July 2009 Unethical Websites
This website made the rounds in the wake of Congressman Peter King’s YouTube diatribe against Michael Jackson, when he called him a “pervert.” King’s words were ugly, tasteless, ill-timed, ignorant and unfair, but mild compared to the site, which is all of these and more. Its thesis is that being a Republican is prima facie evidence of perversion, and its audience is anyone whose critical thinking skills are minimal and whose hatred is strong.
The site purports to be a comprehensive brief against the character of anyone in the Republican Party, which is to say, anyone who has the bad taste to disagree with the political and social views of the site’s creator. Using links to old news stories of widely varying credibility, the site indiscriminately mixes in actual cases of Republican officials convicted of sexual offenses with those accused but never tried or convicted, along with rumors, crackpot conspiracy theories and outright lies. It also explores the outer reaches of guilt by association, noting, for example, that “Republican serial killer Ted Bundy” once had a job with the Washington State Republican Party, and that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was a “Republican voter” ( not that it matters, but he was really just a registered Republican at one time, which is not the same thing.) For good measure, the site states authoritatively that “psychologists say the conservatism is mental illness” (the classic rhetorical deceit, implying “all psychologists” with the plural when the article cited notes exactly two, and they don’t even say what the link says they did).
One could write an instructive tome on various devices of propaganda, libel, disinformation and character assassination using nothing but the contents of this site. One could also produce a large document documenting the site’s leaps of logic, rhetorical excesses, biased conclusions, dishonest use of cites and irresponsible assertions, but that would be giving it more time and attention that it deserves.
Still, it must be said: websites like this are a symptom of deteriorating public discourse. Zealots on both the Left and the Right, rather than make an honest effort to challenge the views and assumptions of those on the other side, increasingly opt to smear their character with broad and crude generalizations. Democrats and liberals hate America, and want to destroy everything that is good and decent. Republicans and conservatives are fascists and hypocrites. Liberals are evil: they encourage the killing of babies and the destruction of the family. Conservatives are evil: they secretly lead lives of sexual excess and mad fetishes. This mode of public debate could be laughed off as self-evidently ridiculous, except that individuals held in high regard by millions engage in it routinely. Listen to conservatives Michael Savage (whose writings claims liberalism is a mental illness) or Marc Levin on your radio. Or read one of newly-seated Democratic Senator Al Franken’s books, before he realized that accusing all Republicans of being fate, venal and stupid was a serviceable road to power.
The practice, in truth, is argument by bigotry. It is a form of bullying, and is in equal parts slander, dishonestly, and ignorance. It is indistinguishable in its essence with the techniques used by Adolph Hitler to turn the German public against the Jews. As with all bigotry, the only effective way to end it is for friends, relatives and ideologically-allied colleagues to explicitly reject and condemn such unfair and disrespectful approaches to advocacy, and to shun those who engage in them until they change their ways. Ultimately, the debate strategy on display on www.armchairsubversive.org is anti-democratic. Such abuse of the freedom of political expression doesn’t just rob it of value; it distorts it into a tool of hate.