Friday, February 10, 2006

Brass-Knuckle Civility 

One thing we've noticed about Republicans and civility: they sure can take it, but they can't dish it out. From the L.A. Times, courtesy of Zemblan patriot M.F., here's Rosa Brooks on the funeral of Coretta Scott King, where Rev. Joseph Lowery and President Jimmy Carter had some choice words for another prominent mourner who is not in the habit of facing direct criticism:

IT'S TIME TO TAKE a stand against civility, decency and appropriateness.

No, I'm not suggesting that you should stop saying "please" and "thank you." But lately, the claims about civility that come from the political right seem to mask an unstated and troubling assertion: Never, ever, challenge anyone in power . . . .

Within hours, conservative pundits began to condemn Carter and Lowery for tactlessness, poor manners and a range of other sins. On MSNBC's "Hardball," the National Review's Kate O'Beirne denounced Lowery's and Carter's remarks as "completely inappropriate … cheap shot[s] … bad form." On Fox, Sean Hannity inveighed against Lowery and Carter for "attacking" Bush while he was at a funeral "to honor this woman … can you not see the lack of decency?" . . . .

When she marched beside her husband through the streets of Montgomery, Ala., King didn't worry about being "appropriate." Had she been a little more "appropriate," she would have stayed "in her place," content with the back of the bus and the inferior facilities reserved for "colored" people.

When her husband was assassinated in 1968, King kept right on being inappropriate. A day before his funeral, at a time when many conventionally "decent" women might have stayed home weeping, she took his place marching with striking Memphis sanitation workers and, soon after, spoke at an anti-Vietnam War rally.

King never did stop being "inappropriate" and "tactless." She spoke out against homophobia, even when some of her own friends wanted to look the other way. "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people, and I should stick to the issue of racial justice," she said in 1998. "But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' "

In his State of the Union address last week, the president assured us that "even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone."

Fine with me, but personally, I saw nothing uncivil about the remarks made by Lowery and Carter.

At the funeral of a woman who spent her life speaking out about civil rights, injustice, poverty and war, how can it be inappropriate to allude to the terrible costs of the war in Iraq, the misinformation that led to that war, the neglect of this nation's poor or this administration's illegal secret surveillance?

And if Bush was offended by Lowery's and Carter's remarks? Tough luck. If we have to choose between a civil tone and standing up for civil rights, I know which one I'll take.

UPDATE: If you're wondering why the President's dam wasn't at the funeral, our distinguished colleage Attaturk can tell you.

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