Afflict the comfortable

There's an old principle for preachers, adopted also by some journalists, that says fidelity to the truth calls us to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

The comfortable take offense whenever anyone follows this advice. They know better than to claim this treatment is unfair — fairness and justice are not concepts they're trying to promote — so they end up sniffing that it just seems rude.

"Civility" becomes the last bastion of those who cannot appeal to justice or the truth to make their case. If King David had behaved this way, he would never have repented of the murder of Uriah — he would just have told the prophet Nathan that it isn't polite to point.

Paul Krugman is not impressed with this newfound, thin-skinned variety of "civility." "There is no way to be both honest and polite about what has happened in these past three years," he writes, and:

It's impolite to say that George W. Bush is the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history, but it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise. … It's impolite to say that Mr. Bush has damaged our national security with his military adventurism, but it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.

The facts — runaway deficits, joblessness, carnage and anarchy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the alienation of our allies, just to name a few — are ugly and brutal. The people responsible for these facts find it incredibly rude of anyone to point them out.

And calls for accountability? Well that's just more evidence of low breeding and incivility.

  • Ross Judson

    Bush is increasingly an emperor, and his clothes? They are becoming transparent.

  • Jonathan Maccabee

    Where in anyone’s Scripture does it say to make people suffer because they are comfortable?
    I considered myself a man of the left for most of my political life, but this quote sounds like warmed-over Marxism to me. Of course, Karl Marx never met any paparazzos, either.
    Too many journalists, in my experience both within and as an observer of the profession, don’t really care who they hurt. If they take a comfortable person down, appealing to jealousy, they see it as a good career move. Those journalists whose practices are most acceptable to their corporate management become editors. Those editors make such “low blow” journalism a remunerative career move.
    A list of the top-selling political books has been circulating among lefty bloggers, with some glee that most are by Democrats. Dude, I don’t think that writing a book called “Stupid White Men”, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”, “The Bush Dyslexicon” or “You Know Who Is A Big Fat Stupid-Head” elevates the truth.
    And to associate an insistence on civility with upper-class bigotry is something I’m used to hearing from Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, and Ann Coulter.
    If we’re not demagogues, our actions have to show it.

  • Sven

    Jonathan, I think you’re missing the point. “Comfortable” doesn’t mean upper class in this case; it means out of touch with reality and the suffering of others.
    Most Americans can’t seem to be bothered with Iraq and the economy, unless it’s their child being sent off to war or their job being eliminated. The David Brookses of the world want to reduce such things to idle cocktail chatter, putting them on par with witty observations on BoBos’ buying habits.
    Krugman is saying that one cannot be “civil” when describing the Bush administration agenda, because it goes beyond civil politics as defined only a few short years ago. Bush’s foreign and fiscal policies are some of the most radical in American history, producing an unprovoked preventative war and the largest budget deficits ever.
    It’s a supreme irony — and a sign of how “comfortable” (or comfortably numb) the country is in regard to the direction Bush is leading it — that Krugman is labled an unhinged radical, when he’s the one yearning for a return to a relatively conservative public policy path. David Brooks is the one tacitly endorsing an agenda that if left in place will fundamentally alter American society.
    But hey — as long as you got yours and I got mine, who cares, right?

  • jim

    Slacktivist, you should do your research before you offer your own assumptions as though they are fact. The very beginning of the article serves to illustrate the poor foundation upon which this article is built. Your regurgitation of chiche and political rhetoric doesn’t substitute for fact, unless it’s with the fanatical choir of the already-converted. There is no ‘old principle for preachers that calls for fidelity to truth to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ It’s a paraphrase from a fictitious story by newpaper man and author Finley Peter Dunne. It was a lampoon of newspaper’s arrogance. Ironically, the words you attempt to quote have in fact been lifted and used by countless journalists, e.g. Clare Luce and James Reston, to try to lend nobility to their profession. It’s also been lifted and used by clergy, by the late Princess Diana, and Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. And now by you. And like you, it’s likely that didn’t from whence it came, either. Lest you think this places you in good company, however, know that most of these are to be excused, since the balance of thier commentary shows that, unlike you, they knew what they were talking about.


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