There was a moment in the Diane Rehm show this morning that would seem to put the "fantasy" problem in our national life front and center, and yet there was no response. It was an awkward time for a response. This was NPR and NPR tries very hard (and succeeds remarkably) in steering a course between the civil political right and civil political left.
But shouldn't someone, at least, point out the extent to which we are bending over backward to accomodate not just Jimmy Stewart but also his 6' tall invisible rabbit, "Harvey"? We're talking about dealing with serious incivility here.
The show this morning was about the week's events. A caller from Jonesboro, Arkansas called with this question on the Todd Akin statement about rape.
Jonesboro: ...As far as Mr. Akin, he did misspeak. I personally don't know the man. I'm in Arkansas; he's in Missouri. ...His terminology... But the news media has not emphasized the last part of this statement which said: "Punish the rapist, not the child." And the thing is this: those of us -- whether we're Christian, we're Muslim, we're Buddhist, whatever -- there is a god. Even alcoholics and drug addicts believe in a higher power. God is the creator of life. He knows when we're going to be born and when we're going to die and that we are going to be accountable for our actions. So the thing is this: Mr. Akin mispoke. I don't know if I would vote for him or not. I don't live in Missouri. But the thing is the news media -- most of it -- will not give him credit for saying, "Punish the rapist, not the child." ...Diane Rehm Show
There were two responses from show's panelists. First -- David Chalian, Yahoo! News:
I think the strongest reaction has come from Republican leaders. In other words, this isn't a situation in which the media went after the guy without anybody else doing so. Everybody from Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan to Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn said he should pull out and calling his remarks everything from excusable to offensive. But it's also true that there's a pretty healthy segment of the anti-abortion and religious conservative community that feels like he's being unfairly pilloried and abused. That what he was saying... perhaps he used some wrong words... but what he was saying was pretty clear, was certainly no worse than a lot of other people had said, that there's a little big of a double standard. And one of the things that is keeping Todd Akin going and will continue to sustain him if he does stay in the race is support from that part of the community. ...Diane Rehm Show
Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News had a more relevant point to make:
It is true that Akin may have misspoken. But even with the good part of what he said, "Punish the rapist, not the child" -- in between those two there's a woman. And it was a total lack of compassion or respect or concern -- or understanding -- and recognition of the woman's role and what suffering from rape is. That is what was wrong -- really, really wrong -- with what Akin said. ...Diane Rehm Show
What someone, somewhere, needs to raise is how long Americans will be expected to live their lives according to the tenets of the 6' tall invisible rabbit as interpreted by his owners. As individuals we have a right to live by our beliefs, no matter how baseless, to direct or give meaning to our lives. But in the political community in America, where the business of governing involves millions of voters and candidates and elected officials all with somewhat different beliefs, we have to set aside our individual beliefs and speak the language of the common job of governing. Millions of thoughtless people not only bring their 6' tall invisible rabbits with them to the discussion, they insist that we "listen" to and abide by what the rabbit "says" -- as reported by his devoted friend, like the man in Jonesboro. And then not just listen, but accept as part of our self-governing what they consider to be the wise counsel of the invisible rabbit.
The man from Jonesboro was handled very respectfully by all on the Diane Rehm show. Is there no way that we can demand equal civility on the part of the man from Jonesboro, Arkansas? Do Diane Rehm, Jeanne Cummings, David Chalian and all of us listeners not deserve the same respect from Jonesboro that Jonesboro gets from us? Is the man from Jonesboro unable to get his point across without invoking the authority of his rabbit?
Neither Jeanne Cummings nor David Chalian responded to him, as they might well have, by saying "god who?" and "what does he have to do with this discussion?" or, as Cummings might have, "What makes your 6' invisible rabbit more important and credible than a raped woman?" They politely worked around the Jonesboro caller's arrogant assumption that he possesses a greater truth, an overriding truth. The caller probably has no idea that he's either very uncivil or insane. But he is -- inescapably -- one or the other.
Of course, fair is fair. Punish the man from Jonesboro and all else like him. Don't punish the poor imaginary rabbit.