A speech by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) has recently gotten a lot of media attention. In the speech, given in 2009 to The Ripon Society, Daniels said this:
“We better be thinking about those things that unite us, and we better be extraordinarily understanding of those who disagree. … So, lastly I want to say that the next Republican majority or its representatives — not to be trivial about it — but ours needs to be a friendly sort of politics. … And, by the way, I think the door is open to us on this. The meanest people I see in American politics right now are on the left. That’s not a caricature. … it comes naturally. If you believe that you are a superior person, intellectually or morally elite, and therefore well suited to order the affairs of everybody else, then power and access to it means everything to you. And you’ll do anything — just about anything to get there. So, I don’t believe that that’s the kind of politics ultimately the American people respond well to. … have a sunny disposition, even about those that we totally disagree.”
These remarks are similar to ones Daniels made to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and share the same flaw: Daniels is calling for civility and then calling his opponents names. On the one hand, he instructs Republicans to be understanding of and friendly to people who disagree with them. But, on the other hand, he says that the meanest people in politics, currently, are those on the left.
People frequently say this sort of thing: “Sure, there’s name-calling from both sides politics, but their side does it more than our side does!” Nobody, as far as I know, has ever come up with evidence — meaning a rigorous, empirical study — that proves this. And Daniels hasn’t offered any. Instead, he insists that he’s not caricaturing the left (i.e., liberals, progressives, Democrats), and argues that, because people on the left fancy themselves smart enough to “order the affairs of everybody else”, they are “naturally” out for power, will do “just about anything” to get it, and are therefore meaner than Republicans.
But this argument itself has a host of flaws. How is it that the left, but not the right: (A) want to order the affairs of others; (B) think their policies are intellectually and morally superior; (C) think of themselves as superior to the people with whom they disagree and/or want to affect with their policies; (D) desire power in order to implement the policies they think are correct?
Daniels might not think he’s derisively caricaturing the left, but he is. He’s saying they engage in more uncivil behavior without giving evidence of it. And the argument he gives that the left exhibits more “holier-than-thou” attitude than the right is riddled with questionable premises.
As before — well, after, actually, in his 2011 CPAC speech — Daniels is calling for civility and then immediately demonizing his opponents. He might as well be saying, “Those S.O.B.s aren’t civil, like us.”