In defense of candor

IN DEFENSE OF CANDOR…. Fox News’ Dana Perino, in an odd display, went a little over the top yesterday when criticizing President Obama’s speech on debt reduction. The president, Perino argued, said “offensive, crazy things” in his remarks. She added that Obama “called the Republicans un-American.”

Now, the oft-confused Fox News personality is simply wrong on the merits — the president didn’t accuse Republicans of being “un-American,” and this was hardly an “offensive, crazy” speech. Perino’s just not very good at the whole “political analysis” thing.

But her bizarre criticism is part of a larger truth — Republicans are aggressively pushing the line that Obama hurt their feelings. When the president criticized the radical GOP budget plan, and explained (accurately) the extent to which Republicans are responsible for the current budget mess, he was apparently being “uncivil” and “partisan.”

As the argument goes, if only the president weren’t such a big meanie, GOP leaders might be more inclined to work with him.

This is all rather pathetic, which is why I was glad to see Paul Krugman offer a defense of incivility today. The point isn’t to stick up for name-calling or juvenile taunts, but rather, to explain that the two major parties “don’t just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes…. So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about?”

Sorry to be cynical, but right now “bipartisan” is usually code for assembling some conservative Democrats and ultraconservative Republicans — all of them with close ties to the wealthy, and many who are wealthy themselves — and having them proclaim that low taxes on high incomes and drastic cuts in social insurance are the only possible solution.

This would be a corrupt, undemocratic way to make decisions about the shape of our society even if those involved really were wise men with a deep grasp of the issues. It’s much worse when many of those at the table are the sort of people who solicit and believe the kind of policy analyses that the Heritage Foundation supplies.

So let’s not be civil. Instead, let’s have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats believe that Republicans are talking cruel nonsense, they should say so — and take their case to the voters.

That is, I suspect, an outcome the GOP and its allies fear, which no doubt leads them to push the “the president is being mean to us” line that much more aggressively.