Wednesday, May 6

A handy guide to participating in civilized, rational debate. (Or not being a wuss. Whichever.)

To an already staggering list of red-flag words and phrases deployed over the past few weeks to scare the bejeezus out of us and turn us into quivering lumps of Spam -- SOCIALISM! SWINE FLU! BRETT FAVRE RETURNING TO THE NFL! -- we can now add another: ORWELLIAN THOUGHT POLICE! Take it away, Andrew Breitbart:

The latest poster conservative for political-correctness-run-amok in a country careening downhill on left-wing, Democratic cruise control is Republican congresswoman Virginia Foxx.

Mrs. Foxx's impropriety: The thought crime of arguing against "hate crime" laws by pointing out that Matthew Shepard - the tragic icon attached to the legislation - represents a salient argument against enacting them.

Oh my God! What did Virginia Foxx do?

[T]he congresswoman is not buying the Hollywood hype. "The hate crimes bill was named for [Shepard], but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills," Mrs. Foxx said on the House floor last week.

Uh . . . that's it? OK, what did The Left do?

Immediately, Democrats sought out their unapologetic allies in the media to force Mrs. Foxx into a perfunctory, skin-saving apology. . . .

Mrs. Foxx has been "apologizing for semantics, but not her sentiment, her insensitivity or her ignorance," Mrs. Shepard told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

Uh . . . that's it?

First, let me express what may or may not be a popular position: I am completely opposed to hate-crimes legislation. They aim to add harsher penalties for certain crimes based on feelings or motivations the perpetrator might've had toward the victim, which I don't think would be constitutional even if we could ascertain beyond a shadow of a doubt what those feelings or motivations were. That said, this is one of those issues that reasonable people can disagree on, and a rational debate isn't something to be afraid of here.

But, separate from that, we have Virginia Foxx describing the hate-crime theory of the motive behind Matthew Shepard's murder as "a hoax," and Andrew Breitbart defending her. But not just defending her: pulling out the fainting couch and wielding accusations of fascism against Foxx's "politically correct" detractors.

What exactly happened to Rep. Foxx that was so terrible? Was she threatened by the FBI for her views? Was she fired? Was she assaulted? Not as far as I can tell. In fact, the worst thing that happened to Foxx -- at least as far as Breitbart is willing to tell us -- is that Matthew Shepard's mom called her "insensitive" and "ignorant." Again, I ask: That's it?

The Constitution guarantees us the right to free speech; however, it doesn't guarantee us the right to never be disagreed with. It doesn't even guarantee us the right to never be called names. Sometimes you're going to express opinions that are controversial or unpopular, and sometimes people are going to publicly disagree with them; sometimes they're even going to be mean about it. But that doesn't make them the "thought police."

And the thing is, once upon a time, the "anti-PC" movement on the right reveled in the angst they aroused, and the criticism they received, from bleeding-hearts on the left for expressing their bold or controversial viewpoints. They figured that if that many left-wing pantaloons were being wadded over what they said, they must be doing something right. Now, though, instead of relishing such reactions, the right wing are the ones getting their pantaloons in a wad themselves, shifting into sky-is-falling mode and invoking Orwell. They used to get a good chuckle when someone went ballistic about something they said; now they just whine about it.

But you know what? Sometimes people are going to call you insensitive and douchey, whether you think you deserve to be or not. Here's a friendly tip for all you eager anti-PCers out there: If you're going to say controversial things, you're going to have to deal with people disagreeing with you. If you want to say stuff knowing that it's going to piss someone off, you have to do so with the understanding that someone might piss you off right back. What Breitbart seems to want is for folks like Foxx to be able to express controversial opinions but not have anyone disagree with her or question her reasons for doing so -- and I'm sorry, Andrew, but that's not how it works.

And for God's sake, drop this "thought police" crap. Someone disagreeing with you and calling you "insensitive" is worse than torture? Man, what a sheltered childhood you must've had. By the time I was out of junior high, I'd suffered everything from being knocked down on the school bus to being rejected by girls to being told I had a tiny dick; instead of shrieking "ORWELL!", I picked myself up, developed a drinking problem, and grew the thick skin that turned me into the profane, self-effacing asshole I am today. It's fun; maybe you should try it.


Anonymous said...

Deal! If all the douchebags on the left who run around trashing the US at every turn and doing all they can to undermine our standing in the world, stop complaining when someone questions their patriotism.

SpartanDan said...

Steve: Criticism is not unpatriotic in itself. I don't know anyone (personally or in politics) who "runs around trashing the US at every turn"; most people I know criticize particular policies (such as the horribly-misnamed Patriot Act, or ignoring Al Qaeda and letting them regroup while we go after a ruler who had not attacked us) but are well aware that things are a hell of a lot better here than most places.

Frankly, I'd argue that turning a blind eye to policies which are clearly harmful and keeping a "my country, right or wrong" attitude is far less patriotic than speaking out against them. If you really believe that a particular policy is going to lead to disaster and you care about the country, wouldn't you feel compelled to point that out?

There may be reasons to question someone's patriotism, but simple policy disagreements are generally not among them - and they're about the only ones I've heard used as rationale for it. There's a difference between not wanting the best for our country and disagreeing over what the "best" is.

Bobby said...

Yay, we agree on the absurdity of hate crime legislation!

Anonymous said...

SpartanDan, I agree with everything you say, but you can't have people like Nancy Pelosi, who was in a position of considerable influence, being briefed on everything the CIA was doing, remain silent for years then accuse the opponent administration of treason for doing exactly what they told her they would do and call that patriotic. She had a duty to do exactly what you propose. She didn't until it was politically expedient. I call that unpatriotic. If Bush shamed us by over enthusiasm, Pelosi shamed us by being a political hack more interested in partisan advantage than the true good of our country. She is not alone in her hypocrisy.

Holly said...

Yes. It's the left calling people names that has harmed our standing in the world. As opposed to the policies and actions of the government of the past eight years. Righto.

And another amen on the hate crimes legislation. Between the value judgment it places on one crime over another and the idea of legislating someone's's a little creepy.

Universal Remonster said...

Uh, Steve... You might want to listen to multiple sources on the whole "House leaders being briefed on everything the CIA does" thing.

They are only briefed on unsensitive information. (Unsensitive being a relative term... it might be what you consider "sensitive", but the amount of information released by our government agencies is previously approved by the respective organizations, and if necessary the Secretary of Defense.)

Or are you going to tell me that Nancy Pelosi knows about every govenment covert operation in the past 9 years?

That being said, I understand your sentiment. Hypocrisy exists on both sides of the party line.

lowlife said...

I don't think most of you understand the hate crime bill. The major thing I've deduced from the bill is that it will allow federal authorities to investigate if local agencies don't pursue the investigation possibly because of their own prejudices and will remove the prerequisite of the victim having to be involved in a federally-protected activity (going to school, etc.). It's not like people who commit hate crimes are going to be treated differently in court or somehow have a harsher sentence, etc. It's just getting an equal footing on these certain types of crimes by protecting not only racial hate crimes but gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability crimes.

ACG said...

I'll also make the argument that there's a difference between, "What a dick! This is my defense against what he says" and "Thought police! Thought police!" On both sides of the political spectrum - if someone criticizes you, of course you have the right to defend yourself. Just don't go pretending that that person doesn't have the right to criticize you. As Doug said, free speech goes both ways.

Anonymous said...

Both arguments, "thought police" and "questioning my patriotism", are used to try to silence critics. I see little difference between them.

And multiple sources have confirmed that Pelosi knew about the "torture" memos.

And I agree with Doug's view on hate crimes.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

First of all, many of our laws take into account the mental state, thoughts and preparation of the defendant at the time a crime was committed. That is the difference between charges like manslaughter, 2nd degree murder and 1st degree murder.

And all of those mental and thought items have to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in a court, and upheld on appeal.

Hate crimes legislation lines up far more with what Lowlife commented here than with any kind of 'thought police' ideal.

The origin of Hate Crimes legislation comes from the good ole days of local authorities not investigating or prosecuting things like murder, rape and terrorism because they didn't like the color, creed, nationality of the victim. We shouldn't even need to mention that the agents of some localities and state governments actually engaged in committing such crimes under the color of law enforcement. Hate crimes legislation was introduced to add a federal stop-gap available to prosecute such crimes because no other legal mechanism to do so was available.

That remains true to this day.

Anonymous said...

I think your examples of manslaughter and 2nd and 1st degree murder aren't really the same thing. They have to do with intent, not motive.

I don't think I would have a problem with a set of federal laws that would allow the feds to prosecute an individual no matter what his motivation is. They'd make getting convictions a lot easier since there is no need to prove the hate portion and would protect everyone equally.

SpartanDan said...

The only justification I can think of for "hate crimes" legislation is that intuitively (although this may not be borne out by data) it seems that if the motive is nothing more than "he's black" or "he's gay" or "he's a Baptist" or whatever the case may be, the chances of a repeat offense are probably higher (and thus a tougher sentence might be justified). But even with that rationalization I'm a little skeptical. What you did matters more than why, and why should only be relevant if it is a significant indicator that you're more likely to do it again. The feds should be able to step in whatever the motivation if the crime is serious enough.

Anonymous said...

And to an earlier issue. The following will appear tomorrow in that right wing rag The Washington Post.

CIA Says Pelosi Was Briefed on Use of 'Enhanced Interrogations'

By Paul Kane
Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

In a 10-page memo outlining an almost seven-year history of classified briefings, intelligence officials said that Pelosi and then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) were the first two members of Congress ever briefed on the interrogation tactics. Then the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and Goss were briefed Sept. 4, 2002, one week before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The memo, issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to Capitol Hill, notes the Pelosi-Goss briefing covered "EITs including the use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah." EIT is an acronym for enhanced interrogation technique. Zubaydah was one of the earliest valuable al-Qaeda members captured and the first to have the controversial tactic known as water boarding used against him.

now_a_hoo said...

It doesn't look like this is what the bill is mostly about, but if it were about harsher sentences for "hate crimes," I actually wouldn't have a problem with that.

I approach it this way: if, in the act of committing a crime against a person or their property, the criminal makes a manifestation of his or her hate-related motive, what you've got is a threat to the other people who share that demographic trait. In the bad old days, when lynch mobs would murder black men for whistling at white women or attempting to register to vote, those crimes carried an implicit (and sometimes explicit) threat: do act like you have any rights in this society, or you will be murdered in cold blood.

And that's what gets me: threats aren't protected speech. We prosecute terrorism differently from other homicide crimes because of its intended effects on the rest of society. On some level it's the same with hate crimes.
Also: in states with the death penalty, murder for hire is a capital offense. Saying that punishing a hate crime is "punishing someone for what they think" is kind of like saying that murder for hire is not worse than regular murder, because it's perfectly legal to get a job.

Hate SPEECH codes aren't good, but hate CRIMES legislation (again, in the abstract form most of us talk about) is perfectly reasonable.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Of all the things I have heard, the best explanation of why we have hate crimes legislation comes from my brother:

"The only reason for providing elevated punishment for hate crimes is this: if the only reason this defendant harmed this victim was some demographic category of the victim, then this crime does more than just harm that victim. It acts as a threat which extends to all the members of the community who fit that category. Such acts say: you [insert category here], you have extra reason to stay inside, to stay outside of the public eye, and to live in fear."

now_a_hoo also hits this nail on the head when he says "We prosecute terrorism differently from other homicide crimes because of its intended effects on the rest of society. On some level it's the same with hate crimes."

Anonymous said...

I think the Matthew Shepard case is a perfect example of why hate crimes would be difficult to prove. The scum in this case almost certainly aren't fond of gay people, but it's difficult to say whether they were motivated to kill Shepard because he was gay or maybe just motivated to rob and beat him up because he looked like an easy target. If he was gay, all the better from their standpoint. Criminals are cowards and generally chose the weakest among us as victims. I haven't seen anything that implies that the jerks who killed Shepard were trying to send any message or intimidate gay people as a group.

I would much rather us chose particular forms of crime and treat them more seriously. For example, if someone lynches anyone, regardless of group, that murder is treated significantly more seriously than "nicer" murders. I think that would follow how we treat terrorism much closer.

C said...

I'm in support of hate crime legislation because I worry about crimes being committed against a community to send a message. Basically what Cousin Pat just said.

I say this as an Indian American who has had to worry a tad about vigilante justice after 9/11.

Josh M. said...

Is it not already illegal to beat up or kill an Indian?

Plaid Avenger said...

Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay. Get real. If hate crime laws serve as a reasonable impetus for certain members of society to join the civilized world, I'm all for them, at least as a temporary condition.

This is most certainly problematic, but if it's unconstitutional, let the courts rule as such. They serve for that very reason.

There are crimes of passion, premeditated crimes and also random ones. Not all rape crimes are classified the same way, and I'm pretty sure drug offenses have various levels of incarcerating severity (We're allowed to send someone to jail on a harsher term for intent to distribute, but stone a homo and it's no worse than shooting the guy who slept with your wife? Huh?).

I'm not sure either that I'm for legislating against one's thoughts or motivations, but again, and sing it with me now, persecution is different from random acts of violence.

(If you have defended torture lately, or at all, remove yourself from any debate about laws designed to keep Americans safe. Your logic is suspect).