Sunday, June 11, 2006

How To Argue With the Bereaved: It's Called Civility

John Tierney in Saturday's Times:
Arguing with someone in mourning just isn't done--unless, of course, you are Ann Coulter and you have a new book to sell.

She managed to offend everyone from Hillary Clinton to Bill O'Reilly by suggesting that some of the activist widows of the Sept. 11 victims were enjoying their husbands' deaths. That's over the top even for Coulter. But she has identified a real problem: how do you conduct a political argument with grieving relatives?
The "real problem" Tierney and Ann Coulter have identified is, of course, a phony one. It's perfectly easy to argue with grieving relatives like the 9/11 widows. You just start by saying something like, "I sympathize with your loss and the deep sorrow you must be feeling. But with all due respect, I must disgree with you." Absolutely no one would question your right to argue that way.

Perhaps the real problem is that too many on the right have forgotten how to debate without using personal smears (see the swift boating of John Kerry and the personal attacks on everyone from Joe Wilson to Cindy Sheehan). For these people, the notion of respectful disagreement has evidently become so foreign that they can't imagine how to argue with people that are practically smear-proof. So instead they start frothing at the mouth.

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