Calling Names, What’s Acceptable or Not?

A lot of political folk are bitter about the federal battle over deficit budgeting, spending, and the debt ceiling. I can give representatives of Congress and the executive branch the benefit of the doubt that this is hard work. Then you have very active lobbies and other citizens arguing, if not screaming for change, no changes, or such conflicting actions. Throw in the factor that compromise often makes for a blanket of dissatisfaction to smother the good feelings of getting something accomplished.

The Anchoress is upset. But I’m not sure why, unless she has some burnished anger from the whole episode:

And Vice-President Joe Biden, veteran legislator, onetime plagiarist, calls his fellow countrymen — mere political opposites — “terrorists.” His fellow-democrats who are also throwing the word around are miscreants, political opportunists or the most insensitive of idiots.

But Biden is the Veep. He’s supposed to be competent to fill the Office of the President in a moment of crisis. And he is comparing his countrymen to the sort of people we send Navy SEALS to kill.

Is he that vile, or just stupid?

I’m going to Adoration. Lots to pray about. And yeah, I’ll pray for Biden, too. I can’t believe he went there.

For the last several decades, terrorists took hostages. I knew many of the people on that 80’s plane that flew around the Middle East for seventeen days. For the past several years, people of my profession have been branded as “terrorists.” All in jest, but definitely after 2001. I used to make light of the crack and say that I failed the terrorism cluster in grad school so they let me escape with a degree in systematic theology instead. But I won’t deny I didn’t like it in 1988, and I don’t care for it today.

I’m not sure what Mr Biden’s plagiarism has to do with this current episode. Are we supposed to find calling someone “vile” more believable because of it? Our previous president was often a drunk in his youth. Does that color his honor as a president in Ms Scalia’s book? Likely not.

I suspect we’re witnessing a lot of political people who have invested a lot of personal emotions and energy into the ceiling/deficit matter. I can see how some might feel bitter about the perception that the Tea Party took hostages, politically speaking. I can see how some might feel outraged that the financial standing of the nation was endangered by people outside the political system (Does the Tea Party hold seats in any legislative body anywhere?) willing to attack their closest allies at the Capitol.

But it all begs the question: at what point is it acceptable to call people names and label them?

Can I call conservative activists teacrazy? Can I make generalizations about politicians, corporations, prelates, and such?

If I don’t like people calling my allies “terrorists,” can I even the score by calling those people “vile?”

Does it matter if I use adjectives or nouns? In other words, is “vile” acceptable because it describes my opinion of what’s happening or what I’m feeling? And then “terrorist” is unacceptable because it’s a noun with a very acute blade, especially for a resident of lower Manhattan or Israel?

Do religious people who identify with a deep spiritual tradition have a higher standard? Or can they lash out too, because Jesus did it in the Temple?

Aside from the political realities of our day, I think these are important questions to consider in the Catholic blogosphere. The alternative is that we’re no better than any other random collection of humanity. And if the point is to call someone names to help us feel better (or even) then why would anyone be attracted to the Gospel of Christ above the gospel of anything else?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Calling Names, What’s Acceptable or Not?

  1. Michael says:

    If Ms. Scalia thinks that today’s Republicans are mere “political opposites,” I’d say she’s an idiot. I don’t think they’re terrorists, but I do think they’re scoundrels who are determined to destroy America by non-violent means.

    But then, I’m not the Vice-President, and so I only see them at a distance. He may be right.

  2. Molly Roach says:

    Name calling says a lot about the name caller but not all that much about the target. I think it reflects frustration and powerful investment in an outcome that has not emerged.

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