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I hate slagging on Clay Jenkinson. He is one of the few people who have a view of the founding fathers based on anything resembling reality. But today's show made me crabby. My response is below the cut.

Dear Clay,
I want to expand on the quick note I sent while today's Jefferson Hour was playing. While I  understand the emotions behind your call for civility, I feel they are misguided and actually harmful to the political debate in this country.
I don't think we have ever had a civil debate on any of the great issues in this nation's history. Off the top of my head, I can only think of the "common" or public school movement as just about the only great change in this country that neither was promoted nor opposed with violent rhetoric or actions.
There are so many events that have been written out of the Whig version of United States history that of course we think that we are living at the worst possible moment of history. The pressure to make high school social studies about creating "good citizens" has meant that we cut out all the parts that reflect poorly on our common heritage. Look at the history of the union movement in this country. There were literal wars fought with much blood shed on both sides for the right to have labor contracts that were as binding on management as they were on workers. Federal troops fired on WWI veterans during the Bonus March in the 1930s. I don't call the fire hoses and police dogs, not to mention the failure to prosecute Klan violence in the 1960s as a civil discussion of voting rights. Even movements that seem innocuous to us now, like women's suffrage and temperance saw their founders and advocates either indulging in violence (Carrie Nation, for one) or jailed.
I would even put to you that Mr. Jefferson's great Declaration is not a civil document. Where is the acknowledgement that England had invested millions of pounds in creating the colonies where he lived? Did not English soldiers and sailors lay down their lives to protect colonists from the depredations of the French, Indians and Spanish? How many soldiers actually improved the lives of the families they were quartered with by sharing rations paid out of the Kings purse? How dare Jefferson call the King a tyrant, accuse the brave soldiers of base murder and self-sacrificing officials of harassment and theft. Mr. Jefferson himself admitted on your program that the majority of the colonists at the beginning of the war were Tories. What would our history have been if they had risen up and demanded Congress treat the Crown more civilly?
Would you have tossed aside Mr. Paine's screed as uncivil (as you would call for us to turn off Ed Schulz) because he described subjects of a monarchy as "a man, who is attached to a prostitute, is unfitted to choose or judge a wife, so any prepossession in favour of a rotten constitution of government will disable us from discerning a good one."
Over the centuries, many have wearied of the contentious issue of social change in the United States. They have been answered by better writers than me, including Frederick Douglass:
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
and Martin Luther King:
"I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
There was a reason medieval education was centered on the trivium - dialectics, rhetoric and grammar. I feel that you want to see a dialectic without the rhetoric, or the appeal to pathos. I can understand the appeal of the dialectic or logic over rhetoric. It goes back at least to Leibniz, who wished to reduce arguments to equations "and when there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, to see who is right." But without the appeal to what is moral and right, we simply wind up with King's negative peace, allowing society to be free from tension but as Douglass said, conceding victory to power.
I also have to disagree with you that the events in Arizona is an isolated instance. It may not be directly related to any individual speech, but in context it fits as one of 20 politically motivated attacks in the U.S. since July, 2008. You can find a list of the attacks here: http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/... I also recommend a book by David Neiwert, The Eliminationists, on how the rhetoric of the right wing has become more violent over the last 20 years.
The last point from the program that I must contest is when you blamed the Internet for much of lack of incivility today. I grew up in North Dakota in the 1960s and 70s and remember the influence of the Birchers and later the Posse Commitatus in many parts of the state. And just in case you think these people were out of the mainstream back then, in 1976 and 1977 I attended the Farm Bureau's CItizenship Seminar at the Peace Garden. One speaker who was there both years was W. Cleon Skousen. He was a Bircher and anticommunist crusader, not to mention a paranoid and a racist who was deplored by the mainstream right wing of the day. Reading his books and comparing them to real histories was one of my first steps in deciding to become a liberal. Skousen's works are now being championed by Glen Beck.
Up until the 1990s there was a right wing bookstore in the City Center Mall in Grand Forks. From there and by mail order a flood of right wing pamphlets went across the state where they were passed out at meetings and from hand to hand. They ranged from the illogical to the delusional to the truly crackpot. I remember one that did cross the line far enough to make the statewide news. It accused Allen Olson of running a prostitution and drug ring out of the governor's office. A more profound instance occurred when I visited the home of a respected state legislator in 1985. He showed me a pamphlet that said the Federal Reserve System was illegal. The scary part was when he told me he thought the document "made a lot of sense." These groups may not have been on the nightly news, but they were widely read and influential.
My point in all these stories your memories of a more civil discourse even here in North Dakota are based on false memories of a golden past. In my experience right wing violent rhetoric has been bubbling right under the surface for my entire life. It became legitimate in the 1980s and became mainstream 1990s. Civility in the public debate, if it ever existed, died long before the Internet became an everyday phenomenon.
Thank you for your programming. It is a real treat for me and a source of pride that it is a product of North Dakota. I hope my letter has been civil.
Jerry W. Kram

Originally posted to writerofag on Sat Jan 29, 2011 at 09:55 PM PST.

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