How can a man of oxycontin addiction, a man who ruthelessly exploited Terry Schiavo to further his conservative ends, show such brazen cheek? And why do millions of Americans cheer and "ditto" him to exaltation rather than observe such hypocricy with the fascination and disgust usually reserved for three-day old road kill?
What we have, I believe, is a deep-rooted need to deny. It is not enough to stand on principles. The other side must have none. For Rush and the Conservative movement he champions, it is not enough to be right. The other side must be wholly and completely without substance, scoundrels of the worst order, scum to be mocked and villified, not fellow Americans part of a broader political debate.
Because Rush could have made an argument from principle. He could have said "I feel sorry for Michael J Fox, but why does he advocate murder to save his own life? Would he shoot the man sitting next to him if it would cure his Parkinson's? Should we elect people who say 'I'll murder babies to save celebrities?'"
I wouldn't agree with that characterization, mind, but it would at least have been based on the principles Rush and his folks purport to believe. But no, that's not enough for Rush and the conservatives. Michael J Fox can't just be a murderer. He also has to be a fraud. Even if he is not faking his symptoms, he is "exploiting" his disease by bringing it into the public eye and forcing everyone to confront a real, suferring patient rather than a hypothetical construct.
I believe there is more at stake than simply the desire to eradicate all trace of sympathy in one's opponent, lest sympathy breed rebellion from established dogma. What we see here is a fundamental need to deny any facts that might create discomfort, that would force re-evaluation.
One of the fundamental principles enshrined in our constitution is the right to confront the accuser. To force a person whose testimony will send the defendant to prison to look at the object of that testimony and see the person who will suffer if you lie. Yes, it is hard. It can be traumatic. Crimes may go unpunished because a witness who has genuinely suffered will not care to relive the experience in the presence of one who caused them pain. But would we prefer the alternative? To allow people to testify without ever seeing the real person? To allow people to sit comfortably and quietly, never confronting that false testimony or even mildly dishonest testimony will put an innocent person behind bars?
Rush and his conservative comrades fear that the American people, if forced to look a real person in the eye, will blink. That's why they must deny their humanity. That's why it's not enough that Terry Schiavo's life is sacred, Michael Schiavo must be an evil adulterer with questionable motives. It's not enough that Cindy Sheehan is a grief stricken mom but in war mother's lose their sons. She must be painted as a political Jezebel whose political machinations degrade the memory of her son. Because to acknowledge their humanity, their suffering, or the understanding of their perspective might require the hard work of saying "my principles impose costs on others, but I still believe they are worth it."
But the blame for this phenomena lies not with Rush alone. They merely enable. It lies with every ditto head who thinks that villfying the messenger undermines the message. The armies of people who prefer the comforting lies and distractions of personal attacks to the hard work of defending their dogma, even to themselves.
The Book of Ecclesiastes warns that the rebuke of the wise is better than the laughter and chatter of fools. After all, to endure criticism is a hard thing. It makes us feel bad. It makes us reconsider our actions and beliefs. How comforting to surround ourselves with those who make us laugh and feel good. How much more pleasant. But it is an empty comfort, we are warned. As the crackling of the thorns under the cook pot, which make much noise but give little light or heat, so too is the laughter and chatter of fools.
We will see on Novemeber 7th if enough people can bear the rebuke of the wise, or if, like the fool of Ecclesiastes, they shall fold their hands and eat their own flesh.