What is it? Well, it’s bad. I know that.
People refer to conservatives as bigots on a regular basis, and they’re not being especially kind when they do it. It seems we on the Right fit the dictionary definition of those with “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” As opposed to the tolerant, kind, and loving Left, who call us Nazis and Neanderthals, or, as we were recently called by a Proposition 8 supporter in California, “orcs” inflicting their “vampire-dripping heterosexist nightmares” on everyone else.
I don’t live in California, but Proposition 8 has become a big deal, since my church officially supports it and is helping to lead the charge to solidify the traditional definition of marriage. This has led to angry words, which invariably include the charge that those of us who support traditional marriage do so out of bigotry. To those making the charge, there can be no other explanation.
Consequently, even the most reasoned, dispassionate response is dismissed out of hand, because it’s hiding how we bigots “really” feel. See, we try to sound sort of reasonable in public, because if we let the electorate know how dark and vile our souls really were, they’d recoil in horror. But when we’re alone, we let down our hair and burn pictures of Harvey Fierstein and let the expletives fly. It’s kind of like that old Eddie Murphy SNL skit where he dresses up as a white guy and discovers that white people give things to each other for free when there are no black people around.
I’ve written extensively on why I think redefining marriage is a terrible idea, and I’m not interested in rehashing that again – you can find my original thoughts on the matter here and here. Instead, I want to make the case that bigotry, as a charge, does not constitute argument, and is, in fact, a substitute for it, used primarily to just shut people up.
All the cool people know this when they’re talking Right-on-Left bigotry. Call a Lefty “unpatriotic” and anyone who’s anyone won’t let you get away with it. But call us Righties “bigots” and you get thoughtful questions like “what do you think made them go so wrong? Are they evil, or just stupid?” Suddenly, whatever was being initially discussed is taken off the table, and the Righty has to defend his motives. That’s how the well gets poisoned. Even if a Righty is correct on the facts, they can be dismissed, because nothing good can come from a bigot.
Once you discredit the messenger, you can ignore the message completely.
A relatively benign example of this can be found in my own weird little online world. Back when Battlestar Galactica was being revived, many of us geeks were posting in various online enclaves that the reimagined version proposed by Ron Moore was a bad idea, and, instead, the revival ought to be a continuation of the original series. Unfortunately, we were joined in our cause by a loon named Languatron, who insisted – and still insists – that anyone who disagrees with him is on the payroll of Universal Studios, that God Himself will smite the head of the SciFi Channel if she doesn’t comply with his demands, and, by the way, gay people are scum.
Reasonable voices no longer mattered once Languatron took the stage. As far as anyone in Moore’s camp was concerned, all of us original series supporters were a bunch of Languatrons, and we didn’t have to be taken seriously.
Are there bigots on the Right? Yes, of course. But I will only concede that point as long as those on the Left recognize they have their share of bigots, too. I don’t know if their share is larger or smaller than ours. I do know that they’re far more effective at using our bigots to dismiss our arguments than we are at doing the same.
Case in point: Almost anything that the McCain/Palin ticket says or does to fight back is portrayed as an appeal to conservative’s latent racism. They’re not saying bigoted things overtly, but apparently they’re using “code words” that sleeper-cell racists recognize. This puts the GOP in a defensive crouch, because not only do they have to defend their charges against Obama, they also have to defend their motives for making the charges and prove they’re not bigots.
This wouldn’t work with a principled, persuasive conservative a la Ronald Reagan, who would ignore the charges with a twinkle in his eye. But John McCain is far more concerned about what the New York Times thinks of him than he is about what his own party thinks, so this tactic works well against him. He’s constantly on the defensive as he tries to assure the cool people that he’s one of them.
He’s also losing. There’s a direct correlation.