Matthew Continetti garnered some much deserved praise for his article about the way that sarcasm and insult took over the Democrat party, replacing anything of substance. It all started with the attacks against Bush:
The criticism of Bush, of Bush Republicans, and of the war took on a specific character. The spokesmen of movement progressivism—Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert—spoke in tones of irony, sarcasm, knowing disbelief, glibness, and snark. Liberal bloggers and op-ed writers used the same voice. A television clip of a conservative would be played, a quotation cited, and the liberal would mug for his audience, whether on screen or on the page. Their basic attitude was: Can you believe this? These people don’t even believe in science! The fools! Derisive and smug laughter would ensue. The war was not going well, America seemed in decline, and it was obvious to liberals that conservatives and Republicans were to blame. The punch lines were a signal. If you laughed, you differentiated yourself from the fundamentalist prigs running the country. You established your superiority.
Obama brought precisely that attitude to the third debate, with his sarcastic, condescending, and remarkably ignorant statements about the American Navy:
You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. It’s not a game of battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our capabilities?’
Others have debunked the President’s ignorance about the armed forces he commands, so I won’t do it here. Suffice to say that, while Americans appreciate gentle zingers (“There you go again”), the level of disrespect that Obama showed only makes the Jon Stewart acolytes happy. Others (including thoughtful liberals) wonder what happened to the dignity of the presidency.
The problem with snark is that, although it can be amusing, it displaces serious political discussion. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the way in which abortion has come roaring to the fore at the same time the President is struggling to keep the Benghazi cover-up under wraps. Even as thoughtful people who pay attention to national security and facts are grappling with the immensity of al Qaeda’s resurgence and the President’s lies, the snark shows are keeping liberals in a state of perpetual outrage about abortion.
I wrote last week that abortion is a defining issue for many people on the Left. Some of you (very intelligently and politely, of course) disagreed with me. Politely (and, I hope, intelligently) I have to disagree right back. The proof of abortion’s centrality is the way in which the snark Left is using the abortion dog whistle to terrify wavering liberals into voting for Obama, regardless of the fact that Obama has put our national security and our economy at serious risk. The dog whistle is so powerful to liberal ears that they’d rather focus on a woman’s right to abortion than on the fact that al Qaeda would like to commit post-birth abortions against all Americans.
Part of the reason the dog whistle works is because the Left so assiduously avoids any serious discussion about life’s beginnings. A case in point is a Jon Stewart shtick that made the rounds amongst my liberal friends, all of whom posted it on Facebook along with myriad warnings that Romney will turn back the female clock to 1950 (see the cartoon, above). Here’s the Jon Stewart shtick, one that is high on hysteria and word play, but low on analysis:
Ooooh! Mourdock is evil because he thinks rape is a gift from God, and Romney is more evil because he supports Mourdock. Never mind that what Mourdock said is thoughtful and logically consistent, even if one doesn’t agree with the premise. The premise is that life begins at conception. The logical corollary is that, once a life begins, and most certainly when that life is helpless, civilized people owe it protection. It is not the fetus’s fault that it was conceived out of violence, pain, and shame. Mourdock quite obviously doesn’t lack compassion for the rape victim. It’s just that he recognizes that the life that the act of violence created is an innocent one. Now, one may not agree with Mourdock, but it is, if you will, an honorable position that starts with a humanistic premise.
While Jon Stewart fears to delve deeply into what Mourdock is saying, and who simply rolls with superficial conclusions, sarcasm and insult, Andrew Klavan, has a very thoughtful take on Mourdock’s words, and one that allows for disagreement:
Let’s do a mind experiment. Pretend you are yourself. Now pretend your mother comes to you and tells you that, even though she and your father raised you as if you were the product of their union, in fact she was horribly, brutally raped and it was in that rape that you were conceived. Painful as it was for her — and only she and God know how painful it was — she decided to go through with the pregnancy and give you life.
Have you now lost your right to live? Can you be legally exterminated because of the way you were conceived?
My point here is not — not — that there should be laws against abortion in cases of rape. My point is only that the question of abortion is essentially the question of whether a fetus is human. If an unborn child is a human being, the fact that it resides within its mother is no more relevant than the fact of where you reside. If (and a person of good will can honorably make this argument) there is some point at which a fetus is not yet a human being, then it seems to me you can morally abort it because it’s sick or annoying or female or has failed to have blond hair and blue eyes.
Now anyone with a mind and heart can see that there are vexed moral questions here, filled with grey areas. No feminist blather and no ruling from the pope in Rome can turn those areas to black and white. For a rape victim to bring a baby to term would be, to my mind, an act of moral heroism equivalent to running into a burning building to save a child. I’m not convinced that laws should be passed requiring that sort of elevated action from people. And yet I do believe the child conceived in that horror story is a child indeed and that a minister, say, could, in good conscience, counsel the mother to strive toward the heroic, if the minister felt she might be able.
As everyone knows (since the media has covered it more often than Fast and Furious and Benghazi-gate put together), Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock recently answered a debate question about abortion and rape: “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock later clarified the comment and apologized for his poor phrasing — as was proper — but come on, we all know what he was trying to say. He doesn’t think rape is intended by God. He thinks a baby conceived by rape remains a baby with a right to life.
Please read the rest here.
Klavan’s approach, of course, is the way we should be discussing a fraught issue such as abortion. It is the embodiment of Dennis Prager’s wise statement that we should prefer clarity to agreement. Clarity enables us to have meaningful discussions about vexing issues and, quite possibly, to work towards solutions. Stewart’s piecemeal, shallow, insulting analysis makes intelligent discussion impossible. If you disagree with Stewart, you support rapists. End of story. (Incidentally, the Jon Stewart segment embodies the state of mind Jonah Goldberg describes in The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.)
I feel very strongly that, in my little corner of the world, there are thousands of people who are yearning for Romney’s strength on national security and the economy, but who are being scared away from voting for him because they buy completely into the imaginary War on Women that the Stewarts, Maddows, Colberts, and Obama’s of this world sell as intelligent political discourse. This is too bad, not just because it bodes poorly for the elections, but also because it bespeaks an America whose educated class can no longer grapple with serious ideas.
UPDATE: And right on time, Tom Friedman blows hard on the abortion dog whistle. Here’s the key paragraph:
But judging from the unscientific — borderline crazy — statements opposing abortion that we’re hearing lately, there is reason to believe that this delicate balance could be threatened if Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, and their even more extreme allies, get elected. So to those who want to protect a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body, let me offer just one piece of advice: to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves “pro-life” and Democrats as “pro-choice.” It is a huge distortion.
Get it? If Romney and Ryan win, women will be dying in back alleys with coat hangers between their legs.
It’s time to acknowledge that we’re not in the 50s anymore: Single motherhood, though economically foolish, is culturally cool; birth control is freely, and cheaply, available; and pregnancy is relatively risk free. There are still credible arguments for abortions, but pretending it’s still the 1950s isn’t one of those arguments.