All the talk about civility in politics is really starting to piss me off.
Over the weekend, Teamster chief Jimmy Hoffa warmed up a pro-labor crowd for President Barack Obama by whipping the crowd into a frenzy with bitter rhetoric and a fiery call for action. At the peak of Hoffa’s speech, he anointed those assembled as the president’s army.
“We are ready to march,” Hoffa declared. “Let’s take these sons of bitches out …”
Both sides of the aisle immediately jumped into action, attacking and defending Hoffa according to their respective underlying philosophical bends. President Obama, who has called for a new civility in politics, hid behind his press secretary, Jay Carney. Carney’s lame response to Hoffa’s outburst made him sound like a parent afraid of a child who has grown too big and strong to discipline without fear of retribution.
In a world where politicians have staffers who spend hours crafting messages to be properly worded and politically correct, Hoffa’s statement was brutally honest.
Simply put, Jimmy Hoffa thinks I am a son of a bitch. I’ve been called an SOB before by people who disagree with me. I’m sure I will be called one again (probably in the comments section of The Daily Caller). I’m okay with that.
Hoffa comes from a background of incivility and politically incorrectness. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Hoffa’s father refused to allow the flags at Teamsters headquarters to be lowered to half-staff. In very candid moments, the Hoffas have a way of expressing their frank political views.
Hoffa’s Labor Day battle cry was no different than Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting of “You lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 address to a joint session of Congress. Like Hoffa, Wilson showed his real and honest feelings.
The outrage towards the Jimmy Hoffas and Joe Wilsons of the world ignores the simple fact that America was built on a solid foundation of uncivil political discourse.
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” that made the case for independence from Britain. Paine was anything but civil to the British monarchy.
“One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary rights in Kings, is that nature disapproves it,” Paine wrote. “Otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule, by giving mankind an ASS FOR A LION.”
While England’s Prince Charles has been labeled things much worse, Paine calling the king an ass was considered incendiary at the time.
And if you think that Thomas Paine saved his scorn only for England, he once wrote that George Washington was treacherous in private friendship and a hypocrite in public life.
Benjamin Franklin was also publicly called a hypocrite, but his accusers threw in “crafty and lecherous” for good measure.
Politicians have always quarreled with each other. Ulysses S. Grant declared that James Garfield had the backbone of an angleworm. Woodrow Wilson said Warren Harding had a “bungalow mind.” And, more recently, Jimmy Carter promised to whip Ted Kennedy’s ass in a threatened primary challenge.
The media has often resorted to incivility as well. The Chicago Tribune called Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address “so slipshod, so loose-jointed, so puerile, not alone in literary construction, but in its ideas, its sentiments, its grasp.”
Harper’s Weekly wrote that Lincoln was a “filthy story-teller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus Abe, old scoundrel, perjurer, robber, swindler, tyrant, field-butcher and land pirate.”
In that context, being called a son of a bitch by Jimmy Hoffa or a liar by Joe Wilson doesn’t seem all that bad.
Civility is the new political correctness
If Americans were so interested in civil political discourse, the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour would be the highest-rated news show in the history of television. It isn’t, which suggests that we enjoy our nation’s rough-and-tumble, bare-knuckled political fights.
One has to wonder what’s behind the call for a new civility.
Like “political correctness,” “civility” is becoming a buzz word that forces public figures to mask their true views and opinions. Such new rules will give politicians an abstract moral basis to tell voters what they want to hear rather than what they truly believe.
Call me a liar. Call me a son of a bitch. Just don’t give the sons of bitches I vote for another reason to lie to me.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.