Incivility across the aisles

Last night, I was not only deeply offended by Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst during the President’s Health Care address, but I also wondered if he would have felt so free to be that rude to a white President. Offended citizens jammed Wilson’s website within minutes, and within hours he issued a very direct apology. He let his emotions get the best of him, he said.

(On that front, Clarence Page’s column in today’s Chicago Tribune today makes a good point: “[O]ne has to wonder why Wilson would be so surprised that he would lose control during Obama’s speech. Since the full text was distributed to members of Congress beforehand, Obama’s debunking of the illegal immigration myth should not have come as a shock.”)

I’m not alone in asking this question about the possible link between incivility and race, as anyone on facebook will know, but here’s the larger teachable moment that comes out of it for me–an opportunity to look within, honestly, and ask whether my fellow progressives and I have similarly impeded civil discourse in the recent past.

Check out this site: cafepress.com. The site itself is a neutral print-on-demand operation, but under its “What’s Hot” category, there are both pro-Obama and Anti-Obama sections. I was on cafepress.com the other day, and in the same spirit that I sometimes land and stay on Rush Limbaugh when I’m skimming across the dial in a rental car, I clicked on the Anti-Obama section. I was all of the following: Offended, upset, disturbed, disheartened…the list goes on.

Here’s the question. How different are these from some of the anti-Bush slogans I enjoyed and supported?

“Bush Lied; Thousands Died”
“If Only Barbara Bush had practiced birth control”
“Somewhere in Texas, A Village is Missing Its Idiot”
“Worst President Ever”
“If Only He Had a Brain”
“Viva Imperialism”

The truth is, some of those still get me going. Some of them I dismiss as being not my temperament, e.g., “Buck Fush,” and then some are just as physiognomically-based as the anti-Obama slogans that I find racist, e.g., “BUSH: Seriously, just look at him. What a moron.” Or this one, which mocks a learning disability and judges the quality of his sobriety: “George W. Bush: Dyslexic, Dry Drunk with a Messiah Complex.”

Generally speaking, I run with a pack that got good home training, that is well-mannered in the face of disagreement. But for the first time, I wondered how my own barbed expressions of dissent might end up contributing to an impasse that could have terrible consequences for us all.