Friday, May 30, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

By that, I mean the slippery slope.

As was noted in Slippery Slope Arguments (quoting Roderick Munday, Cambridge Law Journal):

"Lawyers use them all the time. Whether the imagery employed is the floodgates, icebergs, dominoes, snowballs or the camel's nose in the tent, or the argument is more decorously tricked out as sorites paradox etc., the assumption is similar: a proposed course of reasoning will lead on to further developments to which there is no obvious end."
The "slippery slope" argument has been praised and derided, depending upon the situation. See In Defense of the Slippery Slope. I admit that I have employed it on occasion in my legal practice as a justification for doing -- or not doing -- something that a client has proposed.

Yet, the most compelling rationale in favor of the slippery slope can best be seen in the brouhaha (or more aptly, perhaps, the lack thereof) over the recent comments relating to the presidential assassinations (of course, related to that of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the possible threat to Barack Obama, in particular).

The latest example of that is the truly outrageous remarks by an ESPN talk show host in Pittsburgh, Mark Madden. As reported by the Post Gazette, Madden removed from air by ESPN:

At the opening of his show last Wednesday, Madden said this about Sen. Kennedy, who days earlier had been diagnosed with brain cancer:

"I'm very disappointed to hear that Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is near death because of a brain tumor. I always hoped Senator Kennedy would live long enough to be assassinated.

"I wonder if he got a card from the Kopechnes." (Emphasis added).

At first, the local affiliate merely required an on-air apology by Madden, deciding that no suspension or other disciplinary action was merited. It was only when his comments were reviewed by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., that the decision to fire Madden was made.

This, of course, follows the remarks of Fox News Channel commentator, Liz Trotta, who responded to a question on Clinton's RFK assassination statement, by stating:

"and now we have what ... uh...some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama [after being prompted by the FNC anchor]....well both if we could [laughing]"

See FoxNews Jokes About Obama Being Assassinated (w/ video). Trotta later apologized, calling it a "lame attempt" at humor, Liz Trotta Apologizes.

And we all know that that comment was precipitated by the remarks of Hillary Clinton regarding the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. As the NYTimes reported, Clinton, Discussing Nomination Battle, Invokes R.F.K. Assassination:

It was in the context of discussions about her political future that Mrs. Clinton made the remarks Thursday, in a meeting with the editorial board of the the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

“People have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa,” where she came in third, behind Mr. Obama and former Senator John Edwards, Mrs. Clinton said. When asked why that would be she said she did not know; primaries sometimes go on a long time and there was no reason she should give up hers prematurely.

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it,” Mrs. Clinton said, dismissing the idea of dropping out. (Emphasis added)

Despite an uproar and condemnation from many regarding those remarks, Clinton refused to acknowledge that the comments were inappropriate, see Why I continue to run. She instead issued a lame non-apology apology of sorts, as I noted in a previous post on the matter, Never Having to Say I'm Sorry. Overall, reaction was mixed, mostly depending on the political persuasion (and skin tone) of the listener.

Before Hillary, of course, there was Huckabee. As reported in The Huffington Post, Huckabee Talks About Someone Aiming A Gun At Obama During NRA Speech, former GOP hopeful and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was speaking before the gun loving crowd at the NRA, when he said:

Huckabee made an off-color joke during his speech in Louisville, Kentucky, when a loud bang was heard off-stage.

"That was Barack Obama," Huckabee quipped, "He Just tripped off a chair. He was getting ready to speak. Somebody aimed a gun at him and he...he dove for the floor."

It is obvious that insufficient outrage and condemnation greeted these various vile statements in the beginning when Huckabee and Clinton spoke or they would not have been repeated. To me, this is the perfect example of the proverbial slippery slope. The outcry should have been so strong that no one would have dared repeat it -- never mind making tasteless jokes or stupendously stupid death wishes, as Madden did.

I have made this same point about the apparent rise in hate crimes or other expressions of bigotry. I believe that it has become more acceptable to express one's views (whether racist, sexist, religious or based upon immigrant status) under the guise of an aversion to "political correctness," see e.g., Burnt Out and Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Silence.

All I can say is that I'm starting to feel old. I feel like my mother who used to say "what is this world coming to?"

UPDATE (6/2): Dorian De Wind also discusses this phenomenon at The Moderate Voice, “Assassination,” The New Third Rail in American Politics. A very good read.

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