Why are some folks so eager to brand political opponents as hateful bigots? And what follows, logically, from the widespread acceptance of this practice?
One thing that follows from viewing adversaries as ranting haters is sign vandalism—as numerous statewide stories about the disappearance of “Yes on Prop 8” signs indicate. The rationale one enthusiastic North County sign-snatcher gave for her actions was that government should only be in the business of giving rights, not taking them away.
It didn’t occur to this speech-suppressor that she was violating someone else’s First Amendment rights or that the issue in question is precisely what rights California should recognize when it comes to marriage.
I’d be surprised if this petty political thief would cling to her rights-only logic if the topic were smoking cigarettes on the beach or allowing her Carlsbad neighbors the “right” to do whatever they please with their property. In those critical cases (as opposed to the question of changing a basic, millennia-old social institution) pros and cons would surely need to be discussed.
The real beauty of branding political opponents as haters is that one doesn’t have to deal with specific arguments. Mere declarations of rights and ad hominem invective are all that’s required. By stigmatizing the other side as less honorable than pond scum, one can ignore arguments as smokescreens.
A common inference made by advocates of same-sex marriage was that Prop 8 supporters fell in the same class as individuals who denied rights to black Americans or interned Japanese-Americans during World War II. By this logic the reasonable assertion that male-female marriage reflects natural law and promotes the optimum child-rearing framework was transformed into hate-speech—not a category of discourse that voters need to accord a respectful hearing.
It’s ironic that the lion’s share of negative epithets in the marriage campaign came from the supposedly “tolerant” side of the debate. Just check the Letters page and review the TV ads for derogatory terms that concerned personal character.
Moreover, while I’m sure that some “No on 8” signs were snatched or defaced by Prop 8 proponents, every indication I’ve seen (including a prominent YouTube video) is that most of the vandalism came from the side that was utterly convinced it occupied the high political ground.
That’s because traditional folk tend to honor long-established ethical rules (like “Thou shalt not steal”) and are somewhat less likely to violate mom’s oft-repeated injunction against name-calling. “Progressives,” on the other hand, are more likely to embrace an “ends justify the means” philosophy, to view personal morality and f-bomb language as flexible conventions, and to impute the basest of motives to political enemies—all for the sake of political goals that are embraced with religious fervor.
The future of democracy isn’t bright when half the voting population are routinely labeled as bigots. After all, bigots deserve no respect, and trivial democratic procedures needn’t be observed by partisans whose political ideas (like religious dogmas) are considered beyond questioning.