Playing nice

On the latest rightwing civility bosh

Sometimes people who don’t usually pay much attention to the political hurly-burly of the partisan press come across my coverage of it, and observe that yes, it sure is crazy and sort of amusing, but what’s the significance? After all only a tiny portion of the population pays any attention to even the bigger outlets like National Review; a lot of people subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, true, but usually for its excellent news gathering, not to soil their palates in the slop sink of its opinion pages (though they may be aware that Peggy Noonan is an Important Figure, a perception that can only be maintained by never reading her).

So why bother? these fortunate souls sometimes ask me. It’s really just pathology, they say, and thus only of morbid interest.

If I have leave to answer, I usually say that yes, it is pathology, but interest in it is not merely morbid, any more than interest in the ravages of an extant plague would be, because the lunacy that now travels under the “conservative” banner, like plague, can spread, indeed has spread and infected our politics, which is how we wound up in the horrible situation most voters agree we’re in.

I direct you to the major example that has unfortunately presented itself lately: the wave of restrictive abortion laws passed by rightwing legislators in hopes that, after years of Federalist Society and other mischief in the court system, SCOTUS finally has enough nuts on it to ban abortion outright and finally pay off fundamentalists for their years of GOP support — after which Republicans can maybe dangle a similar end to contraception, gay marriage, etc. in exchange for sustenance of the Jesus freak vote.

I’ve written a bunch of stuff about that lately, but I have been writing about the anti-abortion movement at the Village Voice and at alicublog for years and years, and if you had been reading me you might have seen this shit coming. There was a prodrome for sure, for example, in my coverage of conservative response to the Virginia forcible-vaginal-wanding-of-abortion-patients controversy of 2012 — for example, in these ravings by Dana Loesch (yes, future NRA spokesnut!):

“If a woman doesn’t want to be faced with an ultrasound,” Loesch said, “then, according to statistics, practice responsibility: Studies prove that the overwhelming majority of women who choose abortion do so as a form of birth control. Cases of rape and incest account for around less than 1% of abortions… Furthermore, the greatest number of abortions are obtained by women who already have a child/children, so they know how anatomy and physiology works.” Such carelessness is inexcusable, but at last Virginia has found a way to show these women the error of their ways, in a literally visceral manner.

Later, on the radio, Loesch said, “they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.”

Folks who think libertarians are somehow significantly different from conservatives will be interested in the response of Tyler Cowen: “All of a sudden requiring consumers to be informed is extremely unpopular on ‘the pro-regulation side.’”

I bring this up in relation to a recent demi-storm on the right about culture-war subjects like abortion and gay rights, started by New York Post editorial page director Sohrab Ahmari in opposition to National Review writer David French and answered by people like French’s colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty and The Federalist’s Ben Domenech.

Ahmari and French (and pretty much all the conservatives who have gotten in on this) believe in the same things — basically, theocracy and tax cuts — but Ahmari thinks that by affecting niceness about it, French is letting down the side.

At First Things (because, let’s face it, even a simulacrum of serious political discourse would be as out of place at his usual Post perch as a prop comic at High Mass) Ahmari sneers at what he calls “polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war,” based on some French statements which, though they support the same ends Ahmari desires, are not vicious enough to suit him — French at least professes to believe, for example, that “people of diametrically opposed belief systems can live and work side by side so long as they treat each other with dignity and respect.” Heresy! cries Ahmari, who advocates “politics as war and enmity” against liberals, whom he apparently considers not mere political opponents but mortal enemies.

In response, French basically tells Ahmari that he’s not so nice, really. And indeed those of us who’ve followed French know this to be true — that he’s not only hot to ban abortion but also to ban contraception and gay marriage, and to anathemize the whole idea that people should be allowed to have sex with one another as they choose (or, as French has put it, “the rutting life of the sexual revolution, where restraint is evil, physical experience is king, and people are simply sentient mammals trying to get the best out of life”).

French tells Ahmari:

So, there you have it. To Ahmari, the alignment of forces looks like this: In one corner is the nice milquetoast libertarian, David French. In the other corner is the strong instrument of social cohesion, Donald Trump.

If this were a real binary conflict and I had to choose, I’d go with Trump, too.

Well, that clears that up. French does talk some pluralistic shit (“My political opponents are my fellow citizens”) but be not deceived; when he gets his expressed wish to ban all enablers of “the rutting life of the sexual revolution,” he’s not going to cry mercy for those who defy the new laws — they’ll get the cell, the scold’s bridle, or the chair, depending on how far the Elders feel it necessary to take things.

And that’s why I’m out here keeping track. An outsider might look at this contretemps and think: oh cool, they’re talking about civility. But those of us who know who we’re dealing with say, no — they’re talking about tactics. And whether they come at you with a Punisher mask or a smiley face, they’re going straight for your jugular.

Have a great weekend.