Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Snow by any other name

It snowed for twelve hours last night and today. It was almost a blizzard. The snow came down at the rate of one inch per hour. The wind was strong enough to push it sideways. By the time it ended, we had almost ten inches on the ground. That’s a lot of snow. And, a lot of shoveling.

I started shoveling as soon as it stopped snowing. Apparently, some of the other people on the street were waiting for the same moment. Shovelfuls of snow were flying up and down the street. The next-door neighbor and I exchanged waves and then buckled down to work.

Snow shoveling is a lot of work. It is very easy to over-do it. Since I’m older and badly out of shape, I make a point of taking lots of breaks. During one of those breaks, I leaned on the shovel and watched the neighbor work. He was like an automaton. Snow was flying everywhere. The thought crossed my mind that he had better slow down or he would give himself a heart attack.

Shoveling is strictly brute labor. It doesn’t require much thought. That gives you plenty of time to think about other things – anything but the cold. Just before I took that break, I had been thinking about the discussions on the Moose. Several thoughts that I had been mulling over recently came together at that moment.

If my neighbor suddenly collapsed would I hesitate to rush to his aid if I knew he was an evangelical that opposed gay marriage? Would it matter to me if he had voted for Bush/Cheney twice? Would I stop to wonder if he belonged to some hate group, like the KKK. Would it matter if the neighbor was a different color? Of course not – he’s a fellow human. That’s what it all comes down to in the end – our fellow humanity.

Dehumanizing an opponent is an old tactic. It allows soldiers to kill the enemy without remorse. It allows normally placid societies to approve the firebombing of civilians. It is used to justify slavery and discrimination. It is also used in less violent ways, such as demonizing political opponents.

One example of dehumanizing an opponent can be seen in the political battle over same-sex marriage. The religious right has continually demonized gays. They are called perverts and compared to pedophiles. They are viewed as sinners who are condemned to hell. This makes it easy for others to discriminate against gays.

The problem with our political discourse is that all sides use the same tactic. Labeling your opponent is the first step in the process. Examples of negative labeling abound, even among those who are supposedly on the same side on most issues.

During the Democratic primaries, Clinton supporters called Obama supporters fan boyz, kool-aid drinkers, cult members, etc… Obama supporters reciprocated by calling Clinton supporters Clintonistas, PUMAs, racists, and other more vitriolic names.

Another example of the same tactic can be found in the current debate over same-sex marriage. Just as the religious right demonizes gays, they, in their turn, are quick to label anyone who opposes same-sex marriage as bigots, homophobes, religious nuts, or hate-mongers.

The name calling from both sides makes it extremely difficult to talk together without anger. It makes it almost impossible to sit down at a table with the other side to discuss rational options. The two sides can stand there and shout epitaphs at each other until they are blue in the face and it won’t change a thing. This way only brings frustration and anger.

Obama is trying another way. He’s treating his opponents with dignity and respect. He’s reaching out to people who seriously wonder if he is the anti-christ; people who fear his liberal stances; ones who have called him a socialist, a Marxist, and an empty suit. This is a big change in Washington.

When Warren offers his prayer it will be to ask for his god’s support for a President who is strongly pro-choice. A President who is committed to ending DADT and repealing DOMA. Can anyone really call this politics as usual?

Obama has not disrespected the LGBT community with this choice. What he has done is to change the playing field. He promised change. He promised to talk to everyone, no matter what views they held. He promised to bring everyone to the table in a search for consensus. The invitation to Warren is a big step in that direction.

I wonder what would happen if we stopped calling each other names and started treating each other with a modicum of respect? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I suspect we are about to find out.


  1. But good points all the same. I suppose that the name calling has for so long been on the side of the shock jock homophobic right (is that name calling back?) that the polarisation runs deep. Any inclusion of the ‘enemy’ seems like a capitulation.

    I’m not that old – but I’m not that young either, and what has staggered me about my personal experience of politicians is that there persona demeanour can be completely opposite to their avowed positions.

    I’ve know left wing leaders who espouse community, democracy and participation, behave like monstrous controlling tyrants in their own domain. Conversely I’ve met conservatives, who have positions I completely disavow as exclusive and intolerant, actually be in the flesh amazing generous and open minded.

    So when we criticise someone’s opinions or political beliefs, we must make the complete leap to the ad hominems of identity politics. For some people the personal isn’t political, and they inherit or mimic phrases or attitudes which are completely at odds to the way the behave.

    I personally understand better the anger and disappointment at many over Warren’s inclusion at the inauguration. I even respect it. But I also have learned that it also helps to tackle different positions on abortion, marriage religion, or scientific research, if you respect the sincerity of the person who holds it, even if you think the opinion is whacko.

    Decrying it, making the person feel stupid and hateful can be counterproductive, because the person gets even more wedded to that belief in adversity. Separate the sinner from the sin, the person from the opinion, and that seems to be to a vital element of making progress, being progressive.

    Thanks for the weather update too, John. It’s wet and warm and rainy in London. Plus ca change.  

  2. HappyinVT

    I once drunkenly discussed abortion with one of them.  Huges mistake and, I believe, one of the reasons we have hardly spoken since.  I have not, and will not, repeat the same mistake with the other sibling.

    I don’t know what their views about same-sex marriage and abortion were prior to their being saved.  But I do know we are on opposite sides now.  Do I love them less?  No.  Since they are both older and presumably will die before me, will I mourn them less?  No.  I choose not to engage them on subjects with which I know we disagree because there is no point.

    There are many who believe that the only way to be heard is to out-shout your opponent, not realizing that doing so often disengages that person.  Two people shouting at each other also just means that neither will hear what the other said.  Finally, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Just because the other side does it doesn’t mean we need to as well.

    With respect to Warren’s invocation, I would hope 1) that he is respectful enough of the grief his friend has taken to be appropriate for the occasion and 2) Obama isn’t dumb enough to completely trust him and that he vets the invocation prior to.

  3. creamer


    It seems to be a very human thing, to demonize others to rally your side. As you mentioned John nations going to war have always done it. Too be honest, when angered its a reaction I must quell. It seems it hard to stay mad at somone you can empathize with.

    I think people sub-consiously do it justify their own biases and bigotry. I’ve found in issues of race people will move a little if commonality is pointed out. But as long as they ae allowed to stick to the stereotype they are comftrable, and would just as soon stay there. They are not nessacarily evil or hateful, its just easier staying where they are, rather than exploring the reasons and motives behind their beliefs. And as you said John, as soon as you call them “bigot, racist or homophobe” they just retreat to their comfort zone.( And hurl some names back.)

    Good diary.

  4. Michelle

    Thank god we don’t have our labels sewn to our shirts or pasted to our foreheads.  Would make for an interesting work of fiction based on current circumstances.  Thankfully, most of us look beyond to see the humanity intertwined in suffering.  However, if I saw Dick Cheney drowning in a pool of his own vomit, I might turn the other way.  /Sigh.  Maybe not…..

  5. spacemanspiff

    Progressive Pragmatism.

    I think of Obama’s approach as being progressive pragmatism – meaning that he would rather make incremental progress than risk overreaching.  As a community organizer ( I’ve learned a lot from GRO), he’s basically telling everyone that some issues need more preparation before they can be successfully addressed with legislation.

    While Obama didn’t go out of his way to discourage people from reading into his candidacy what they wanted to see, his policies have been out there all along for anyone who wanted to log into his website.

    Which is why I say I’m not surprised.

    In many ways progressive, but also backing civil unions and not same sex marriages, being against war in Iraq but wanting to take the fight to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan/Warizstan, and for universal health care access rather than single payer universal care.

    To Obama’s credit he did promise to repeal DOMA and DADT, but of course he hasn’t had the opportunity to do so yet. I’ll be watching and if he doesn’t at least seriously fight to get them repealed in the next two years while there are solid Democratic majorities in both houses then I hope someone more progressive primaries him in 2012 so I can make my displeasure known.

    I do understand why Obama is doing this , but I still think it’s pretty fucked up.

    OT a bit.

    A certain level of thoughtfulness ended once the campaigns got ramped up on major blogs. The meta diaries ( A LOT of them) on Kos for example are all about what the direction of the blog will be. The Moose on the other hand backed off on campaigns and particular personalities and moved toward more thoughtful explorations early on.

    The worst possible scenario (for any progressive blog) is to get caught up defending the administration against a series of scandals.

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