01 October 2008

Conservative Writer Kathleen Parker Under Attack

NPR's "Talk of the Nation" featured Peggy Noonan this afternoon. She spoke of the extreme, often shockingly ugly, partisanship that's appeared recently (she swears up and down that she was unaware of such polarity twenty years ago. I concur). A timely illustration of Noonan's complaint appeared in Kathleen Parker's latest column. You might recall that last week Parker published a column critiquing Sarah Palin: she claimed that Palin is "out of her league" and expressed a hope that Palin would step down for the good of the Republican party. Today, Parker's piece begins:
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a Dumpster, but since she didn't, I should "off" myself.

Those are just a few nuggets randomly selected from thousands of e-mails written in response to my column suggesting that Sarah Palin is out of her league and should step down.
These brutal examples from Parker's email lead to an earnest discussion of our nation's current extreme polarity--a partisanship that extends far beyond petty bickering into the territory of death threats--even (especially?) towards those who share your ideological beliefs. The result: cultural and personal stagnation--a governmental stalemate and the stifling of personal expression:
Such extreme partisanship has a crippling effect on government, which may be desirable at times, but not now. More important in the long term is the less-tangible effect of stifling free speech. My mail paints an ugly picture and a bleak future if we do not soon correct ourselves.

The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn't sound American to me, but Stalin would approve. Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different than one's own, then we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)
It's diabolical that Parker has been the victim of such personal abuse. At the same time, you have to wonder how Parker has been able to avoid the presence of such ugliness in the past. Our national discourse, whether presented by liberals or conservatives, has been lamentable for the past ten or so years.

Perhaps, now that Parker and Noonan, two well-respected thinkers and writers, have made their concerns about our national divide public, we can begin to engage the issue in a manner that leaves behind the "but the Republicans / Democrats started it..." or "what about Ann Coulter / Mike Molloy?" kind of nonsense and examine in more detail how we can approach a more evenhanded level of discourse.

If only. . . .

Aside: A recommended piece on Parker's column at The Moderate Voice.

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