Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Banality of Meanness

In his biography of Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton remarks on the question of evil. It is not the big evil in ourselves that we must fear, he reminds us. Most of us are not tempted by that. But there is something more prosaic that we all fall into.


We saw that a week ago when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin resigned from her office. The mean brigade was out at once, led by the queen of sophisticated mean, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times.

Later in the week Ann Coulter made fun of the liberal pile on. She burlesqued the delight that liberals expressed in never having to watch Sarah Palin again. And if she were to get a TV show, why then they would certainly never watch her dreadful, awful show. Palin was so over.

Well, no doubt they wouldn't, except maybe to check in and assure themselves how awful the Palin show was.

But one thing we learn from the Sarah Palin phenomenon is just how mean our liberal friends have become.

There's a lesson to learn from it, of course. It is that you can't do without a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, and you can't do without a code of manners.

One of the uses of manners is that it helps you from making a fool of yourself in the presence of your political foes. Once you decide that manners are old-fashioned and stupid, why then you have set yourself up for all kinds of vices from petty to mortal.

And one of the things that you license yourself to do is to be mean.

You also license yourself to be careless. That comes from the confidence you have from not needing to watch yourself. You stop thinking about how you might appear to others; you just bore ahead with your political enthusiasm.

That's what the Obama administration is doing. It's not thinking. It's not thinking about how it appears to the American people. Some people might be offended by the huge party the Democrats gave themselves in the stimulus package. Some people might wonder about the prudence of an energy tax and expensive subsidies taking effect right in the middle of a wrenching recession. Some people might wonder about a huge upset to the US health-care system in the middle of a recession just to take care of 10 million people that have chosen not to get health insurance.

Some people might think it is mean to take such risks with the prosperity of the American people.

But the thing about being a liberal is that you don't have to look over your shoulder. You know that liberals are the most evolved and the most ethical Americans, and you know that the compulsion of government health care and high energy prices is worth it. It's about equal access to health care, after all, and about saving the planet.

Mean? Not if you are a liberal.

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