Demonizing Eric Cantor and other political foes: Fair play? (video)

Oct 11, 2011

Join Brad Hirschfield as he talks about the ethical and moral issues raised by the week's biggest stories.

Hello and welcome. Today, a Post story describing how the Obama campaign has started to vilify House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gives us a starting point. 

Demonizing an opponent is commonplace in politics and political movements. Somewhat similarly, "Occupy Wall Street protesters" have made Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachsa target, using signs that depicting violent images involving the Wall Street CEO.

These tactics raise interesting questions, such as: 

- Where's the line when it comes to choosing a person to embody policy differences?

- Is a candidate like Republican Herman Cain appealing to voters because he does not play this sort of "blame game?"

- In general, do voters respond to this tactic?

Is it ever okay to blame one person? People are angry, but it's getting out of control. On the other hand, there are individuals who have helped create the economic woes and should be held accountable, but that is different than depicting them in a gruesome way.

According to the GOP, Nancy Pelosi is your typical liberal west coast elitist, even though she is from working-class Baltimore. Eric Cantor works as the Democrats' evil foe because he is always humorless and comes across as not likeable. If this kind of thing is bad ... who stops first?

On Twitter, @wfpman made a simple statement about this issue:


"All's fair in war"


How do you react to that?


Do politicians play the blame game more often today because private organizations are pouring more and more money into elections? Are the politicians, the people who fund them --  or the voters -- responsible in the end?

Cain was always a very marginalized candidate, so who knows if he doesn't play "the blame game" or if he was just too much of an outsider? Isn't it his 9-9-9 tax plan that's starting to generate the buzz?

It seems like a natural human reaction -- ideas are more easily relatable when more closely associated with a person that espouses them. But it can go too far, dehumanizing an opponent or even making them a target of assassination. How do you think we can stop such hatefulness from spinning out of control?

I think this is a turn-off. Why do people think demonizing will somehow endear others to their cause?

Voters do seem to respond to this tactic, unfortunately. And since we vote for people to implement our ideas, it's natural. How do you suggest we work to change this? Should we?

Last question: To quote your reporter Paul Kane from this morning's front-page article: "Cantor is the central character in a loosely coordinated effort to personify and demonize Republican efforts to upend President Obama and the Democratic agenda." Do you think the use of the pejorative term "demonize" to characterize the Democrats' strategy -- by the reporter in this straight-news article AND by a web editor in the title of this video chat -- is proper journalism? It strikes me as commonplace in op-ed writing, but inappropriate and unacceptable in straight reporting, which is what this allegedly is.

Please allow me to add that I think the inappropriateness of this language is clearly evidenced by today's comments pages, in which numerous commenters use this word as a handy club to bash the Dems. It's a weapon that your reporter handed them in a straight news story.

Last one, for real: @wfpman on Twitter responded to your repsonse to his "all's fair" tweet:

Listening to him I know he's right. But it's hard when the other side refuses to de-escalate. 

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Brad Hirschfield is the president of Clal - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He writes the For God's Sake blog for The Washington Post. A regular on Lou Dobbs Tonight on the Fox Business Network. he appears frequently on NPR, PBS, and CNN, and is routinely listed as one of America?s "most influential rabbis." His most recent book is You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.
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