Conservative leaders and thinkers are strenously trying to sell the idea that Democrats hate America, hate religion, and are fascists who would like to exterminate disabled people. What is going on out there?
It's a tactic that we've seen before but it's time to name the game from here on. I suggest we call it demonism. I define demonism as the rhetorical ploy of implying or directly stating that your opponent is demonic rather than arguing the underlying points with facts and analysis. The idea is that we know whatever Satan says is wrong. Here is an example.
Democrat: "I'm concerned about the poor."
Republican: "You remind me of Adolf Hitler."
Yes, demonism usually calls for a complete non sequitur. For a recent example, look no further than the contraception issue.
I’ve been talking lately with conservatives (oh, the horror, the horror) about the contraception clash. Many maintain that the flap is not about contraception. No, they insist, it’s about government intrusion on an issue of moral conscience. Rather than debate the underlying health care policy, they want to characterize the situation as a religious war with Obama cast as the demon.
The post below is about two things.
1. Demonstrating that this controversy is about contraception and not about government intrusion on conscience. This is the style of argument that Democrats adopt in the face of demonism. The argument employs common sense and points out that there is generally no basis in reality for accusing anyone other than Hitler of being Hitler. Here's an excellent demonstration from Jon Stewart.
2. Complaining more broadly about the general Republican tactic of demonism: suggesting that if you disagree with them on policy issues then you are evil.
First, some clear thinking to dispel forever the idea that the contraception controversy is about public intrusion on matters of conscience.
1. Religious organizations and their affiliates have been explicitly exempted from this law. Note, even the original rule exempted houses of worship. If one was actually trying to attack religion, why would he leave out religion?
2. If using contraception is against one’s conscience, the law does not compel it. A public mandate merely to make something available does not compel its use by any particular person.
3. Surveys show that the vast majority of women use some form of contraception, even Catholic woman who are sexually active. Many Christian leaders and theologians believe that contraception is not sinful within marriage. So the idea that merely making contraception available necessarily condones inherently immoral behavior is preposterous.
4. The federal government has the power to tax and the power to regulate interstate commerce. The feds can constitutionally use these tools to influence behavior. Influencing behavior is not the same as legislating belief. In compelling insurance coverage for contraception, the federal government is not establishing any religion nor interfering with any religious exercise involving religious beliefs. This presents no constitutional issue.
The government has the power to regulate conduct. The federal government regulates many industries to protect consumers. The ADA, for example, requires businesses to make expenditures in order to make their premises accessible to people with disabilities. This law would be valid even if a religion was concocted that held beliefs against serving the disabled. The Securities Laws require expenditures for information disclosures. The federal government has the power to order activity that involves expenditures in the public interest. This is no different in kind.
This is a regulation of conduct, not belief. If anyone imagines that the federal government cannot intrude on individual liberty where moral conscience is involved, think about war as an analogy. The federal government has the constitutional power to conscript citizens into war and compel them to assist in killing, even though killing may be contrary to their moral and religious beliefs. The feds have the power to take your money and use it to make bombs that kill innocent people, even if you think blowing innocent people up is morally questionable. As long as the government doesn’t legislate or interfere with religious beliefs, it has the power to regulate conduct and limit freedom. This law has nothing to do with religious beliefs. A law cannot be defeated by having some religious organization claim moral objection to the law’s consequences.
So this only about one thing: contraception. The conscience part remains firmly in the grasp of individuals.
Now, on to point two: Republicans should stop resorting to ad hominem attacks to win policy arguments. In this case, instead of arguing their reasons for excluding contraception from coverage (i.e., religious objections to contraception itself), Republicans have accused the President of conducting a war against religion. This is completely ridiculous for all the reasons outlined above, but especially because most people do not believe that contraception is immoral or violates religious doctrines.
When Republicans disagree with someone about a policy matter, instead of debating the underlying issue, they attack the person who holds the different opinion and start calling them names: unchristian, communist, fascist, traitor and so on. Sometimes this is veiled and sometimes it is direct. Demonism. Santorum, as a specific example, has argued against covering prenatal testing on the fantastical grounds that Obama wants to use it to weed disabled people out of society. Whatever the manifestation, it’s wearing thin. People see through it. They are not so stupid as to be taken in by such obvious and baseless rhetorical ploys (we hope) as calling people bad names and hoping they will stick. In a diverse society, people may disagree about policy issues. That doesn’t mean that anyone is an evil enemy of the people who hates America. Give us a break. Please, let’s talk about the underlying issues. Below I illustrate Republicans arguing with Democrats.
Democrat: “I think health insurers should be required to cover contraception.”
Republican: “You want to destroy capitalism and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Democrat: “I think insurance companies should cover prenatal testing.”
Republican: “You want to murder all disabled people.”
Democrat: “I don’t think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were/are good for America.”
Republican: “You are ashamed of America; you are a terrorist and you want to establish Sharia Law throughout the United States.”
Democrat: “I think that the wealthiest people in the nation should pay the same tax rate as they used to a few years back.”
Republican: “You want to eliminate the concept of private property.”
Democrat: “I think we need to invest in creating jobs.”
Republican: “You want to put everyone in the nation on welfare and destroy the United States economy.”
Get the idea? The fact that we might disagree about an item of policy does not mean that one of us is trying to create hell on earth.
The possibility for dialogue will remain remote until we exorcise demonism from our political discourse.