Liberals' concern for civility didn't last long

Was it hours, days or weeks before progressives jettisoned their faux fur of civility after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords?

Following the January 8 rampage by Jared Lee Loughner, which killed 6 and injured 14, including the Arizona Democrat, President Barack Obama said, "Let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud." Commentators swooned. Members of Congress from different parties paired up to watch the State of the Union address instead of partitioning themselves by Republican and Democratic lines.

Of the new seating arrangements, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland said he believed, "Congress has a responsibility to set an example of less ugly, less divisive debate. … We must always consider ourselves Americans first, and Democrats or Republicans second."

It was all so kumbaya — for a minute.

Those loving sentiments are now a layer in the political landfill, crushed further down each day by new shipments of garbage.

Since then Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mr. Obama decided to attack Libya, and liberal legislators in various states around the country fled their borders to protest legislation they didn't like, comparing themselves to anti-government demonstrators in the Middle East.

And everyone is back to name calling. Mr. Obama described the debate over collective bargaining in Wisconsin as "an assault on unions." Protesters displayed signs that included the slogans, "It's War! Be afraid [Gov. Scott] Walker!" and "Union workers: when we get scr****, we multiply."

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley told a crowd of union members earlier this month, "You will not find in Maryland the sort of Midwestern oppression that you find in Ohio and Wisconsin."

Union members in Montgomery County stormed County Executive Ike Leggett's office last week chanting "Come on Ike; get off your golden toilet" and carrying signs including "Leggett stop cra***** on us" to protest changes to their health care and pension benefits.

Is it a case of amnesia or one of the emperor not only having no clothes but running naked through the streets revealing cellulite for the world to see?

Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University, says: "Politicians always have a way to explain inconsistency because no two events are seen as completely identical. The rhetorical point is to always say that either the situation has changed and/or there is a greater value operating."

He added, "In the case of the Wisconsin protests and legislative flight, the claim is that the values of 'survival of the middle class' and the future of unions, which have overcome terrible worker exploitation in the past, justify the protests and legislative exodus in this case."

So, in other words, the ends justify the means. Isn't that the policy conservatives are always accused of practicing — or at least those in other states where they have a measure of power?

It is not surprising that politicians do not abide by their word. But Mr. Obama and progressives are supposed to be different. They branded themselves by standing up to power, not manipulating others with it. Many envisioned Mr. Obama fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a free and just society.

Americans elected that man who promised hope and change, the one who said in his inaugural address, "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

He and his allies in state houses and unions around the nation have shown those words to be a lie.

That a critically injured Gabrielle Giffords is a pawn in a liberal power play makes it even worse.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is

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