TV talk-show host Bill Maher used two vulgar female slang terms to reference Sarah Palin, without any major consequences.
Those Palin slurs were mild in comparison to late-night television icon David Letterman's crude riff that Palin's then-14-year old daughter was impregnated by baseball star Alex Rodriguez.
In contrast, when talk-show host Rush Limbaugh demeaned activist Sandra Fluke as a "slut," outrage followed. Sponsors were pressured to drop Limbaugh. Some did. Unlike the targeted Palin, Fluke became a national icon of popular feminist resistance.
So how do we sort out all these slurs and the contradictory consequences that follow them?
Apparently, racist, sexist or homophobic words themselves do not necessarily earn any rebuke. Nor is the race or gender of the speaker always a clue to the degree of outrage that follows.
Instead, the perceived ideology of the perpetrator is what matters most. Maher and Letterman, being good liberals, could hardly be crude sexists. But when the conservative Limbaugh uses similar terms, it must be a window into his dark heart.
It's apparently OK for whites or blacks to slur conservative Clarence Thomas in racist terms. Saying anything similar of the late liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall would have been blasphemous.
In short, we are dealing not with actual word crimes, but with supposed thought crimes.
The liberal media and popular culture have become our self-appointed thought police. Politics determines whether hate speech is a reflection of real hate or just an inadvertent slip, a risqué joke or an anguished reaction to years of oppression.
Poor Paula Deen. She may protest accusations of racism by noting that she supported Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. But the media instead fixates on her deep Southern accent and demeanor, which supposedly prove her speech was racist in a way that left-wing and cool Jamie Foxx purportedly could never be.
We cannot forgive conservative Mel Gibson for his despicable, drunken anti-Semitic rants. But it appears we can pardon liberal Alec Baldwin for his vicious homophobic outbursts. The former smears are judged by the thought police to be typical, but the latter slurs are surely aberrant.
The crime is not hate speech, but hate thought -- a state of mind that apparently only self-appointed liberal referees can sort out.