From week to week, the most feverish battle between the left and the right isn’t over health-care policy or even the war in Iraq. It’s over who can claim the title of “most outraged.” The right had the upper hand in sputtering indignation for awhile, thanks to the Moveon.org ad that referred to Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, as “General Betray Us.” But now it’s the left that’s apoplectic, accusing conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh of referring to members of the military who question the Iraq war as “phony soldiers.” You need not be a cynic to suspect that the critics are actually gleeful about their nemeses’ gaffes: Under the new rules of political debate, you are responsible for any stupid comments made by your ideological allies—unless, of course, you “denounce” them. Hence the right’s demands that Democrats denounce Moveon.org and the left’s insistence that Republicans denounce Limbaugh. “We’ve entered a permanent state of hysterical overreaction,” said Kurt Andersen in New York magazine, in which the offended are constantly calling for the offenders to be fired, silenced, or shunned.
That’s wearying enough, but now even the U.S. Congress is getting into the umbrage act. The House and Senate recently passed GOP-sponsored resolutions “condemning” and “repudiating” the Moveon.org ad. In response, congressional Democrats want to pass a resolution condemning Limbaugh’s comment. Even if such resolutions are symbolic, there’s something inherently chilling in the federal government’s condemning citizens’ words and ideas. Congress has plenty of substantive problems on its plate—for starters, the Iraq war, the deficit, and immigration. And yet it chooses to spend its time denouncing political advertisements and talk-show hosts? Now that’s an outrage. - Eric Effron