As a liberal, I’ll feel guilty at the drop of a hat. Just tell me what I’m supposed to feel guilty about and I’m there! Okay, that’s an old joke, but there’s an element of truth to it. If a conservative calls a liberal a bigot, the liberal will laugh at the suggestion, present all the credible evidence proving it’s not true—then intensely consider whether there could, in fact, be any truth in the charge.
The question is, are liberals, by virtue of their opposition to the right generally, or teabaggers in particular, bigoted toward them? This came up in one of my periodic Twitter jousts with a self-described “gay teabagger” (in the political sense). I rejected the notion then, and—after that intense consideration—I still do. I’ll tell you why.
To begin, it’s necessary to waddle around in semantics for a bit, because various words have different meanings. Prejudice, for example, is a generally unfavourable opinion about persons or groups (though one can have a prejudice for something or someone, too). There’s no doubt that the left and the right alike are prejudiced against each other—just look at the rhetoric in the comments sections of the websites they frequent, for example.
Bigotry, however, is a much, much stronger term that implies a dislike so intense that it may even be violent, which is why “hatred” is often a synonym. It always used to be reserved solely to refer to “intense dislike” of people from particular racial, religious or ethnic groups, or “intense dislike” of gay people.
Personally, I believe that it’s possible for the ends of the political spectrum to be bigoted toward one another, and it wouldn’t take much effort to find examples. However, it’s too strong a word, too serious a charge, to be bandied about lightly and casually.
My sin, apparently, was calling teabaggers “stupid”—except, I didn’t; I did, however, say that the teabagger “movement” was a bit “on the dim side” for not being aware of the slang meaning of the term. Personally, I think that’s a fair assessment—don’t conservatives know how to use Google?
Nevertheless, good liberal that I am, I checked my blog and found that when I used the word “stupid”, it’s very rarely to refer to a person, but when I do, it’s because they are stupid (context matters, and usually it’s talking about them acting stupidly). In fact, when I’ve used that word, more often than not it’s to accuse politicians—especially on the right—of treating ordinary people as if we’re stupid.
Of course, the specific word isn’t the issue, nor does it really matter that I’m talking about the “movement” and not individuals. My saying that the teabagger “movement” is a bit dim reveals my prejudices against it, but the fact that I have those prejudices doesn’t make me bigoted. Much as I strongly disagree with the teabaggers, libertarians (old or new) or the right generally, I don’t hate them and I don’t want to see them denied life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
Ultimately, that’s the real point in this exercise: My attitudes and, yes, prejudices are based on my perception of the teabaggers and the rest of the far right as a clear and present danger to my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If my rhetoric is sometimes overheated, that’s why—I make no excuses, I offer no apologies.
Having profound disagreements with one’s adversaries is not the same as hating them. Having unfavourable opinions about the teabagger “movement” or even individuals within it is not the same as being bigoted against them.
The fact that I’m discussing this at all shows the single greatest difference between the far right and liberals: They call us bigots and we self-reflect to ensure it’s not true, but if we call them bigots they wear it as a badge of honour, a point of pride. Draw your own conclusions as to who are more likely to be the real bigots.