Greetings to the readers of Dangerous Intersection! My name is Adam Lee, though on the internet I usually go by Ebonmuse, and I’m the owner and proprietor of the weblog Daylight Atheism. Erich Vieth has given me the opportunity to write a guest post here, and I couldn’t turn down his generous offer.
As it happens, there is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. In particular, I was inspired by Michael Moore’s wonderful op-ed, A Liberal’s Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives, which I came across from a recent post on this very site. Say what you will about Michael Moore – many people have – but his essay, to me, stands out for its compassionate and gracious tone. It contains no gloating over the Republicans’ defeat, no mocking them for their loss. On the contrary, it empathizes with them and assures them that they have nothing to fear.
Especially noteworthy, I thought, was this point:
We will always respect you. We will never, ever, call you “unpatriotic” simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.
Now, the question: Does anyone believe for even a moment that, if the Republican party had won these elections, we would be hearing the same tune from their pundits and spokespeople? The answer, which I hope should be obvious to everyone, is: Of course not.
Had the Republicans won, they would be gloating to high heaven, mocking and ridiculing their opponents, and casting sneering personal aspersions on them at every opportunity. I know that this would be the case because this is exactly what we have been hearing from them nonstop for the past six years: an endless stream of vicious, mean-spirited attacks on the courage, patriotism and personal character of anyone who dared disagree with them in any way.
I could cite many examples from the last few years, the most recent of which was Rush Limbaugh’s infamous suggestion that Michael J. Fox had purposely exaggerated the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease. But there are many others: Max Cleland, a decorated war hero who lost three limbs defending his country, was compared to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Ann Coulter accused the widows of men who died on September 11 of “enjoying” their husbands’ deaths. Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq, was vilified in some of the most disgusting ways imaginable by right-wing pundits given a national platform by the media. John Kerry, a decorated veteran who volunteered to serve in Vietnam and was wounded in combat, had his service mocked by attendees of the 2004 Republican national convention. John Murtha, another decorated veteran and a former Marine, was called a coward on the very floor of the House by Republican Jean Schmidt. In the 2006 elections, Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran who lost both her legs in the line of duty, was accused of wanting to “cut and run” by her congressional opponent. Republican Barbara Cubin, running for the U.S. House in Wyoming, walked over to the Libertarian candidate Thomas Rankin after a debate – Rankin is disabled by multiple sclerosis and uses an electric wheelchair – and said to him, “If you weren’t sitting in that chair, I’d slap you across the face.” And all these are just the best-known examples of a vast pool of right-wing sewage from which countless more equally repugnant statements could be produced.
The pattern that all these separate incidents reflect and exemplify is the scorched-earth strategy of politics adopted by today’s conservative right. Rather than encouraging people who disagree with them to voice their views, as Michael Moore and many other liberals have done, modern American conservatism has become a win-at-any-cost strategy that admits of no nuance and no dissent. The only thing that followers of this strategy value is getting their own way about everything, and anyone who disagrees with them is The Enemy and is to be destroyed, at all costs, by whatever means are necessary. There is no attack too vile, too outrageous, or too blatantly false for them to use, if it helps them achieve their goals.
There is no reason why it has to be this way. Respect for one’s opponents and for the political process is not a liberal value, nor is it a conservative value. It is an American value (which is not to say that it is not shared by many other countries as well).
The very reason we have a democracy is so we, as citizens, can come together and engage in a spirited process of debate and persuasion over which course of action will produce the greatest benefit for all of us, not just for the members of one political party. This political philosophy does not rule out vigorous disagreement, nor even strong criticism of a politician’s actions when that criticism is merited. Those things are normal parts of any healthy democracy.
What is out of bounds is the relentless demonization and non-stop ad hominem attacks that have become so common in American politics. While the Democrats are by no means innocent of this, the Republicans are far worse, using these tactics far more often – indeed routinely – and with an unparalleled level of viciousness and shamelessness. As I said, there is no reason why it must always be this way.
There are principled conservatives who recognize what has happened and lament what the Republican party has become – I would offer John Cole as one, and there are others. If we are fortunate, the Republicans’ recent crushing midterm losses will awaken more of them to the poisonous and irresponsible course of action their party has taken and give support to those who want to return it to the path of honesty and sanity.
About the Author (Author Profile)I'm an author, skeptic and computer programmer living in New York City. I'm also an unapologetic atheist, and believe passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they've been given in the past. Since politicians and the mainstream media aren't willing to give us that, it falls to us to take our case directly to the public. Both on my own weblog, Daylight Atheism, and here on Dangerous Intersection, I hope to be able to spread the good news of freethought!
Sites That Link to this Post
- Daylight Atheism > New on Dangerous Intersection: Scorched-Earth Politics | October 18, 2010