The courtesies of debate

Peggy Noonan offers a fascinating commentary in the Wall Street Journal on the way Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton debate their opponents.

She rightly points out that if George W Bush, or any other leading Republican used such scathing personal attacks on Democrats it would be widely condemned in the mainstream media. She might have added that when Dick Cheney made a much milder comment about national security policy - it amounted to nothing more than saying he thought the administration's policies were the most effective way of keeping Americans safe, and that other policies would be less effective - he WAS condemned in the mainstream media.

Where I think Ms Noonan is on weaker ground is in her conclusion. She believes that Dean and Clinton will pay an electoral price for their intemperate words. Broadly speaking, I think not. Most people would listen to such talk of "good and evil" and think, "pah! Politicians are all the same". In this sense, of the way the American political debate is being coarsened, politicians are NOT all the same. But I think all will suffer diminished respect as a result.

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