The Power of Labeling


For anyone who was still tempted to take David Frum’s pathetic “No Labels” organization seriously, it should be noted that it’s been the better part of a month since the increasingly despicable Southern Poverty Law Center declared various mainstream conservative organizations to be “anti-gay hate groups” for opposing gay marriage, and there hasn’t been a peep about it from our anti-label crusaders.  Their blog entries for the past month primarily consist of congratulating themselves for existing, mixed with praise for such avatars of bipartisan fellowship as Arlen Specter.  (Arlen Specter wasn’t bipartisan. He was a vicious partisan representing the interests of a one-person party.)

The actions of the Southern Poverty Law Center most certainly constitute labeling.  The Fox News headline even said so: “Conservative Organizations Slam Law Center For Labeling Them Hate Groups.”  This is exactly the sort of thing No Labels was supposedly created to deplore.  The SPLC exists primarily to provide a service to the Democrat Party, by labeling its political opponents as subhuman monsters who exist outside the mainstream of acceptable discourse.  One can’t help but notice their targets – the Tea Party, social conservative organizations – are always the people causing the most trouble for the Democrat agenda.  The point of the exercise is to close off serious debate on important issues, by convincing voters that the opposing viewpoint is unworthy of consideration.  No Labels should be engaged in perpetual warfare with the SPLC.

The people slandered by the Southern Poverty Law Center started an online petition called “Start Debating, Stop Hating” to refudiate the charges.  It’s a much stronger rejection of the effort to control political debates through hate speech than anything No Labels has produced.  It’s already got signatures from John Boehner, Jim DeMint, Bobby Jindal, and other serious people who are trying to get things done.  Meanwhile, No Labels hearts Evan Bayh.

Labels have a tremendous affect on the shape of our public debate – Frum and Company are right about that.  They are the concentrated essence of complex ideas and emotional responses, and political discourse could not exist without them.  It would turn our national debate into the Entmoot from The Lord of the Rings, in which the long-lived trees require days just to speak their full names.

The No Labels brand of “bipartisanship” is a demand for one side to unilaterally disarm in the eternal struggle to shape public opinion about the opposition.  The power to decide what constitutes an objectionable “label” is nearly as useful as the power to apply such labels.  It all comes down to controlling admission to the arena of ideas.  No Labels is no more acceptable a gatekeeper than the Southern Poverty Law Center.  There are plenty of unpleasant labels to apply to the SPLC, and it would be fatal for conservatism if anyone could talk us out of using them.