Lately I’ve been seeing posts on the Internet spitting hatred at anyone who boycotts the presidential election or votes for a minor-party candidate. Journalist Sidney J. Harris once said: “Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a ‘necessary evil,’ it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.” To justify supporting their candidate, people first minimize the significance of their candidate’s evil acts, then deny that they’re evil, then attack anyone who objects to them.
The way that many Republicans went through this process between 2001 and 2008 and the way that many Democrats have gone through it since the start of 2009 aren’t that different. They listen to leaders of their party and decide they must be right. They follow commentators they respect and decide that what they’re silent about can be ignored. They listen to what their friends are saying and consider what words will get their approval.
The leaders of both major parties approve of illegal war, torture, assassination, and widespread covert surveillance. There are still many people — libertarians, the more pro-civil liberties portions of the left, and a smaller number of people on the right — who are desperately objecting. If the party conformists are bothered by that, they tell themselves that “extremism” is bad and “bipartisanship” a virtue.
Today’s Democrats generally don’t exhibit the rah-rah patriotism that usually goes with justifying deeds like Obama’s. Rather, it’s a conspiracy of silence. They don’t talk about the outrages, and when someone does they pretend they don’t hear. It’s just the desire to keep their party in power (and so keep the favors they’re getting) that motivates them to cover their ears. But as it becomes impossible to ignore the objections, they face the choice of accepting or rejecting them. They thought silence was safe because Romney promises to be even worse, but now they’re faced with the possibility that some people won’t vote for either Kang or Kodos. Now their only escape is sheer vitriol against the dissidents. It’s not too big a step after that to claim the outrages are actually a positive good.