‘Don’t start me talking . . .

“. . . I could talk all night.
My mind was sleepwalking
While I didn’t know what to write.”
Elvis Costello, “Oliver’s Army”

Some subjects inevitably provoke me to rant, for example public education. (Please, don’t ever get me arguing about public education. Life is too short.) And while I am often guilty of employing a bit of ad hominem in debate, I get aggravated by the way liberals habitually attribute bad faith to conservatives — and are never called to account for it. We saw this throughout the recent campaign, when every criticism of Barack Obama was attributed to “racism,” so that the uninformed might be forgiven for believing that America was divided into two camps (a) Obama supporters and (b) racists. (Don’t blame me, I voted for Bob Barr.)

Now, I have said before that I am an ex-Democrat and many of my family and friends are still loyal yellow-dog Democrats like I used to be. So it happened that a couple of my cousins saw my rant against the fascist tactics of gay-marriage supporters in California, and one of them remarked that “hatred is a sin.” True enough, but disagreement is not hatred. And so I sent my cousins this rant:

I resent like hell the tendency to frame policy disagreements as accusations of bad faith, and I’m sure my dear Democratic cousins didn’t like it when they were told that it was un-American to oppose the invasion of Iraq.
It is a lowdown trick of sophistry to argue that (a) Policy X is good for Purple People and therefore (b) any opponent of Policy X is purplephobic and beyond the pale of civilized society. This is politics as Rorschach Test, where everything is an expression of psychological symbolism, and it inevitably leads to bad outcomes.
LBJ’s “Great Society” programs (which sabotaged the urban poor and have quite nearly bankrupted us with entitlement commitments) were sold with similar arguments: To oppose the policies was tantamount to hating the people the policies were supposed to help. But beyond its invaldity as logic, that argument rests on two false assumptions: (a) that the policies proposed would actually help the intended beneficiaries, and (b) that no alternative policies could provide equivalent benefits.
If I am critical of No Child Left Behind, does this make me “anti-education”? Meaningful debate becomes impossible when arguments are cast in such terms.
The emotional appeal of being “tolerant” toward homosexuals — identifying oneself as an opponent of bigotry — ought not prevent us from questioning the necessity, utility and efficacy of specific policy proposals. And if my opposition to same-sex marriage calls into question my motives and subjects me to accusations of bad faith, why is the same not true of proponents of same-sex marriage? And the issue of bad faith on the part of gay radicals is far more relevant when they are engaging in blatantly fascistic intimidation tactics, spray-painting slogans on churches and making death threats to their opponents.
The politicization of sexuality is enough to inspire nostalgia for the Good Old Days of the ’70s, when being gay was about disco and sex. But mostly sex.

I disagree with my cousins, but I also love my cousins. Disagreement is not hate, and we ought to be able to discuss policy without such accusations.

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