Civility Is Overrated

At Politico, PR guy Mark DeMoss laments the lousy reception to the Civility Pledge he and Clinton hack Lanny Davis have been circulating:

It’s only 32 words. Yet, only two sitting members of Congress or governors have signed the civility pledge.


So what was it about civility that all the other 537 elected officials couldn’t agree to? Read it and decide for yourself.

  • I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
  • I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. 
  • I will stand against incivility when I see it.

In May, Lanny Davis, my friend and co-founder of the Civility Project, and I sent a letter to all 535 members of Congress and 50 sitting governors inviting them to sign a civility pledge.


We made it easy, enclosing a response form, return envelope and fax number. I’m sorry to report, six months later, that only two responded: Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

This is a shame, DeMoss says, because the American people are sick of how nasty the political discourse has become, and because incivility is just plain wrong:
We share a conviction about the importance of at least trying to change a polarizing, uncivil political culture that now appears to be the norm.

Call it old-fashioned, but we believe debates should be won on the strength of ideas and words — not on the volume of our voices or the outrageousness of our ads. Yet some emails I’ve received on our website are so filled with obscenities that they could not be printed in a newspaper.

Incivility is not just a political problem, according to Yale law professor Stephen Carter. “Rules of civility are thus rules of morality,” Carter said, “it is morally proper to treat our fellow citizens with respect, and morally improper not to. Our crisis of incivility is part of a larger crisis of morality.” 

I hate to fit someone’s definition of “morally improper,” but the fact is, there’s way too much hand-wringing over civility in politics these days. For one thing, sleazy invective, while lamentable, has been around since the beginning, so not only is this not some new development, but if it was going to destroy the country, it would have done so by now.

That’s not to say politicians should be given a pass for trafficking in lies and rumors, far from it. But that brings us to the second, and far more important, reason these guys are barking up the wrong tree: we currently define negativity and incivility so broadly that they’re not only virtually meaningless, but they actually serve to stifle a lot of things that need to be said.

Simply put, there are a lot of bad people active, and bad things done, in politics today, things that deserve not just disagreement, but demand moral condemnation. Advocating the murder of unborn babies, lying about an issue, defaming someone, trying to violate the Constitution, controlling free speech…all these things run deeper than mere disagreements between equally-decent people. These are things that should shock and disgust men and women of goodwill, and compel them to drive them out of the sphere of public respectability – along with their practitioners.

Instead, our “civility” obsession all too often leads to pitiful spectacles like playing dumb about the integrity of backstabbers, and meekly wondering why opponents believe vicious lies about us (here’s a hint: they don’t). Such rhetorical cowardice and incompetence enables the dishonest and the hateful to go about their business without serious challenge, all but ensuring a culture that’s less civil, not more.

Real civility is a fine value, but a healthy political culture needs to understand it’s not the highest value. Every American must hold truth and justice as more important than decorum.

Movie Review: Iron Man

This weekend, Marvel Comics’ latest big-screen superhero adaptation, Iron Man, hit theatres. The film has garnered some attention for touching on political themes, and some liberal reviewers are trying to claim it as their own. Is Iron Man a lefty propaganda piece? I saw it last night, and will give my answer in the following review. Be warned, though: I’ll try to hide plot spoilers as best I can, but if you don’t want to know anything at all about the film until you see it, here’s the bottom line: conservatives (and pro-military Democrats) can rest easy buying a ticket for this one.

When we first meet Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), he hardly seems like hero material. Though a quick-witted charmer and technological genius, the billionaire weapons manufacturer is also a gambling, womanizing, hard-drinking scoundrel, much to the exasperation of those around him: indispensable personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Air Force Lt. Col. Rhodey Rhodes (Terrence Howard). All that changes, though, on Stark’s own Road to Damascus, which happens to run through Afghanistan. While visiting the warzone to demonstrate Stark Industries’ newest toy, the Jericho Missile, his convoy is hit by a roadside bomb. He wakes up to find himself in a terrorist camp, and is horrified to discover his name stamped on a whole lot of their arsenal. Ordered to build a Jericho for the bad guys, Tony instead builds a makeshift suit of armor with which to escape (and kick terrorist butt in the process, of course). Upon his return to America, he announces that his company will cease weapon production, and secretly builds a new hi-tech suit with which he plans to destroy whatever other Stark Industries weaponry has fallen into enemy hands. Naturally, business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is none too pleased about this, and villainy ensues.

First, is Iron Man any good as a movie? The answer is a resounding yes. The writing is coherent and certainly doesn’t ask for any more suspension of disbelief than the average superhero or sci-fi film. The casting of Downey Jr. as Stark is absolutely perfect. From wisecracking and sleazy to courageous and driven, Stark has a wide range of traits throughout the story, and Downey nails them all, never letting his changes of heart seem unnatural while doing so. By contrast, while I’ve come to like Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker in the Spider-Man films, he does take some getting used to. Not so here: from the opening scene on, there’s no doubt that Robert Downey is Tony Stark. Paltrow is smart and charming as his right-hand gal, and the chemistry between the two is genuinely sweet. Howard doesn’t have a whole lot of material to work with as the responsible straight-man to Downey’s wild card, but he works out just fine, and as comic fans know, he’ll have his
time to shine in the sequels. Bridges is great as the main villain, too, though by the time he goes into full bad-guy mode for the climactic showdown, his performance is a bit on the generic side, if still enjoyable. The special effects are excellent, and while not every shot of the hero’s digitally-animated stand-in looks photo-realistic, many do, and the CGI blends quite well with the actual constructed suits. Overall, Iron Man is a faithful adaptation of the comic book and Marvel’s best big-screen offering yet (though not necessarily better than the crown jewel of the genre, Batman Begins, or its forthcoming sequel, The Dark Knight). If you like comic books, science fiction, or action movies in general, you simply have to see it. (Oh, and comic book diehards probably already know this, but be sure to stick around after the credits…)

OK, then, what about the politics? In
Time’s review, Richard Corliss describes Iron Man as a “semi-pacific” hero who “resolves to study war no more” and is on a mission “to dismantle his own company.” While it’s true that Tony puts the kibosh on his company’s weapons program, it doesn’t come across as a blanket condemnation of military force, for a few reasons. First, it’d be a sensible move for anyone in that position—yes, even evil, heartless conservatives—to stop the weapons flow, at least until figuring out how terrorists are getting a hold of them. Second, both the United States military and the government are portrayed as benign and heroic, without the slightest hint that America’s current conflicts in the real world are unjust—a refreshing image, and Iron Man deserves credit for bringing it to the screen. And third, there’s no way somebody can even remotely be called a pacifist when his armor is packin’ that much heat! Furthermore, the line about “dismantl[ing] his own company” is simply false—Tony only [Spoiler; highlight to read] plans to destroy the weapons he discovers Stane has been selling to terrorists.

Also noteworthy is the depiction of the terrorists. All are portrayed by Middle Eastern-looking actors, dressed in the same sort of grimy fatigues we’ve all seen jihadists wearing on the news. The imagery of a captive Tony bound in a chair, flanked by armed terrorists as a hostage video is being filmed, is chillingly similar to the videos of captured journalists like Steve Centanni and Daniel Pearl. This, along with another scene of [Spoiler; highlight to read] the militants terrorizing an Afghani village and almost executing a defenseless father, helps ground the film in reality and leaves the unmistakable impression that the people our nation is fighting in the Middle East are truly evil, with no rationalizations or excuses for their behavior, be it Western imperialism or economic depression, anywhere in sight. Granted, they are not overtly portrayed as Muslims with religious motivations, but this is not for reasons of political correctness—their group [Spoiler; highlight to read] is called the Ten Rings, which is a reference to Iron Man’s longtime archenemy the Mandarin, and is likely intended to lay the groundwork for the villain’s appearance in a sequel. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that when Tony initially refuses to meet their demands, he’s waterboarded, which is certainly portrayed as an ugly, painful procedure. But it does no lasting damage to him, and the conservative position on waterboarding has nothing to do with whether or not it’s pleasant to go through.

Iron Man is a great movie—equal parts excitement, humor, and heart, with political undertones that shouldn’t divide audiences, but do offer a healthy dose of moral clarity about our armed forces and our enemies, which should always be welcome on those rare occasions it comes out of Hollywood.

PS: While we’re on the subject, here’s
an interesting snapshot of Robert Downey’s real-life political leanings.

The Happy Warrior at Hillsdale

Wisecracking, liberty-loving pundit extraordinaire Mark Steyn just gave an outstanding speech here at Hillsdale. The topic: Western capitulation in the face of Islamic browbeating—an issue with which he has firsthand expertise, and covers in greater depth in America Alone. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Steyn after the talk.

Domestic Terrorism Averted

“There is no terrorist threat,” Michael Moore told us. Well, big guy, what say you about this?

Six foreign-born Muslims were arrested and accused Tuesday of plotting to attack the Army’s Fort Dix and massacre scores of U.S. soldiers — a plot the FBI says was foiled when the men took a video of themselves firing assault weapons to a store to have the footage put onto a DVD.

The defendants, all men in their 20s from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, include a pizza deliveryman suspected of using his job to scout out the military base.

“Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets,” said FBI agent J.P. Weiss.

“We had a group that was forming a platoon to take on an army. They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance. They had maps. And they were in the process of buying weapons. Luckily, we were able to stop that.”

Authorities said there was no direct evidence connecting them to any international terror organizations such as Al Qaeda. But several of the men said they were ready to kill and die “in the name of Allah,” according to court records.

Their goal was “to kill as many American soldiers as possible” in attacks with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and guns, prosecutors said.

Investigators said they infiltrated the group with an informant well over a year ago and bided their time while they secretly recorded the defendants, five of whom lived in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb about 20 miles from Fort Dix.

“This is what law enforcement is supposed to do in the post-9/11 era — stay one step ahead of those who are attempting to cause harm to innocent American citizens,” U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.

Weiss saluted the unidentified New Jersey store clerk who noticed the suspicious video as the “unsung hero” of the case. “That’s why we’re here today — because of the courage and heroism of that individual,” the FBI agent said.

In addition to plotting the attack on Fort Dix, the defendants spoke of attacking a Navy installation in Philadelphia during the annual Army-Navy football game, and conducted surveillance at other military installations in the region, prosecutors said.

One defendant, Eljvir Duka, was recorded as saying: “In the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone is trying attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad.”

[…]

“It doesn’t matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested or get taken away,” another defendant, Serdar Tatar, was alleged to have said. “Or I die, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing it in the name of Allah.”

The men trained by playing paintball in the woods in New Jersey and taking target practice at a firing range in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, where they had rented a house, authorities said.

They often watched terror training videos, clips featuring Usama bin Laden, a tape containing the last will and testament of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and tapes of armed attacks on U.S. military personnel, erupting in laughter when one plotter noted that a Marine’s arm was blown off in an ambush, authorities said.

[…]

In court documents, prosecutors said the suspects came to the attention of authorities in January 2006 when a Mount Laurel, N.J., shopkeeper alerted the FBI about a “disturbing” video he had been asked to copy onto a DVD.

The video showed 10 young men in their early 20s “shooting assault weapons at a firing range … while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is great),” the complaint said. The 10 included six of those arrested, authorities said.

By March 2006, the group had been infiltrated by an informant who developed a relationship with Shnewer, and the informant secretly recorded meetings last August, according to court documents.

One of the suspects, Tatar, worked at his father’s pizzeria and made deliveries to the base, using that opportunity to scout out Fort Dix for an attack, authorities said.

“Clearly, one of the guys had an intimate knowledge of the base from having been there delivering pizzas,” Christie said.

The men also allegedly conducted surveillance at other area military installations, including Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and a Philadelphia Coast Guard station.

[…]

“If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Sohail Mohammed, a lawyer who represented scores of detainees after the 2001 attacks. “But when the government says ‘Islamic militants,’ it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous.”

Some thoughts:

1.) Thank God a desire to avoid “Islamophobia” cries didn’t prevent that shopkeeper from sounding the alarm! I can hear the PC-ers now: “Is it a crime for Muslims to play paintball? You racist!” If he had played by CAIR’s rules, the Fort Dix bloodbath would’ve had a far greater likelihood of success. It needs to be hammered home that liberal “sensitivity” is going to get people killed.

(Yes, I heard about the other shootings reported today. I remember Virginia Tech. There’s plenty of violence that’s not Islam-related, and obviously we have to be ever vigilant about suspicious activity in general. But the point is that we cannot let our desire to be inoffensive smother our survival instinct, and blind us to factors like religion that, yes Virginia, are relevant.)

2.) What if these idiots didn’t record anything in the first place, or weren’t so careless with their words at the shooting range? It’s scary to think this might not have been preventable, and even scarier to consider how sophisticated their planning was, even without al-Qaeda training (if there wasn’t…). Another reason why we have to confront not just terrorist groups, but the ideology of jihad head-on.

3.) A couple of these guys were reportedly in the US illegally—a dire problem on which both parties are MIA.

In the Corner Mark Krikorian has more concerns, while Cliff May sees a hopeful sign. Go read ‘em both.

Life in Bush’s Amerika of Fear – or – CAIR Needs to Get a Life

The horror continues:

Two hours before the Islamic Center of Clarksville held its 1 p.m. Friday prayer service, called Jummah, a Quran was found vandalized on the front steps.

The front of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, read “Mohammad pedophile” while an expletive was written inside, smeared under two strips of bacon, according to a Clarksville Police report. The report labeled the incident a hate crime.

The bacon strips are offensive to Muslims because they are forbidden from eating pork.

Apparently, CAIR
wants the FBI to investigate the case. Last time I checked, the feds were kinda busy with that whole “global movement of Islamic fanatics trying to kill people en masse” thing. I’d rather they didn’t make detours for every vandalism case that comes their way.