I don't like the health care reform bill. I have a number of strong objections to it. I haven't blogged it because (1) I'm lazy and hope Patrick will do it, and (2) I'm lazy and stupid and I'm waiting for someone to do the definitive thoughtful analysis that I can link to.
There's a lot of fury out there about the bill. There should be outrage, I think. But leaving aside, for a moment, the question of whether the outrage is hypocritical and oddly selective, its predominant expression is counterproductive. Scary spittle-flecked rage from the Right may well be one of the best things the Left has going for it when we reach the mid-terms, particularly if the economy improves. The base can be energized by rage, but the wide middle is unlikely to be moved, except perhaps towards distaste.
Case in point: the latest instance of "let's harass and intimidate people by publishing their home address and suggesting that angry people should 'visit' them."
Mike Troxel writes for Virginia 6th, a self-described "tea party watchdogs weblog." Troxel was very angry about the health care vote. Troxel was particularly irritated at Rep. Tom Perriello, who represents a different district in Virginia, and who voted for the bill.
He accompanied that with what I submit is a smirking, barely veiled exhortation to harassment and violence:
Just in case any of his friends and neighbors want to drop by and say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for healthcare. I personally believe it’s so important for representatives to remain fully grounded and to remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote. Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat. It has a much more personal touch to it.
Leaving the moral issue aside, there was an immediate problem: Mike Troxel is a shitty researcher. He actually published the home address of Rep. Perriello's brother, who has four young children. Confronted with this error, Troxel refused to yield, uttering this deathless line:
Troxel, a 2005 graduate of Liberty University, added “I was a journalism major in college, so I have every reason to believe my research is accurate.”
Ten thousand monkeys could type for ten million years and never write anything that funny. Even if they did graduate monkey cum laude from Liberty University.
Anyway, this irritated me, for reasons I'll get into. I considered spending five minutes researching the right address for Rep. Perriello myself, to demonstrate that Troxel is sloppy as well as thuggish.
But as I said, I'm lazy.
[In doing so, I took into account Fark's consistent and admirable policy against posting the personal contact information of people criticized there. I also took into account that, as you'll see below, Troxel's address had already been published.]
It took Farkers minutes to research the issue and establish, by two different methods, that Troxel had the wrong address. As the Farker in question put it, "Done in by a farker who graduated with a C average and didn't go to college." Troxel beat an ignominious retreat and deleted the incorrect address, but is still soliciting the correct address to publish.
But Troxel sowed scummy thuggery, and now he's going to reap the whirlwind. I'm not, by far, the only one to notice this, and there are plenty of people eager to respond by finding and publishing Mike Troxel's home address and phone number. I learned of this at Doug Mataconis' consistently great blog Below the Beltway. A commenter quite quickly found Troxel's address and phone number and published it in the comments. Doug, being a decent human being more interested in issues and justice than spittle-flecked outrage and threats, immediately deleted it. Fark has also policed any such attempts. There's lots of people out there with no such scruples, though. I've already seen three of them on the internet. And several people have suggested feeding Troxel to 4chan. Mike Troxel, welcome to the consequences of your actions. Read your Heraclitus: "Character is destiny."
Publishing (or re-publishing) the home addresses and home contact information of political opponents is scummy and calculated to threaten and intimidate. Mike Troxel's smirking verbiage — "Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat" — is clearly calculated to convey to Rep. Perriello that as a result of his vote, he now needs to watch out for people lurking in his shrubbery and assaulting him every time he enters or leaves his home. Fortunately Rep. Perriello doesn't have kids to be assaulted or followed to school; unfortunately, his brother (whose address was published by the inept Troxel) does. In-person and telephonic threats, obscenities, and harassment at best, and physical assaults at worst, are the predictable result of reacting to a controversial political event by publishing the participants' home addresses and telephone numbers to a like-minded angry audience. That's why when blogger Michelle Malkin republished the addresses and phone numbers of some asshole protesters, it was entirely predictable that her audience of flying monkeys would deluge them with threats and abuse, and when Michelle's detractors retaliated by publishing her personal contact information, it was entirely predictable that the flying monkeys of the left would respond with reciprocal threats and harassment of her and her family. Even if someone's address could be found somewhere by a dedicated searcher, republishing it to a angry like-minded crowd has predictable — and nasty — results.
And it's not just threats and harassment. In today's climate — particularly with pundits whipping up talk of "total war" — Troxel's actions make violence substantially more likely. This sort of thing is likely to lead to (1) a politician, or a politician's family member, or a politician's neighbor, getting hurt by an unbalanced protester who shows up at the politician's house, (2) some random person getting hurt by an unbalanced protester who shows up at the wrong address because he's stupid or crazy or because he's gotten the wrong address from some madrassa-educated dipshit, or (3) some unbalanced protester is going to wind up with a nice big hole in him because he showed up at an armed politician's home and threatened him or his family. I'm kind of rooting for #3, frankly. (And if the Tea Party movement is intellectually honest in their support of the Second Amendment, so should they.)
Can terrifying people by subjecting them to threats, harassment, and the likelihood of violence be effective? Of course it can. You can shut people up, drive them from public life, intimidate them into acting out of physical fear rather than based on their choices. You can do that not only to the target of the abuse, but to the people who observe it. Thugs like Troxel know this. That's why they do it. Decent people shouldn't. People who want a nation built on ideas and principles, not on threats and force, shouldn't.
Recognizing that does not require admiring, agreeing with, or condoning the actions of the people we are tempted to target for abuse. Asshattery is not a zero-sum game. If Perriello's vote was wrong — and I think it was — it was just as wrong if we recognize that he and his family should not be subjected to threats and violence for it. Recognizing that Troxel is an ass does not make Perriello less of an ass. Recognizing that Troxel is a noxious thug does not make the people who published his address and phone number any more admirable.
Some people are saying that Troxel should be investigated and prosecuted. Though the definition of a true threat is somewhat flexible, I think that Troxel probably didn't include enough exhortation to violence to make his post a true threat outside the scope of the First Amendment as defined by relevant precedents. But Mike Troxel, I think, will reap a whirlwind — just not a legal one.
Edited to add: I see that the Lynchburg Tea Party site has commented, saying that the organization had not "requested, sanctioned or endorsed" the action, but conspicuously failing to condemn it.
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