New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently informed us that a national movement is afoot “to punish the unemployed.” Remarkably, he went on to write, conservatives think the world is far too easy on those who can’t find work, so they’re on a mission to make it worse. The right, you see, is not just perpetuating flawed ideas or misguided policies or dumb economics but driven by an inexplicable desire to inflict pain on the innocent.
Now, as it happens, I am acquainted with a few conservatives. And though it’s hardly a scientific sampling, I’ve yet to hear any of them express a desire to punish the unemployed — or minorities or women, for that matter. They may not want to offer the unemployed exactly what Krugman might. They may believe, as Krugman once did, that promising infinite relief isn’t feasible or constructive. But by assigning a fiendish objective to a conservative policy, Krugman, as he often does, takes a deceitful shortcut to play on your emotions.
Demonizing your political opponents is nothing new, and it’s certainly not unique to modern liberals, but sometimes it seems as if there isn’t any contemporary debate that doesn’t feature some fabricated moral clash between good and evil.
You may, for instance, be under the impression that anyone who believes immigration laws should be enforced — laws that allow thousands of guest workers and a million new immigrants into the country every year — is only a fear-stricken nativist. Some refuse to accept that anyone could be driven by a genuine anxiety over assimilation or a worry about wage depression or a belief that there are destructive consequences to offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. For some, there can be no other explanation than xenophobia.
Or take abortion. Texas legislator Wendy Davis, as most of you have no doubt heard, waged a heroic battle against some crusty old white men who have it in for all women — because, evidently, crusty old white men in Texas are incapable of being genuinely troubled by the dismemberment of nearly viable and viable fetuses. Creating cartoon misogynists is an effective way to circumvent any prickly discussions about the moral implications of a late-term abortion. It also allows the enlightened to sneer at all those hick reactionaries without ever having to confront their arguments.
And when Catholics and others who still believe traditional marriage is a public good worth defending can’t be browbeaten by Twitter hashtag campaigns into abandoning a few thousand years of tradition, it can only be chalked up to homophobia. Taking the traditional position, a position shared by the progressive president a mere year ago, is now tantamount to supporting George Wallace. That was certainly quick.
But does anyone really believe it’s that simple? Sometimes I wonder. A recent Rasmussen poll found that of those who approve of Barack Obama’s job performance, just 29 percent see radical Muslims as a bigger threat than the tea party. Democrats — if the pundit class is any reflection of the general sentiment of voters — have convinced themselves that most conservative arguments needn’t be confronted because they, nearly always, camouflage some uglier sentiment.
Occasionally, there is an uglier underlying sentiment. And plenty of people on the left do confront the right’s arguments at face value. But too often it isn’t the case. As it goes, I support immigration reform (in concept), and I believe that government should stay out of the business of defining marriage, but surely, how we debate those issues matters.
Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi.