Sit Down and Shut Up
Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I can’t help wondering if the right-wing blogosphere/Fox News world has some talking point floating around right now. It runs something like this: liberals preach tolerance, but they won’t tolerate opposition; therefore, they are hypocrites.
Like I said, maybe it’s coincidence, but I’ve heard variations on this theme several times in the past couple weeks. Not that it’s a new line. I’ve heard it for years. In fact, I used it myself back in my own right-wing Republican days: “If liberals are so tolerant, why do they get so bent out of shape with people who disagree with them? Shouldn’t they practice what they preach?”
At first blush, this point has merit. If you’re going to talk about the benefits of tolerance, you should lead by example. A liberal who harps about racists and homophobes, but then angrily abuses Tea Partiers for their intolerance is being hypocritical, right? In a word: yes.
Yes, liberals should practice what they preach and not scream in the faces of those who disagree with them. Yes, being nasty with intolerant people is hypocritical. Yes, rude accusations and epithets are not good examples of tolerance.
My own experience with the liberals-are-intolerant-hypocrites line makes me smile when I hear conservatives use it. I know when they use it, they’re nervous. I know they use it because they’re trying to disarm their opposition. I know this because that’s when I used it.
It’s kind of a wimpy, whiny, anxious tactic. Basically, they are trying to end the argument before it begins by negating their opponents’ right to argue at all. It’s pretty clever, and when liberals lose their temper, when they engage in hateful, angry speech, this tactic succeeds.
But we’re only human. Even liberals lose their tempers. Good grief, even Jesus, the pinnacle of patience and tolerance, lost his temper with the merchants in the temple. (How interesting that the only example we have of Jesus’ being angry is with the very group conservatives are most concerned with protecting.)
Still, liberals should try not to stoop to the level of the conservatives. After all, isn’t the flip side of this argument that intolerant speech should be reserved for intolerant people? Evidently, angry, narrow-minded rhetoric belongs solely to the GOP because they are openly intolerant. So that would seem to mean that as long as you are obvious in your hatred, you can spew it freely. If, on the other hand, you are trying to tame your natural human tendencies toward prejudice and suspicion, any lapse on your part is utter failure. Liberals must be perfect or else they’re hypocrites.
I know the conservatives who use this line are not confused about perfection and tolerance. Nor are they confused about the difference between “tolerance” and “weakness.” They know that liberals are not perfect and will lose their composure from time to time; they know that you can be tolerant without being a silent doormat. But they don’t like hearing their own angry rhetoric coming from liberal mouths. They want to keep that tool out of the hands of the opposition. Agitated ranting belongs to them and them alone.
I actually agree with the right-wingers on this point: I don’t like to hear rage from liberal mouths either. It is beneath us. (Hear that, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann? Knock it off!) Let the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O’Reillys and the Ted Nugents have it.
But we won’t be quiet. We won’t be drowned out, talked over, silenced by the loud screeching on the Right. The only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Good people cannot be quiet, and we won’t be quiet when we see intolerance, unfairness and cruelty. We won’t shut up when Southern pastors call for “whites-only” conferences. We won’t be silent when Congressmen refuse to legalize gay marriage because it will jeopardize the sanctity of the institution they sully with their own extramarital affairs. We won’t stand by while women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same work.
We can be tolerant without being quiet. We can be tolerant without being hateful. We can be tolerant without being loud.
But hey, when we do lapse and lose our tempers and engage in the nasty rhetoric we learned so well from the Right, conservatives can take comfort in one way we liberals cannot: At least most of us don’t have guns.