I don’t dispute that the characterizations of Michelle Obama and her daughters on some conservative Web sites are odious in the extreme, but the question of how to discourage offensive statements in a civilized society is anything but settled. Who gets to decide what is or is not offensive?
Perhaps you’ve had this conversation with a boyfriend in a previous life:
Him: “I don’t think you’re a piece of furniture.”
Her: “I didn’t say you did. I said I feel like a piece of furniture when I’m around you. I don’t care what you think. I care how you treat me.”
Thus began my own personal de-criminalization of thought crime.
I have a problem with the whole concept of hate speech and hate crime. Prosecution based on someone’s thoughts would be right at home in the totalitarian state depicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
I would think that freedom of thought is even more central to our Constitution than freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And when you get right down to it, aren’t most murders fueled by hatred? Why should hate crimes carry heavier penalties, as specified in a 1994 law, just because the perpetrators are paranoid and delusional?
I believe the appropriate punishment for obnoxious behavior is shunning. If hateful thoughts lead to illegal actions, prosecute the crime, not the thoughts.
Some conservatives claim these vitriolic trolls are actually liberals posing as right-wing extremists in an act of sabotage. But even if that were true, the sabotage could not work if the conservative movement had not already attracted and tolerated conspiracy theorists, racists and religious nuts.
The Obamas won, so some people will hate them for it. But I say let those who do drown in their own bile. As a society, we cannot and should not control thought; we have enough trouble controlling fraud, slander, rape and murder without adding “thought crime” to the list.
In recent years I’ve grown weary of the overused phrase “slippery slope,” but on this issue, it seems to fit. Criminalizing certain thoughts but not others is as slick as my childhood Slip ‘n Slide, and much more dangerous.
Now if you want to talk about “love crime” as it would apply to the fawning reporters who should have been asking tougher questions of our elected leaders for the last 25 years, then I’m all ears.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]