If you start with the assumption that the opposition is betraying America, you become desperate to win. It's not your ideas versus their ideas, it's the survival of the country that's at stake. Once cemented in the collective psyche, the desperation justifies any tactic. After all, the right is saving America -- saving democracy -- even as it undermines it.
The right leverages terrorism to intensify the sense of urgency in opposing liberalism in all its forms. Terrorism is particularly useful because the threat is everywhere and nowhere. The threat is constant, infinite, and undefeatable. A perfect tool to whip the base into a frenzy where anything goes.
When anything goes, the Swift Boat Vets can slime John Kerry's decorated military service. Operatives from that campaign can move on to slime the AARP as being anti-military and pro-gay. Bush and his merry band of privatizeers can travel the country compounding one lie upon the other all in the name of saving Social Security.
The anything goes attitude leads directly to my favorite play from Karl Rove's Guide to Good Government: begin the debate by accusing the other side of every bad act you intend to undertake. It's a great tactic given the he said/she said press, because the worst result is that the waters get muddied. Via Hinderocket, we learn that the left is politicizing the war on terror -- the left doesn't really care about protecting America, they care about power. It's a familiar charge. But what's the reality? Tom Ridge meets with Frank Luntz before a tour of swing states. We spend more per capita to protect Wyoming than New York City. We're spending millions to protect ports in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kentukcy when the money would be better spent protecting our largest, busiest ports.
In today's politics, we don't miss civility so much as we miss reality.