Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Farrakhan Defense

The response to Dr. George Tiller's death has made me nearly as angry, and more shocked, than even the murder itself made me. It is appalling to see any public figure, no matter how foolish and corrupt, equivocate by condemning a murder but calling the victim of that murder a "monster." It is disgusting to read Megan McArdle's double-voiced paean to vigilantism, which compares the killer's victim to a Nazi, or William Saletan's bankrupt and sophomoric exercise in moral equivalency. Everyone, or almost everyone, makes a token acknowledgment that murder is still a crime, and purports to disapprove. But with that brief obligation dispensed, people evidently feel free to vilify the dead man, the victim of the crime, in the most grotesque and slanderous way, comparing him to Josef Mengele or Pol Pot. The vile O'Reilly actually delivers his pro forma denunciation in a transparently insincere voice, signaling that while "Kansas law" allows what Tiller did, O'Reilly has nothing but contempt for that law. Then he proceeds, much more warmly to repeat his libelous smears on the victim. Then O'Reilly complains of unfair treatment by his critics. Someone has been murdered in a church, and O'Reilly claims that he, O'Reilly, is the victim.

I've never really believed in the decline of our civilization until now. What could be more barbarous, less humane, less civil?

Beyond the indecency of speaking this way while Tiller's widow and family are still grieving, and beyond the rank dishonesty of the smears against him, it is shocking to hear people continue the very demonization that got the man murdered in the first place. Dr.Tiller is discussed, even in his death, as a monster, as someone whose motives with incomprehensibly malevolent, as someone who should not be imagined as real or human. They mouth pious regret for his death, but do their best to erase the life he actually led from the public memory.

Worst of all, they complain about being held accountable for the inflammatory rhetoric that made the crime seem possible, and then sensible, and finally even laudable, to the deranged gunman. They compare a man to genocidal tyrants, and when he is killed they compare him to genocidal tyrants again, and they are shocked, shocked, that anyone would suggest they ought to have spoken differently.

O'Reilly presents, essentially, the Louis Farrakhan defense: He's not responsible for Malcolm X's murder, and should not be blamed for it simply because he was publicly preaching that the Malcolm should be killed. Farrakhan felt he was being unjustly persecuted, too.

O'Reilly, and the other pro-lifers who complain that they are being viewed unfairly, are wrong. They are not being unfairly blamed. They are free from criminal penalty, and from civil suit, because they did not participate in the crime itself. They are free from any censorship of their speech, even their intemperate speech, because they did not explicitly urge the murder. The freedom with which they trash and defile Tiller's memory proves how far from any real fear of censorship they are.

The essence of their position is that it is unfair for others to judge their speech. They will be permitted to say whatever they like, however dishonest or intemperate, however liable to encourage the violent fringe. But it is unfair for listeners to make a judgment about their honesty, their temper, their morals or their wisdom. For the rest of us to listen to them and decide for ourselves is, apparently, a violation of their freedom. Accusing people of murder and comparing them to Hitler is an exercise of their rights. Calling them dangerous demagogues for saying those things is a violation of their rights.

O'Reilly and Carlson and the leaders of Operation Rescue should not be punished by law, or by censorship. But they should be blamed. They have earned an enormous amount of blame. They are free to pose as moral authorities, the rest of us are not obligated to believe it. They can say whatever horrible and morally depraved things they please. But no one has to pretend to like it.

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