Political rhetoric is starting to kick into high gear as a result of the rapidly approaching 2012 election, and I have a favor to ask of members of the progressive camp. It’s not a very big favor, and I’m pretty confident y’all can do it, and it really would mean a lot to me, so I’d like you to settle down ‘round my knee and listen closely, homechickens.
Please, please, please, do not dismiss people with repellent politics by calling them “crazy,” thus forcing me to defend them. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking you to do. I’d like you to either engage with their arguments, to articulate why they are terrible and bad and why these people shouldn’t be getting anyone’s vote, or ignore them.
There are a couple of reasons I ask you to do this. The first is that I know progressives and liberals can be good critical thinkers when you put your minds to it. I see it all the time in the detailed and nuanced dissection and discussion of political issues in conversations taking place in your own spaces. I see people carefully dismantling arguments put forward by members of their own camp, explaining why they are flawed or ineffective, pushing for better arguments, asking for more.
Growing up, my father always told me that “I don’t like it” or “just because” weren’t sufficient arguments, that if I disagreed with something, I had to be able to articulate why I disagreed, and how my disagreement worked. I see my father’s argument playing out every day in progressive spaces, where people are challenged and asked to defend their positions, where mind-opening conversations happen. Those discussions occur because “just because” isn’t accepted as a reason to dislike something or someone.
And yet, when it comes to examining the rhetoric of the right wing, “just because” is, apparently, a sufficient response. Because that’s what “she’s crazy1” means. It means that this person, and any arguments put forward, are beneath your attention. You don’t even have to muster a complex and nuanced response, because, hello, crazy.
I find the politics of the right repulsive. These politics are often hateful, they involve proposals which will result in actual political, economic and social harm. They involve the marginalization of many groups in society, the maintenance of an oppressive status quo. We are on the same side, here, when it comes to disliking the politics being put forward by the major Republican contenders for the Presidential nomination.
Except that I don’t find it productive to call these people, or their politics, “crazy.” If they’re really so awful, I should be able to articulate how they are awful, and I should be able to do so in a way that goes beyond preaching to the choir, which is an issue many people in progressive movements have. Among fellow progressives, it’s easy to say “this proposal put forward by Herman Cain’s camp is clearly revolting and gross.”
But that’s not convincing people who might be thinking of voting for him, or who might think the plan is a good idea2. Those people need to hear why the plan is a bad one, and they need to hear why in a way that is accessible to them.
Saying “this plan is crazy” doesn’t provide anyone with any actual information that will change their minds. If anything, it’s going to entrench them even more firmly, because they’re going to hear that statement and go “Ah, so there’s actually no hard argument here about why this plan is a bad idea?”
I’m supposed to tell you that, as a crazy person, I don’t like hearing my identity used as a slur, and I don’t appreciate it when referring to something as “crazy” is used as neat dismissal. And this is true. There’s a direct tie between casually dismissing things you don’t like as crazy and what I experience as a person with mental illness, where awareness of my diagnoses changes the way people relate with me, and, yes, makes it easier for people to dismiss me. Because I live in a world where crazy people have no value, and our opinions don’t belong in conversations on equal footing.
But honestly, this isn’t about that. This is a plea, from me to you, to actually present substantive arguments when criticizing the political right, because it’s those arguments that can change hearts and minds. It’s those arguments that can shift the outcome of an election. And it’s those arguments that the right will actually have to respond to, instead of sitting on a high horse and sneering at you because you can’t come up with any actual criticisms of their proposals.
And I also really don’t want to have to spend the next year explaining why it is not okay to repeatedly label female politicians as “crazy” just because you don’t like them. Because I have way more important, fun, and interesting things to do than defending people like Michele Bachmann.
1. It’s also notable, if I may sidebar for a moment, that it’s almost always a “she” who is crazy/insane/batshit/etc. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are “crazy,” Mitt Romney is evil. Take a moment, if you will, to think about why it is that mental illness has become a gendered epithet.
2. And these are the people we want to reach, yes? We are struggling for social change? To shift the way people think? We are surely not just wanting to sit around and navelgaze, I hope.