I recently wrote about leftists' hatred for conservatives as people, not merely for conservative ideas. Demonization of opponents is a fundamental characteristic of the left. It is not merely tactical; they believe people on the right are bad. (Here's a test: Ask someone on the left if active support of California Proposition 8 -- retaining the man-woman definition of marriage -- was an act of hate.)
A related defining characteristic of the left is the ascribing of nefarious motives to conservatives. For the left, a dismissal of conservatives' motives is as important as is dismissal of the conservatives as people. It is close to impossible for almost anyone on the left -- and I mean the elite left, not merely left-wing blogs -- to say "There are good people on both of sides of this issue." From Karl Marx to Frank Rich of The New York Times, this has always been the case.
In the left's worldview, conservative opponents of affirmative action cannot be driven by concern for blacks -- opposition is animated by racists; conservative opponents of illegal immigration are animated by racism and xenophobia; opposition to abortion is a function of sexism; President Bush went to war for oil and American imperialism; and conservative supporters of retaining man-woman marriage hate gays.
This is not true of elite conservatives. Leading conservative columnists, leading Republicans, etc., rarely depict liberals as motivated by evil. Conservatives can say "There are good people on both sides of the issue" because we actually believe it.
Almost any contentious issue would provide proof of the left's need to attack motives, but the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero provides a particularly excellent example.
I have not come across a mainstream leftist description of opponents of the mosque/Islamic center being built near ground zero that has not ascribed hate-filled, intolerant, bigoted, "Islamophobic" or xenophobic motives to those who oppose the mosque. Contrast this with how mainstream opponents of the mosque describe the proponents of the mosque and you will see an immense divide between right and left in the way they talk about each other.
Here are but a few examples of how mainstream proponents of the mosque describe opponents and their motives:
Michael Kinsley, editor at large, The Atlantic: "Is there any reason to oppose the mosque that isn't bigoted, or demagogic, or unconstitutional? None that I've heard or read."
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times Blog, Aug. 19, 2010: "The far right wing has seized on the issue as an occasion for fanning hatred against Muslims."
Tony Norman, columnist, Pittsburgh Post Gazette: "... a handful of politicians who cynically conflate the religion of American Muslims with the nihilism of the 9/11 terrorists."
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic blog: "The pursuit of power through demagoguery."
Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York (in a column titled "America Has Disgraced Itself"): "In today's GOP, even bigotry doesn't spare you from bigotry."
"GOP leaders call them (those building the mosque) terrorists because they don't share Benjamin Netanyahu's view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
"And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat."
And in a Politico column titled "Decency Lost": "Republicans are clawing over each other to demonize Muslims."
HuffingtonPost, Allison Kilkenny: "This mock piety is really a cover for Islamophobia."
"Indeed, America is extremely hostile -- not only to Islam -- but to anyone who gives off the air of being exotic, or different."
"Xenophobia is really a convenient cover for a deeper bigotry."
HuffingtonPost, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute: "Shame. Your bigoted appeals to fear and intolerance disgrace us all and put our country at risk in the world."
HuffingtonPost, Michael Hughes: "Even more hideous is the way in which these bigots try to hide their overt prejudice in the emotional guise of love and caring, purportedly because they believe we must be 'sensitive' to the families of the victims of 9/11."
New York Times editorial: "Republican ideologues, predictably ... spew more of their intolerant rhetoric.
"The country ignores such cynicism and ugliness at its own peril."
"Too many Republican leaders are determined to whip up as much false controversy and anguish as they can."
New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof: "Why do so many Republicans find strip clubs appropriate for the ground zero neighborhood but object to a house of worship?"
"(They) are cynically turning the Islamic center into a nationwide issue in hopes of votes. ... They're just like the Saudi officials who ban churches, and even confiscate Bibles, out of sensitivity to local feelings."
"Today's crusaders against the Islamic community center are promoting a similar paranoid intolerance."
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC: "(The) country has begun to run on a horrible fuel of hatred -- magnified, amplified, multiplied, by politicians and zealots, within government and without."
New York Times columnist Frank Rich: "This month's incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing."
"So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right -- abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League ..."
"The ginned-up rage over the 'ground zero mosque' (was motivated) by the potential short-term rewards of winning votes by pandering to fear during an election season."
It started with "a New York Post jihad."
"The Islamophobia command center, Murdoch's News Corporation..."
Why does the left attribute only nefarious motives to those who believe that the Islamic center does not belong near ground zero?
Because leftism holds these beliefs:
1. Those who hold leftist positions are, by definition, better people than their opponents.
2. Those who hold leftist positions have, by definition, pure motives; therefore, the motives of their opponents must be impure.
I conclude with this: I believe that a wiser man than the present imam would have decided to avoid precisely what he has inspired -- intense division in America -- and would have immediately retracted his decision to erect an Islamic center and mosque right by the slaughterhouse of 9/11 which happened to have been caused by his co-religionists.
But I also believe that there are good arguments and good people on both sides of this issue.
I can say that, however, for one reason.
I am not on the left.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”