But the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus wrote a column this morning castigating the teen for her incivility. And Greenwald has piped up criticizing Marcus for showing undue deference to elected officials:
Behold the mind of the American journalist: Marcus — last seen in this space three years ago demanding that Bush officials be fully shielded from all accountability for their crimes (the ultimate expression of “respect for authority”) — wants everyone to learn and be guided by extreme deference to political officials and to humbly apologize when they offend those officials with harsh criticism. In other words, Marcus wants all young citizens to be trained to be employees of The Washington Post. In a just world, Marcus’ column would be written instead by Sullivan’s mother, who exudes what the journalistic ethos should be — “I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Governor Brownback, I say for her to go for it” — but people who think that way only rarely receive establishment media platforms. Instead, we’re plagued with the Ruth Marcuses of the world — “inculcate values of respect for authority”!!! — and that explains a lot.Only it doesn't. Greenwald's criticism of Marcus presumes that dissenting from and criticizing elected authorities goes hand-in-hand with uncivil rudeness. It doesn't.
Gandhi managed to end British rule in India without saying of Churchill that "he blows a lot." Martin Luther King Jr. challenged entrenched racism in the the American south without saying that George Wallace "blows a lot." And I'm pretty sure that Rosa Parks kept her seat at the front of the bus without saying the bus driver "blows a lot."
Civility doesn't equal deference, nor does it equal silence. In the case of King and Parks, in particular, civility was a key component to making a forceful, sustained, morally unimpeachable challenge to the systems that oppressed them. That doesn't always work: Sometimes a little jerkiness does help. But not always. Again: It's a huge mistake to assume that civility is surrender.
Brownback's staff overreacted. (I once covered a murder trial with his spokeswoman, back when she was a Topeka TV reporter; let's just say I'm not surprised.) And I don't really disagree with the assessment made by Emma Sullivan, the teen tweeter. To the extent that it revealed a paranoid strain in Brownback's governance, maybe she was even inadvertently successful. But thousands upon thousands of Kansans work against the governor's agenda every day—through donations, communication, and lobbying—without resorting to barnyard language. They aren't showing undue deference; they're just behaving like adults.