Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bush Gives Evil a Bad Name

That is a delightful rhetorical jibe in Carlin Romano's piece on the language that political leaders have come to use when talking about terrorism (Chronicle of Higher Education).

Romano's complaint is that "official rhetoric after terrorist acts has become ethically neutral, merely strategic in tone and content." He offers some interesting speculation as to why this might be the case, but mainly he's expressing his irritation. He'd like to see more remarks on the order of Sarkozy's famous reference to French rioters as "scum." He believes -- probably correctly, to judge from Sarkozy's subsequent electoral victory -- that people would like to see more "stern moral judgment" from their elected leaders.

Er, um ... maybe. Gay people in the US already get an awful lot of stern moral judgment from politicos, especially during election cycles, for the precise reason that this is the rhetoric that wins elections. But does that make it wise?

In fact, as more and more anti-gay politicians are forced out of the closet (Craig, Foley ... can Santorum be far behind?), their use of this rhetoric to claim a supposed moral high ground looks both hypocritical and desperate. In the same way, for American leaders to call their opponents "monsters" even as they adopt certain monstrous practices of their own might set them up for an ugly rhetorical comeuppance.

Let's put it very simply. We all know that OBL, AQM, the Taliban and so forth are monsters, by any rational definition. But unless our government is willing (and able) to guarantee that there will be no more secret prisons, Abu Ghraibs, Gitmos, Hadithas, Mahmudiyas -- not to mention Plamegates -- then they really shouldn't be too aggressive about moralistic finger-wagging.

More simply still: glass houses.

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