Liberals took the nuclear option in 2013 and there may be no return to civil discourse. I'm not talking about curtailing Senate filibusters, although they did that, too, but to the shameful escalation in political rhetoric. Tired of calling conservatives "extreme," "greedy" or "heartless," and having overplayed more creative invectives like "tea-bagger," liberal pundits and politicians took the ad hominem argument to a new low this year.
During the Obamacare funding debate, Democrats called their rivals "anarchists," "arsonists," "extortionists," "jihadists," and "kidnappers," words normally associated with criminal activity. They had not quite hit bottom, however. A month later, former MSNBC commentator Martin Bashir suggested someone poop in Sarah Palin's mouth. Apparently Bashir was offended by Palin's comparison of the U.S. debt held by the Chinese to slavery.
"[I]t'll be like slavery when that note is due," Palin told a group in Iowa, "We are going to beholden to the foreign master." While not the most artful comparison, it wasn't deserving of an execrable mouthful from Bashir. Bashir has since apologized and resigned from the cable network, hopefully quelling any potential for a potty polemic craze on the left.
Just days after Bashir's gaffe, lefty singer Cher tweeted, "Go to the dictionary, & look up the 'C' word, ... next 2 the definition ... you'll see a pic of Sarah Palin! No ... wait ... she's under dumb C word." It's a slight improvement over Bill Maher's C-word attack on Palin last year. No self-censorship then, he actually said the full word.
While the Daily Kos/Moveon. org crowd favored Republican-Nazi comparisons during the Bush years, they prefer Tea Party-Nazi comparisons nowadays. This year, a campaign flyer by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., likened the Tea Party to the KKK, an ironic comparison given the Klan's political history.
Even though some politicians and pundits have apologized for their offensive remarks, the damage to political dialogue is done. Words cannot be unsaid. So why say such nasty things in the first place? There are a couple of reasons the left has gone rhetorically nuclear. Not only does it get media attention, but vitriol works. The point of vilifying opponents is to ostracize them. People don't want to be associated with tea baggers, political arsonists, or extremists. Calling someone names, even if one has to later apologize, is sometimes worth the gamble if it alienates one's political foes from the general public.
Understandably, decent people don't want to be called criminals, body parts or villains. To avoid being a target, it is all too easy to bow to political correctness and never speak up. The ultimate goal of ad hominem attacks is to silence one's opponents. Have nothing to counter an opponent's concern that $17 trillion in national debt can shackle the next generation? No worries, just suggest someone poop in her mouth. That'll choke off debate.
***Also published as Kafer's regular column in the Denver Post, December 8, 2013.