News your connection to The Boston Globe

Smears, slanders from the left

''Political discussion over the last decade has increasingly degenerated into name-calling,'' Brian Anderson wrote in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal earlier this year. ''The insults most often come from the left: 'racist,' 'homophobe,' 'sexist.' . . . it has become a habit of left-liberal political argument to . . . redefine mainstream conservative arguments as extremism and bigotry. Close-minded and uncivil, this tendency betrays what's liberal in liberalism.''


For eight years now, I have been rounding up examples of liberal hate speech - the gross and vicious slanders of conservatives uttered all too often by mainstream liberals. And it seems to me that as bad as these vitriolic slurs are, even worse is the failure of responsible voices on the left to condemn them.

Where were the responsible liberals in 2001, for example, when Democratic partisans were comparing John Ashcroft to the KKK and his nomination to a lynching party?

Representative William Clay of Missouri, recalling George W. Bush's talk of outreach to black Americans, said that picking Ashcroft resembled "the way Ku Klux Klan members worked to improve race relations: They, too, reached out to blacks with nooses and burning crosses." Steve Benson, a syndicated editorial cartoonist, depicted Ashcroft wearing white robes and enthusiastically brandishing a noose as Bush tells him, "Easy, John - I said your confirmation should be a cinch - a cinch."

The chairman of the NAACP reached for a more contemporary smear. Twice Julian Bond declared that Bush had dredged Ashcroft "from the Taliban wing of American politics." That was ugly enough in July, when the Taliban were merely the fanatics who tortured dissidents, crushed human rights, and repressed women so savagely that thousands died from lack of medical care. By December, when Bond repeated his libel, the Taliban were at war with the United States. Yet Bond still saw nothing wrong with his revolting comparison. Neither did America's liberal elite.

Actually, one liberal - USA Today's DeWayne Wickham - did call Bond's words "overblown." I would have taken that as faintly critical, except that he began by chortling over Bond's ability "to jerk the GOP's chain" and went on to defend his Republican-bashing. Far from condemning liberal hate speech, Wickham himself traffics in it. In August, he wrote about the uproar over conservative activist David Horowitz's ad opposing reparations for slavery. The column opened with a vile calumny, calling Horowitz "a man whose views on race relations track closer to those of David Duke than Martin Luther King."

Could anything be more unspeakable than accusing someone falsely of being akin to a Nazi racist? Yet liberals say such things - and other liberals don't object.

By contrast, when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson ascribed the Sept. 11 attacks to God's wrath over abortion, gay rights, feminism, and the ACLU, fellow conservatives were appalled.

Rush Limbaugh blasted them as "indefensible" and said he was "profoundly embarrassed and disappointed by their comments." William F. Buckley disdained their "ignorant misapplication of Christian thought." John Podhoretz wrote of his "revulsion," labeling the remarks "shameful . . . ignorant." Rod Dreher, in a powerful column for, called Falwell and Robertson "heartless bastards" whose words had been "unspeakably profane."

When a conservative oversteps the bounds of decency in condemning a liberal, he typically gets scorched by criticism, much of it from the right. But there was no scorching of:

Chris Matthews, who likened Republicans quoting John F. Kennedy on taxes to "the Nazi Party quoting Kennedy saying, `Ich bin ein Berliner'?"

Al Sharpton, who said during the postelection ballot fight in Florida that conservatives want to "do the same thing to us" that "Hitler in his wickedness and evil" did to the Jews.

Michelangelo Signorile, the well-known gay writer, who wrote that while Afghanistan "has been protecting Osama bin Laden, Italy has been harboring another omnipotent religious zealot, one who equally condemns us Western sinners and incites violence. . . . Meet John Paul II, Christian fundamentalist extraordinaire and a man who inspires thugs across the globe. . ."

And then there was California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who said last summer, in reference to the chairman of Enron Corp., "I would love to personally escort [Kenneth] Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, `Hi, my name is Spike, honey.' "

This is what liberal hate speech descended to this year: A Democratic politician openly yearning for an unpopular businessman to be raped behind bars. How low will they go in 2002?

Read Jeff Jacoby's previous columns on liberal hate speech
Globe Archives
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months