The partisan politics of crying “bully”

I’ve occasionally bleated blogged about the fashionabilty of smearing every utterance and behavior that you don’t agree with as the act of a “bully.” But the other day, Ken, over at Popehat, relieved me of ever having to write about the phenomenon again. That’s because he didn’t just hit the nail on the head; he brought down a twenty-pound sledgehammer on the fucking thing. Just pounded it with one masterful post — and along with it, he smacked the whole range of censorious whiners and smug milquetoasts upside the head, on both sides of the ideological divide no less.

I approve of protecting the weak from the strong. I approve of calling out people who pick on strangers who are minding their own business and who didn’t enter a debate. But I don’t like the unprincipled overuse of “bullying” for several reasons. I don’t like it because it shifts focus from issues to personalities. I don’t like it because it changes our focus from substance to quarrels over substance. I don’t like it because I think it encourages the trend of feckless, unconstitutional speech codes, and encourages the state to apply those codes too broadly. I don’t like it because it encourages the unprincipled to pursue legal theories like “cyberbullying” when they mean “I acted badly and now a bunch of people are writing about me acting badly.” I don’t like it because I think it encourages the censorious mindset rather than the appetite for more speech. I don’t like it because it encourages a posture of weakness over a posture of strength. But perhaps most of all, I don’t like the overuse of “bullying” because it diminishes and degrades the word for petty political purposes to the detriment of actual victims of real bullying. The meretricious overuse of the term “bullying” threatens to degrade it to the point where efforts against real bullying are not taken seriously and are tarred with the same brush of self-serving partisanship.

Put another way, if you think it’s “bullying” for Sean Hannity or Rachel Madow or some blogger to make fun of people with your viewpoint on some political subject, I think you are unserious, I think you are flirting with weakness, I think you are empowering censors, I think you are more interested in partisan games than in kids getting the shit knocked out of them every schoolday, and frankly I think you are kind of a dick.

Sorry if that comes off as bullying.

The whole delicious post is here.

About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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