Breitbart collapsed and died during a midnight walk. Twitter and the blogosphere erupted in joy. Many people were verbally high-fiving and denigrating Breitbart. Several Twitter followers tweeted about Breitbart in hell with Hitler. Many said “good riddance.”
What is this about? When did we start this?
If we disagree with someone politically, then of course their deaths aren’t going to change our minds. I disagree with Ronald Reagan’s policies but am I going to revel in his Alzheimer’s and death? What would that do but show me bereft of humanity?
It’s like the pre-printed signs held by Tea Partiers after Senator Edward Kennedy died saying, “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.”
Speaking of the late senator, when he passed away, for the next three hours Andrew Breitbart tweeted such messages as “Rest in Chappaquiddick” and “I’ll shut my mouth for Carter. That’s just politics. Kennedy was a special pile of human excrement.” He referred to Kennedy as a “prick” and a “villain.” So, Breitbart reaped what he’d sown.
Because of that, I have no doubt that had it been Michael Moore who collapsed and died on March 1, Breitbart would’ve taken to Twitter to trash his memory. It’s pathetic that Breitbart trafficked in this kind of ideological bloodsport but it doesn’t mean we have to.
This isn’t to say that a death can’t be cathartic or a relief. When President Obama announced the U.S. had conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, it was enormously cathartic for the nation. It’s easier to accept joy when a tyrant is vanquished.
Here was a killer who’d killed thousands of Americans and if he could, would kill more. But something seems seriously amiss when we enjoy the deaths of political rivals and indeed, wish for them.
Shirley Sherrod, the government worker who fell prey to Andrew Breitbart’s malicious misuse of footage and lost her job, issued a statement upon Breitbart’s death. “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments.”
It was the ultimate in class and good grace. She had more reason than most to dislike the man, but knew that her statement upon his death would say more about her character than his.
I would’ve rather liberals demonstrate class. You want to stick it to Breitbart and his ilk? Practice honest journalism. Conduct oneself with decency during debates.
I’m not saying we should cry crocodile tears for people we dislike. There’s nothing wrong with being indifferent when someone passes away. There’s a lot of people who I think left the world a worse place through their actions during their lives. When they die, I don’t feel the need to shadowbox with their ghosts or even metaphorically urinate on their graves.
Maybe it’s the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln spoke about that drives me to wonder why we can’t vigorously debate and disagree without hating. We all preach civility — it’s just that we want the other side to start first.