It was an ugly spectacle in Lansing the other day. A Republican lawmaker predicted blood on the streets. Profanity-spewing Chamber of Commerce goons went after union demonstrators. Anarcho-capitalists tried to push their way into a state building protected by the police.
The events chagrined editorialists around the country and Sunday show producers scrambled to book the most excruciatingly thoughtful guests they could find to hold forth at length about the importance of civility in politics.
Of course, none of these things actually happened. The inflammatory rhetoric and small-time thuggery in Michigan were all the work of the left in response to a new right-to-work law and will surely pass all but unnoticed by the people who consider it their calling to tsk-tsk about “the tone” of political debate.
Civility is one of the most absurdly abused of our political values. It is always centrally important to our functioning as a democracy — right up until the time someone proposes crossing the unions. Then, it goes from “can’t we all get along?” to “nothing to see here.” Then, out come the Hitler signs, the accusations of dictatorship, the huge inflatable rats, the sit-ins, the threats and even the fists, and all anyone can think to say is, “Isn’t it a shame someone had to go and get the unions angry?”