Extreme Rhetoric

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I've been thinking about Robert Byrd's comments on Republicans' desire for a full Senate vote on judge nominees and how he argued against it on the grounds that this was the sort of thing that the Nazis did under Hitler. When you take that in conjunction with Howard Dean's saying that the fight between Dems and Reps is good vs. evil, I think the Dems have to admit that their new leader and oldest senator are at least on par with Ann Coulter's calling all liberals traitors (even if she does it with a nice, freindly smile) and Alan Keyes's calling all gays hedonists, both of which fail to make important moral distinctions and are especially unconscionable by someone clearly smart enough to make such distinctions.

But isn't what Dean and Byrd are doing worse? After all, isn't calling someone a Nazi or evil worse than calling someone a traitor or a hedonist, from the very perspective of those who complain about Ann Coulter's extreme rhetoric? Isn't it at least a little worse to call someone one of the worst things possible than it is just to question their loyalty to their country (which is consistent with all sorts of other morally good things) or saying they care more about pleasure than the moral status of their pleasurable actions (which is the common conception of hedonism, even if it's not historically or philosophically accurate to use it that way)? That was how these statements seemed to me, anyway, when I tried to figure out the moral severity of each. Even compared to Ann Coulter and Alan Keyes, the left's favorite inflammatory rhetors of the right, what Howard Dean and Robert Byrd have been saying is pretty extreme.


Agreed. And it is pissing me off. (I expect better from the people who I agree with. And from everyone else for that matter too.) I don't know what is going on but it just seems like the rhetoric just keeps getting more and more extreme. Maybe it was just as bad before, and I just wasn't paying attention?

I was reading my brother-in-law's copy of Touchstone, which was all about Darwinism vs Intelligent Design. One of the articles was attacking the aesthetic attack against ID (if a Intelligent Designer designed [insert example here], then that designer surely would have done a better job), by questioning why critics of ID were so hung up on efficiency and aesthetics. Can't a designer have whimsy and inefficiency in design? So far, a reasonable enough argument. Then the author comes up with the following leap of logic: the critics of ID value tidyness and efficiency, just like Nazis did.

I don't know why that was deemed relevant to the argument at all except to try and smear the critics of ID with an odd sort of guilt-by-association. But it certainly was extreme. And it just seems to be happening more and more often.

At least here in this country we don't have a politician calling those on the other side of the fence "scumbags" and "bastards". :) Sorry if this seems out of context but see here.

In any case, I can see how there might be a difference, although I must admit I haven't read the statements within their contexts. On the one hand Dean and Byrd appear to be suggesting and alluding, possibly by offering arguments and showing the similarities, whereas Coulter and Keyes appear to be calling names in an disparaging ly ad hominem fashion. But, as I said, I hadn't read the context so I am only guessing from reading your version of the story.

Actually treason is the only crime specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution and can be punished by death. We have the right to question anything that our government does, but we do not have the right to act against our government (i.e. be a traitor). So I think that you are incorrect in saying that calling someone a Nazi is worse than calling someone a traitor.

Ah, treason might have a worse penalty when a law enforcement officer charges someone with it, but Nazismn is by far worse morally, so I think it's still worse to label someone a Nazi unfairly in political discourse than it is to label someone a traitor unfairly in political discourse.

Coulter has a whole book arguing that the very basis of liberalism is traitorous. It's just as much based on arguments and similarities as Byrd's speech was. On the other hand, Dean and Keyes were both talking off the cuff and gave no reasoning, just spouting off nonsense. So both kinds happened, but the examples I picked had one of each kind on each side of the political divide.

Good thing the GOP doesn't play the nazi card. oh, wait....

I made a point decrying different kinds of extreme rhetoric, and I acknowledged guilt on both sides, with a very minor conclusion that two very specific individuals were doing something worse than two others. I never tried to draw any conclusion about which party is worse in this (because that would be fallacious based on two people from each side). I never tried to declare if any of these people might genuinely represent the ordinary member of their party (which is equally fallacious for similar reasons). I made the simple point that these two latest incidents are worse than some previous ones by high-profile people, which was about those people with no mention of the party except to point out that each party needs to acknowledge its radicals as radicals. It wasn't even really about the people but about the nature of the kinds of claims being made.

This isn't a debate about which party is worse, and I think it's unfortunate that you would try to take it there. Sorry, I'm not biting.

"This isn't a debate about which party is worse"

But see: "But isn't what Dean and Byrd are doing worse?"; and "Even compared to Ann Coulter and Alan Keyes, the left's favorite inflammatory rhetors of the right, what 'Howard Dean and Robert Byrd have been saying is pretty extreme."

You're clearly saying that the rhetoric of major Dem figures is worse than even the most crazed minor figures of the right. The clear upshot is to posit mainstream dem figures, and the mainstream of the dem party by extension, as radicals.

Given that, it's perfectly fair to point out that nazi and slave rhetoric is used fairly regularly by both parties, which (by definition) renders that rhetoric non-radical.

Y'know, I read in haste, and I understand your point now about parties. I didn't see that you were making a carefully drawn point.

I'll do the same. Byrd didn't call the GOP caucus Nazis: he said that their desire to radically alter procedure in order to get what they want is similar to what the Nazis did. Both changed the contours of law to effectuate their desires. Inasmuch as we think that that tactic of the nazis was wrong, we're committed to thinking that what the GOPers want to do is wrong. It's a metaphor, you see, and not an equivalence.

By contrast, Coulter doesn't say democrats are like traitors. She says they're traitors.

Not at all. Look carefully at what I said. I was arguing against a certain claim I see fairly regularly, that the Democratic party mainstream doesn't engage in this stuff but that it's just extremists. There are people who are quite obviously in the mainstream who do, and one of them is someone who was just visibly made mainstream. That doesn't strictly imply, not does it carry a conversational implicature, that anyone else in the mainstream of the party does this. It doesn't strictly imply, nor does it carry an implicature, that even these two people make a regular practice of this. At it happens, I think Dean does, and I think Byrd doesn't. So my post couldn't have been intended to be claiming, explicitly or implicitly, that both of them do this all the time.

You're clearly saying that the rhetoric of major Dem figures is worse than even the most crazed minor figures of the right.

The rhetoric of these two particular major Dem figures in these two particular instances is worse than the two particular instances of rhetoric I pointed out from those more minor figures on the right. My point was not about these four figures in general, never mind about the parties in general. It was about those four statements by those four people. The two minor figures were selected not because they're minor but because they're two of the most frequently cited by the left.

The clear upshot is to posit mainstream dem figures, and the mainstream of the dem party by extension, as radicals.

The only connection I made to the parties was to refute the argument that it's not in the mainstream of the Democratic party. It had nothing to do with comparing parties except to refute that claim. That doesn't say anything at all about whether the Republican party has mainstream elements that are extreme (Tom Delay proves that it does) or even whether Ann Coulter and Alan Keyes might ever have used Nazi imagery (I'm fairly sure Keyes has done so with respect to abortion, though in that case I think it's much more justified than with respect to those who want the Senate to vote on presidential nominees).

It doesn't say anything at all about whether Howard Dean and Robert Byrd are extreme in their rhetoric 99% of the time. I think Dean really does like to say these extreme things without thinking carefully about them, but nothing I said in the post itself reflected that, because what I said about him paralleled what I said about Byrd, who I don't believe does this regularly.

I also think Harry Reid is proving to be a fairly frequent extremist in his rhetoric with respect to Clarence Thomas, but I never made any claim in this post about that. The post says nothing at all about whether other Democrats in the mainstream are ever this radical or whether Republicans are not, as much as it says nothing about other comments from the two I singled out.

I think if you read the post with all that in mind, you'll see that there's nothing there that requires the assumptions you brought to the post.

I didn't see your last comment before finishing and posting my last one. I'll leave it up as a preemption in case anyone else tries to make the same point.

The point about Byrd is that he's using Nazis to compare with what the Republicans are doing when he could pick anyone who wants to break with some sort of tradition that isn't constitutionally based and have a more accurate comparison.

It's not a metaphor, either. It's an analogy. A metaphor would be much worse, because that would amount to saying something that looks like it's calling them Nazis while only meaning that they're like Nazis. An analogy says that in one respect they're like Nazis and makes that explicit. I acknowledge that this way of putting it is much better, but the fact that he chose this example rather than countless others that have exactly the same feature without the genocide, fascism, or racism counts so strongly against it that by comparison calling someone a traitor seems a good deal less an offense.

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