Saturday, October 08, 2005

Column 53 - Ice Rink

As I’ve written before, one of the lowest forms of discourse is the ad hominem argument – this is an argument that, instead of attacking someone’s ideas or positions, attacks personally. A singularly scurrilous form of the ad hominem is the “those people” argument. Here, again instead of arguing against the idea, one attacks a real or imagined class of people, lumping those one wants to defeat with others who may not be involved, but who will incur disapproval, casting a negative light on the case being opposed.

Unfortunately, this form of attack is very enticing in a polarized political environment, and I’ve used it myself, to my regret. Not long ago I was having lunch with a close friend of the conservative persuasion and made the mistake of using the “right-wingers think…” form of argument  and that it did not cost me a friendship is a tribute to my friend’s generosity.

So I am saddened to see my colleague Jim Clark attack “how these people [liberals] think” in service of a cause that I support, namely the installation of a public ice rink at the Crystal Bay Club.

I began contributing to the Incline Ice Foundation in 1995 – I still own the car I bought at one of the IIF’s first fundraisers – and was on the Board for a couple of years. I have continued to be called for consultation by Board members, and have kept up on the Foundation’s progress. I think the Crystal Bay solution is an excellent one and have advocated this proposal to the TRPA and elsewhere.

So why turn this local, non-political issue into a partisan fight? The League to Save Lake Tahoe is an environmental organization. Various Republican politicians going back to President Reagan have tried to turn the environment into a partisan issue, but the fact is that environmental concerns cross party and ideological lines – I know Democrats who are rabid anti-environmentalists and Republicans who are “tree-huggers.” I am an environmentalist and have been a consultant to the Sierra Club for several years, but I believe, for example, that the jury is still out on global warming, a key concern of the Club.

And, by the way, in all my years in and around the environmental movement, I have not heard the California Attorney General’s Office referred to as either liberal or environmentalist before. Yet Jim would have us believe that “liberals” are out to stop the ice rink.

None of this makes any sense to me except in one context: Jim is a faithgu Republican, and his party is in deep trouble. The President’s approval ratings are underwater, support for the Iraq war is at late Vietnam levels, Bush’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General has withdrawn for lack of support, he has nominated an inexperienced nonentity to the Supreme Court, key Republicans are under indictment, Karl Rove is appearing before the Grand Jury, etc., etc.

In the face of such trouble both parties have sometimes resorted to the ad hominem attack, but it has been a favorite tactic of the Republicans since 1884 when they labeled the Democratic Party the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” (anti-prohibition, Catholic, and Southern). From Senator McCarthy’s “lists of known Communists” through Nixon’s going after Alger Hiss, to the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, the use of labels – Communist, Liberal, Socialist, you name it -  has been a tactic of choice.

Well, if turnabout is fair play, I guess we could say that today’s Republican Party is the party of “Cronyism, Corruption, and Incompetence,” but it is also the party of John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and Abraham Lincoln, and I would not say that all Republicans are cronyists, corrupt, or incompetent.

“Liberals” do not oppose the ice rink any more than “Conservatives” oppose the separation of Church and State, and this sort of tactic will not serve the cause of the Ice Foundation.

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