Saturday, January 29, 2005

The enraged speeches and street disorders across the country that accompanied the second Inauguration of President Bush may tell us more than we want to know about what is happening to this country.

The media dignify these outbursts by calling them “protests.” But what are they protesting?

That they lost the election? Doesn’t somebody always lose an election? Did the Republicans take to the streets when Bill Clinton was elected?

Are the shouters and the rioters protesting that they disagree with Mr. Bush’s policies? Isn’t that why we hold elections in the first place — because people disagree?

Elections are supposed to be an alternative to other ways of settling political differences, including riots, military coups and dictatorships. But riots have been rechristened “demonstrations” by the mealy-mouth media.

What are these “demonstrations” demonstrating — other than adolescent self-indulgence and contempt for the rights of other people to go about their lives without finding their streets clogged with hooligans and the air filled with obscenities?

Ironically, many of those indulging in these strident orgies are the same ones who told us to “get over it” and “move on” during Bill Clinton’s scandals. Today the liberal is the last place where people are willing to move on.

While this is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the political left, the increasing acceptance of irresponsible behavior — including vandalism and violence — as a normal part of our public discourse says something about what is happening to this country as a whole.

Not only is there a growing class of people for whom indignation is a way of life, but their sophomoric slogans are taken seriously by people who should know better. Moreover, their disruptions of the lives of ordinary people are accepted as if this were nothing more than free speech.

The media even give rioters free air time in exchange for a spectacle to enliven their news programs. The taxpayers who foot the bill for mob control seldom rate a mention. Neither do the police injured trying to keep hoodlums in check.

This may be some people’s idea of a healthy democracy, but it is more a sign of spreading sickness in a society too wimpish to insist that law and order matter and too mushy-minded to see self-indulgence at the expense of others is not idealism.

If we were a little more clearheaded, these organized disruptions could be a valuable lesson in what the political leftists really believe in, and what kind of world they would create if they ever get the kind of power they seek.

First of all, the left does not accept the proposition that other people have as many rights as they. This is obvious not only in the disorder and vandalism they inflict in the streets but also their intolerance on academic campuses across the country, where students who question the party line are hemmed in by speech codes and ridiculed and intimidated by professors who do not hesitate to punish them with low grades.

Ask any environmental extremist if people who don’t care about preserving swamps (“wetlands”) have the same rights under the Constitution as the green movement people. Homosexual activists who demand tolerance and sensitivity from others do not hesitate to include in their parades insulting skits mocking nuns and others in the Catholic Church.

When pro-life demonstrators tried to hold a peaceful march in San Francisco on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, a pro-abortion crowd not only followed them, shouting to drown them out and hurling insults, some sat down in their path to block the march and force them to detour.

We are seeing the ugly face of intolerance under the idealistic pretense of protest. We need to recognize it for what it is, even if the media refuse to do so.

Above all, we need to see it as a warning of where our society is headed. Whether at home or abroad, if political conflicts are reduced to contests between wimps and the barbarians, the barbarians will win.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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