I didn’t watch Sarah Palin’s Tea Party speech this past weekend, just as I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. But I do stay in touch with the news, so I know the Saints won, & I have the gist at least of some of the remarks Palin made. And of course I heard about the now-famous “Palm Pilot” crib notes she wrote on her hand for the Q&A session following her speech. I found it funny, ridiculous, and — particularly since she apparently went after Obama’s use of teleprompters — extraordinarily hypocritical.
But if we are critical of the ugly tactics from those we disagree with politically, does that justify our using some of the same ugly tactics? Does our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech make unrestrained use of uncivil speech & namecalling wise or useful?
Phil Munger of the blog Progressive Alaska is someone I admire & respect a great deal. And so I was disappointed late Saturday night to read the title of the blog post he wrote about Palin’s “Palm Pilot” crib notes: “Saradise Lost – Book 4 – Chapter 43 – What a SLUT”. Today he reiterated the namecalling with a poll & an accompanying post entitled “Saradise Lost and Found – Chapter 12 – Saint or Slut? – A New PA Poll”. The poll asks readers to register their vote for “Which Term More Accurately Defines Sarah Palin to You?” with two possible answers, Saint or Slut.
I privately wrote to Phil about the problems I have with the poll earlier today. At lunchtime I went back to read comments.
After seeing what other people had to say, I felt no choice but to register, publicly, my objection to Phil’s pejorative description of Palin, & the way other self-identified progressives in comments defended it. So I wrote my own comment. Here’s what I wrote:
I am a woman, consider myself a progressive (though not a Democrat), am more-or-less a member of the Alaska progressive blogger community (though I’m trying to focus my blog on writing nowadays) & have already registered my dislike of Phil’s terminology & this poll privately to Phil. And now am doing it publicly.
As I wrote privately, I won’t vote in this poll. Given a forced choice between “saint” & “slut” is far too reminiscent of the “virgin” versus “whore” typology that women have been relegated to for centuries. I don’t see Sarah Palin, however deluded she is or creepy her views, as either. As ridiculous as I find her political posturing to be, & as scary I find it that anyone takes seriously her potential as a leader, I have less & less confidence that namecalling from “our” side is any more productive or useful than the namecalling from the Palin supporters.
I am disappointed that Phil used this terminology, especially because there is so much else I find to respect in his work — as a composer, as a teacher, as a blogger, & as someone supportive of the work of other progressive people. I am further disappointed read many of these comments & find so many other self-identified progressives defending his use of this language — in pretty much the same hypocritical way that Palin condemned Rahm Emanuel for how he used the word “retard” but defended Rush Limbaugh’s use of the same word.
It’s clear that just as much on the left as on the right, too many people are willing to excuse their “own side” for employing the same tactics that they condemn the “other side” for. As scary as I find extreme people on the right to be, I find this behavior by people who are presumably on my side to be just as scary. You might as well be on two sides of a wall lobbing grenades at one another, for how likely these tactics will lead to any kind of peace or good for our nation.
Can we find some way to engage with our political opposition without just creating more hostility — none of which is likely to encourage our opposition’s better nature & better thinking, any more than their namecalling & disrespect towards us encourages our better nature & thinking?
I want to support other progressive Alaska blogs & bloggers, but I’m growing ever more worried by the propensity of some of “our” side to demonize the “other” side with namecalling & insults. It’s no more helpful than when the “other” side does that to “us.”
At the same time, it’s this kind of polarized incendiary stuff that seems to attract the most hits on blogs, & encourages bloggers to keep blogging that way. I don’t think that high hit rates is necessarily a good measure of the quality of blogs — but it can be an excellent measure indeed how polarized & contentious our political culture has become. And how much more likely we are to enflame our political culture into some kind of outright civil war.
Which is not at all the kind of civil we need.
After more comments came in on Phil’s post about his “saint v. slut” poll, I added another comment, reading as follows:
In essence, most of the progressive rationalizations for Phil’s use of a sexist & demeaning word to describe Palin amount to “Palin & her supporters use demeaning insults to describe us & our leaders, so that gives us the okay to do it to her & her supporters.” This is hypocrisy.
In essence, most of the Palin supporters who are visiting this blog to criticize Phil for his use of this sexist & demeaning word to describe Palin are correct that his use of the word is sexist & demeaning, but have no compunction about using equally demeaning language to insult Phil, Obama, or other people with whom they disagree. This is hypocrisy.
Both sides are being equally destructive to our social fabric as a civil culture. I’m a progressive, & yet I don’t want to be on the side of anyone who simply stands in their corner lobbing insults at their opponents. If we want a civil culture in which everyone’s rights are respected, we’re not going to get it by refusing dialog with those who disagree with us — which is what this oh-so-very-witty (not) lobbing of demeaning insults amounts to. It’s all fine & nice to feel righteous about how intelligent your own side is & how horrible & stupid & purposely perverse the arguments of the other side are — but in reality, you’re only making yourselves mirror images of one another.
And leaving no room for people who really want this country to work. For everyone, not just “our” side, no matter which “side” that may happen to be.