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Forfeiting Respect

aretha-respect

I wrote three days ago that my favorite blogger, hilzoy, announced her retirement, effective on Friday. I also quoted from her retirement announcement, which I won’t repeat here. But let me quote from her last post.

A democracy is essentially about determining the course of our nation together. To do that, it helps a lot to have a good citizenry. A good citizenry is informed, serious about things that are worth taking seriously, and not liable to be led off course by demagogues. (Everyone doesn’t have to be like this, but you need a critical mass of people who are.) But I’ve always thought that a good citizenry is also composed of people who assume, until proven wrong, that many of the people who disagree with them are acting in good faith.

This matters for policy: you’re unlikely to choose sound policies if you assume that anyone who disagrees with you is a depraved, corrupt imbecile. It’s hard to learn anything from people you have completely written off. But it’s also corrosive to any kind of community or dialogue to assume the worst about large numbers of people you’ve never met. It makes you less willing to try to take their problems seriously, and to try to figure out how they might be solved, or to try to understand what’s driving them.

I hate it when people do this to me. I never wanted to do it to them. … I also wanted to try, if at all possible, to treat people, and most especially my political opponents, with respect, except where respect had been clearly forfeited. (Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, I’m thinking of you.) Because, as I said, I think it’s just corrosive to democracy if people are not willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to one another. Besides, it’s uncharitable and wrong, and besides that, perhaps some people would survive in a world in which no one was ever more generous to them than they deserve, but I am quite sure that I would not.

hilzoy’s sentiments came to mind yesterday afternoon when I was catching up on days of the Wall Street Journal. There’s much that I enjoy in the WSJ. But they do manage to put a lot of people on their op-ed page who fall hilzoy’s category of forfeiting respect. Two of them appeared in Thursday’s paper: Karl Rove with his weekly column and John Yoo with a piece explaining, according to the headline, “why we endorse warrantless wiretaps.” I didn’t get past Yoo’s headline. Have we not had enough of his justifications for illegal government activities? Anyway, I gave you the links. Read them if you can.

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