The difference now is that Republicans aren’t ignoring threats from Democrats anymore; they’re highlighting the threats and criticizing them.
It’s not clear yet where this will go. I don’t think anyone really wants this to be the tone of our politics. But when one of the handful of leading Democrats says flat out that there can’t be civility from Democrats until they’ve retaken the House and/or the Senate — at a time when Republicans are being harassed in restaurants, their families are receiving death threats, and their personal information is being doxxed from a Democrat’s offices on Capitol Hill — there has to be a response.
In an interview aired on CNN on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton threw down the gauntlet:
Hillary said, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again. But until then, the only thing that the Republicans seem to recognize and respect is strength.”
Conservatives have been responding to her first point all day, of course, pointing out that Democrats as a political party want to destroy what Republicans stand for and care about. I leave it to you to decide how civil Republicans have managed to be nevertheless.
Many NeverTrump conservatives are NeverTrump precisely because they prize civility over preventing destruction. And there is much to be said for having a long fuse. That said, frankly, the American people have had a very long fuse. Reaching the end of it — with the effects on their daily lives of overregulation, Obamacare, unrestrained and unassimilated migration, and constant emotional extortion in the political realm — is not a moral failing on their part. For them, today, “winning” in politics, especially over the most freighted economic issues, is the difference between having jobs and savings and a future, and not having those things. They don’t see political contests through the lens of mere abstraction, for reasons that ought to be obvious to any sensible person.
The only way to change that is to reduce the size and intrusiveness of government, so that politics matter less. There is no other option, if we want to reduce the divisions between us and the stakes of politics.
But Clinton’s second point about withholding civility until the Democrats are back in the majority in at least one house of Congress is what really got the attention of Republican leaders as well as conservative pundits. It certainly sounds like a gloves-off declaration.
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii didn’t help matters by excusing thuggish “activists” for targeting Republicans in their homes and at restaurants. Instead of affirming that no one should engage in such behavior, she gave harassers the alibi of being “very motivated,” as if that excuses violating the basic rules of civil society.
After the Clinton interview aired on CNN, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, made an uncharacteristically prompt and trenchant response on Tuesday, speaking from the floor of the Senate:
“Here’s what she said: ‘You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for. If we’re fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again,’” McConnell said, quoting a portion of Clinton’s remarks.
McConnell condemned the remarks, emphasizing that the Senate will not be intimidated.
“No peace until they get their way?” he asked. “More of these unhinged tactics? Apparently this is the left’s rallying cry. But fortunately the American people know that the fact-free politics of hate, fear, and intimidation are not how we actually govern in our democratic republic. The Senate and the nation will not be intimidated.”
Obviously, if you’re on the left, you don’t agree with the last couple of sentences, or at least don’t agree that a Republican is on the right side of such sentiments. But the “no peace until they get their way” characterization ought to ring true, regardless of which side of the aisle you occupy. Hillary said Democrats shouldn’t feel themselves bound by any rules of civility until they get the electoral outcome they want.
Once you’ve moved beyond childhood and into the realm of adult political discourse, that’s actually Bolshevism. It’s the hallmark of modern radical politics, from the French Revolution and its aftermath until now. It’s indefensible.
Conservative pundits haven’t been shy in recent years about calling out such behavior. But Republican leaders have rarely addressed it directly. Of course, top Democratic leaders haven’t overtly discussed (and even advocated) it either, until the last 8-10 years or so.
McConnell’s response seems to have been pretty measured. It would be good to see a Democratic leader step up and affirm the need for civility. I’m not looking for that any time soon, however. As much as the Republican Party is undergoing an internal reordering today, the Democrats are undergoing what may be a bigger one. It’s been quite a while since there was an American “center” between the parties, but each one used to have its own center. That is no longer really true.
Rep. Steve Scalise, shot last year during ball practice by an overheated supporter of Bernie Sanders, responded with a terse tweet to Hillary’s “civility” threat.
Seriously, Hillary? https://t.co/EPJVwX692T
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) October 9, 2018
We’ve been sitting in the water so long we don’t necessarily recognize how it’s heating up. Be careful out there.