Every time I write a column that even remotely mentions homosexuality and history’s disinclination to regard it as a commendable lifestyle, I am inundated with email accusing me of hateful gay-bashing and labeled a homophobe. While I do not hate homosexuals or anyone else for that matter, I do have a problem with folks who use etymologically confused words like “homophobe.”
When used as a noun, even the word “homosexual” is now considered objectionable because, as a usage note at dictionary.com’s entry puts it, “of the emphasis this term places on sexuality. Indeed, the words gay and lesbian, which stress cultural and social matters over sex, are frequently better choices.” Oh for the days when this kind of “logic” was found anywhere but in a reference guide!
Prior to the Bill Clinton era, words had definite meanings and many times, also consequences. After the 42nd president treated us to his tortuous twisting of the meanings of the words “sexual relations” and “is,” he and his war-room personnel coined the phrase, “politics of personal destruction” to deal with anyone who dared give actual credence to the aforementioned words he had spoken under oath.
As a result, the whole Lewinsky affair — which gave untold numbers of young people the happy notion that oral sex was no longer considered sex — was an event typical of the ongoing debasement of our modern culture which has claimed many victims; two of which are language and civility.
Turn on your TV at almost any hour of the day or night and you will see the evidence. From grammatically-challenged hosts (“We’re back after this commercial break”), to loutish teenagers, presumably still under the blush of a public-school education, who can barely complete a sentence without using profanity. Or open a newspaper where you will read of a municipal employee in hot water for using the word “niggardly” in reference to budgetary matters.
And so now have we come to the point that nearly all forms of speech, and especially those formerly deemed crude, have now made their way into the political arena. This is not to say that America hasn’t seen its share of electoral mud-slinging, it’s just that the mud has become dirtier and more pervasive, rearing its ugly head in unexpected places.
Last week’s flap over Ann Coulter’s unfortunate use of a vulgarism regarding John Edwards is a prime example. Miss Coulter is a brilliant writer whose High Crimes and Misdemeanors was a tour-de-force during the aforementioned Clinton era and an indispensable argument against his “it’s all about sex” defenders. She is a stalwart conservative whose rapier wit often wounds Politically Correct — a nauseating euphemism for a perverted sort of civility — sensibilities.
But any way you look at it, the word she used to describe Edwards was uncalled for and unwarranted. The organizers, sponsors and attendees at CPAC generally represent the conservative mindset, which for decades has maintained that it is the movement of ideas, of those who think with their heads; in direct opposition to the liberal left which tends to attract those whose feelings dictate their policy.
Also implicit is the notion that conservatism, by its definition, embodies the desire for the preservation of the cultural status quo, or a return to one of earlier times. In either case, the use of words such as those used by Miss Coulter last week and at CPAC 2006 when she dismayed many present with the term “raghead,” cannot reflect well on those aims. Our leading lights, especially those who proudly call themselves Christians, need not descend into the pit of what sadly passes for modern discourse.
There are many who think that the time for such civility is long past, given the control liberal media and education have on the minds of our fellow citizens, and while this is a factor, it doesn’t necessarily make it a determinative one. On the contrary, when a conservative does push the boundaries of good taste, he is quickly called on the progressive carpet for crimes of hypocrisy, making the incident all the more useful to the other side.
This of course is not to say that conservatives should be pacifists in the war of words fought in the modern political arena — indeed, one withering paragraph from the pen of William F. Buckley is worth a thousand words from Maureen Dowd — it’s just that the use of vulgarities must be viewed as an unwelcome weapon.
Conservatives love to bemoan the fact that there’s not another Ronald Reagan out there. If his followers would unite in preserving the example of his kindly and gentlemanly ways, maybe the next one won’t be far off.