by Howard J. Ross, Chief Learning Officer
Effective democracy depends on many things, but one of the most important is thoughtful discourse, especially from those who claim the mantle of thought leadership through regular columns in papers like the Washington Post. That is why Charles Krauthammer’s August 27th column, The last refuge of a liberal is so disturbing. There are many ways that thoughtful liberals and conservatives can converse in meaningful discourse, but Krauthammer’s conscious manipulation of information for the purpose of ad homonym attacks against “our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary,” and all liberals, adds nothing to the promotion of civility.
There is no doubt that there are some extreme and unreasoning liberals as there are conservatives, but the question of whether or not bias is at the heart of some of the reactions that Krauthammer describes is a legitimate one, especially when one considers the facts.
Does the tea party movement have a racist element to it? Pictures of President Obama depicted as a simian and people spitting on Congressman John Lewis, and Glenn Beck’s accusations of President Obama’s distaste for white people, and his attempt to specifically target the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech for his rally, all give the question, at the very least, legitimate hearing.
As for Arizona S.B. 1070, liberals do not argue that illegal immigration should not be illegal, or that we should not enforce the border or have a right to manage the immigrant population, as Krauthammer suggests. What we do argue for is that laws should not be written that implicitly turn that concern into the ability to harass and delegitimize people simply because they are brown-skinned and speak with a Hispanic accent.
His argument that the attempt to overturn Proposition 8 is an “affront to democracy” and defies “retaining the structure of the most ancient and fundamental of all social institutions” is exactly the argument people made against the right of black and white citizens to marry legally, until Loving vs. Virginia overturned the law, declaring it unconstitutional in 1967. Another case where judges overturned what some considered to be “the will of the people.”
The case he makes for denying the building of the Islamic Center in New York City because of the special significance of 9-11, would, of course, ring more true if it weren’t accompanied by similar resistance and protests to mosques being built all over the country, in some cases thousands of miles from ground zero, and almost always by American citizens and legal residents within the dictates of the law.
The issue of bigotry keeps coming up because it is the common thread in all of these cases. In every one of them one group of Americans is being denied the rights accorded to others. That is not an effort to “pull out the bigotry charge,” as Krauthammer suggests, it is fact. The fact that Krauthammer bridles at being held accountable for the inherent bias in his positions does not mean that bias is not real. As the old saying goes, if enough people call you a horse, you may want to start shopping for a saddle.
The most overriding concern in all of these arguments is Krauthammer’s assertion that the will of the majority is the overriding determinant in whether or not something is moral or just. Is it? If that were the case, Brown vs. Board of Education would never have eliminated school desegregation, and women would have never been allowed to vote, because the “majority” opposed them both. McCarthyism, the Red Scare before it, and slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, and the genocide committed against Native Americans would all be considered justified, rather than stains on our national conscience by reasoning people, because the majority supported them all.
The very foundation of American democracy is built with checks and balances against unbridled majority rule, and one of the pre-eminent aspects of those checks and balances are that they prevent the ability of a majority to indiscriminately restrict the rights of people who are not like them. That’s what religious freedom and our disdain of discrimination is about. It prevents what happens in other countries, and it makes sure that all people have rights. Even when Glenn Beck wants to consciously inflame racial discord by having a rally on Dr. King’s anniversary, or the Nazi party wants to march on Skokie, Illinois, they must be allowed to, because that is the basis of our unique democracy.
Mr. Krauthammer is entitled to his opinions, as are all of the people he mentions, whether they are bigoted or not. The Democrats may very well “get beaten badly in November” as he suggests, as the Republicans were before them. Throughout history the political forces that shape our democracy move back and forth. But the continuance of this kind of thoughtless discourse and ad homonym attacks do nothing to add to a civilized dialogue about real issues in our society at a time when we sorely need civilized dialogue.