Hate Speech: A response

Feb 7, 2007 6:40pm

Thanks to all who have weighed in on the issue of John Edwards’ "blogmaster" Amanda Marcotte. All voices and views are welcome here. The whole point of "Pushback" is to provoke a discussion, to take a look at the news and start talking about it. And that, of course, is the hope of the blogosphere–a place where hard facts, sharp opinions, original insights and roiling passions combine to deepen and extend our national debate. With any luck, it’ll make us all smarter and better citizens. So: I truly appreciate all who have pushed back at me here.

Let’s continue.

First, a lot of you have objected to my suggestion that some of what Marcotte has written "might well be construed as hate speech." Here’s what I hope is a representative sampling of some of those objections:

Posted by: Karen | Feb 7, 2007 1:20:57 PM: "The title of this post is absolutely ridiculous. None of those posts are hate speech. But nice attempt at silencing free speech, Mr. Moran."

Posted by: Seth | Feb 6, 2007 8:07:57 PM: "This is hardly hate speech. It may be raw and not my style, but it doesn’t fall within the parameters of hate speech. Perhaps you’re thinking of Limbaugh, Colter and Savage? They are the real experts on hate speech in commercial blog/radio show America today."

Posted by: Mark | Feb 7, 2007 2:51:36 PM: "Apparenlty Terry Moran has never read Blogs before, because if he had, he would realize that these remarks are hardly "hate speech", espeically when considering the lovely langugage Malkin, Coulter, and Limbaugh use on a daily basis."

A couple of points. First, it seems to me that trashing the sacred beliefs of another person in sexually explicit or scatological terms for the purpose of wounding and delegitimizing the other person could fairly be construed as hateful. The gutter is always the comfortable resort of haters. That’s why white supremacists use the word "n*****" and slander all black men by portraying them as sexually predatory beasts; that’s why antisemites repeat the blood libel. For another disgusting example of this kind of discourse, check out what "James" wrote about Islam in response to my post on Edwards and Marcotte (at 2:40:24 PM EDT); pure hatred, in my view.

There are all kinds of ways to dispute what another person says or believes. Sometimes, giving offense is a great way to make a point, to get heard, to break through the unspoken oppression of certain views. But to seek to obliterate the legitimacy of another person’s faith or other allegiances–and wound them in the process with the vilest terminology–isn’t debate. It’s rhetorical gangsterism.

There are plenty of examples of this tactic across the airwaves, the Internet and campaigns these days. A lot of what Ann Coulter has said could certainly be construed as hate speech; Rep. Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised the issue in the last election, demanding that Republicans "denounce Ann Coulter’s hate speech." When the Catholic League’s Bill Donahue declares, ""Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular," that could be construed as hateful (and stupid). Rush Limbaugh comparing liberals to cockroaches could be construed as classic eliminationist rhetoric, used by haters for centuries to avoid real debate against their opponents, delegitimizing and dehumanizing those who disagree with them. The list goes on–on both the right and the left.

Now, it’s a free country. Rush Limbaugh can spew all the hatred he wants. So can Ann Coulter, Amanda Marcotte, or me. But political leaders are different. In order for a government of compromise, consensus and common sacrifice to work, we expect our leaders to disavow hate, to conduct our public business in a manner respectful of all our citizens, consistent with our best traditions. Hate breaks down the sinews of the body politic and sets us against each other as enemies to be defeated. This is fatal to a diverse, democratic republic. Lincoln, as usual, said it best: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." And so it seems fair to me that we ask politicians who embrace those who spew what might be construed as hatred whether they endorse or disavow it. That goes for Vice President Cheney–who is a regular guest on Limbaugh’s program–or for John Edwards, who has hired Amanda Marcotte. This isn’t about censorship. It’s about leadership.

Second, there’s the issue of the blogoshpere itself. A lot of people have told me that what Marcotte and others (liberal and conservative) are writing is just par for the course out there. Blogs, I’m told, are different. They’re new–they’re edgy–they’re breaking the boundaries of old-fogey media and ushering in a new era of public discourse. I buy a lot of that. But speech is still speech. And hate is still hate. If you call a black man a "n*****" on a blog, it’s just as offensive as shouting it in his face. It seems to me that bloggers (and those who post comments on them) sometimes forget this; the lack of a flesh-and-blood interlocutor and the anonymity the internet offers unleash the rhetorical beast in us. Rage, vituperation, insult, slur, infantile taunting–you see a lot of that on many blogs. That, I am told, is just the rough-and-tumble world of bloggers, having at each other and everyone else with raw gusto, just like those old pamphleteers to whom they are so often compared. OK, fine, whatever. But you don’t get a pass from the tenets of basic decency in civil discourse just because you blog.

Third, my bro. Many of you have noted that I am the brother of Rick Moran, who writes the Right Wing Nuthouse blog, and you have concluded that I am somehow in cahoots with Rick, or share his view of the world. For the record, I had no idea Rick was writing about this subject when I posted yesterday. But far more important: I love my brother something fierce. I am very proud of him. We do not agree on many, many things (as decades of uncomfortably loud dinner table disagreements have demonstrated). In no way do I endorse anything he writes; that’s not for me to do here. But I will never disavow him. I will always defend him as an honorable man. And I really don’t care what anyone says about it. He is my brother.

Finally, can we all lighten up a little? In that spirit, try this little piece of internet genius: http://roxik.com/pictaps/. Have fun.

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