MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good Thursday morning and thank you for joining us today. It’s the 17th of May. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next on The World and Everything in It, confrontational politics.
The award-winning film from last year, Darkest Hour, may have reminded you of the human drama of government. You find this almost anytime self-governing people try to resolve their differences. You may have heard the expression, politics is war conducted by other means.
The film opens with a boisterous parliamentary revolt against then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Britain faces the relentless advance of Nazi Germany. Its troops stranded at Dunkirk. Europe’s collapse imminent.
The leader of the opposition, Clement Atlee!
Mr. Speaker, it seems that I have not been clear enough! Then let me leave no doubt about my feelings regarding Mr. Chamberlain’s future as prime minister.
Will the right honorable gentleman give way?
… In the country’s interest, man!
Step down and let us find a new leader!
Shame! Shame on you!
REICHARD: Of course, all this gave rise to Winston Churchill and victory against Adolf Hitler, saving Europe and the West against a nightmare regime.
But is all political combat healthy?
Is there a line self-governing people ought not cross?
WORLD Radio commentator Cal Thomas has some thoughts.
CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: “Question Time” has long been one of my favorite exercises of parliamentary democracy.
The prime minister and government ministers appear before other elected members in support of their policies. The opposition asks pointed questions and often makes bold demands, as you just heard.
This sort of vigorous politics prevails today.
At Westminster in London, “Question Time” often makes great political entertainment. I’ll often watch it on C-SPAN when I’m home.
Last week, I was in Australia’s capital. The performance I watched from the visitor’s gallery was quite the opposite: not entertaining at all.
One government minister referred to an opposition member as “corrupt.” Called him “shifty,” even a liar.
That this labeling is often preceded by the required “my right honorable friend,” or “the right honorable member” does not mitigate the tone of much of what passes for modern political debate.
Across from where I sat a large group of school children watched the adults go at each other.
I wondered what they were thinking and what kind of example was being set before them. If they misbehaved and their teacher admonished them, would they use what they had seen in Parliament as exculpatory?
American politics is also getting worse in the Trump era.
Last week, a White House aide dismissed remarks by Senator John McCain opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to become director of the CIA.
According to a leak from a closed-door meeting, Kelly Sadler said that McCain had become “irrelevant” because “he’s dying anyway,” a horrifyingly obvious reference to his battle with brain cancer.
No apology was forthcoming from anyone at the White House.
President Trump is not alone in bearing responsibility for this low level of rhetoric.
He has, however, given permission to his supporters to speak in similar ways by his own caustic language.
It is not just the disgusting nature of such remarks that should offend.
We are not each other’s enemies. We are fellow Americans. We often disagree, but ought to do so with some level of respect for each other.
Why this increasingly angry and poisonous pattern of speech?
For creatively cutting remarks in history, it is hard to top what the late British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said of Neville Chamberlain: “A retail mind in a wholesale business.”
Or comments by the English journalist William Cobbett about Benjamin Franklin: “A crafty lecherous old hypocrite whose very statue seems to gloat on the wenches as they walk the States House yard.”
Those and other insults, while biting, seemed more creative and less harmful than some of the venomous rhetoric that characterizes modern political discourse.
In the Australian parliament, members repeatedly talked over each other.
Increasingly this characterizes American political speech with some of the worst practitioners invited as guests on cable news where they denounce each other as unpatriotic, and worse.
These are poor role models for the children in the balcony here and in America, who are learning lessons better left unlearned about how adults behave.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.