There’s a lot of chatter about how people who oppose the new health care bills are doing terrible things. In response, there’s a growing amount of chatter about how people who support the new health care bills are doing terrible things. The Gormogons have a nice little round-up of just the reported window breaking incidents in which they label each incident as “True”, “Hoax”, or “Not what it seems”. To which my response is, “So what?”
Now, don’t get me wrong. If hordes of people on either side were rampaging through the streets destroying property and attacking people, I would consider this a phenomenon worth writing about and - even more - worth doing something about. But it’s not. It’s a handful of inarticulate, maladjusted fruitcakes doing what vandals always do when they can’t figure out an intelligent way to deal with reality: they break something. To claim - as those on both sides of the health care debate are doing - that such bad behavior somehow invalidates the ideas held by those so behaving is ridiculous.
Ideas are not responsible for the people who hold them. If the ideas of those who oppose the new health care bills are good ideas, valid ideas, realistic ideas, they are so even if everyone who holds those ideas throws a brick through the window of the nearest government office. If the ideas of those who oppose the new health care bills are bad ideas, invalid ideas, unrealistic ideas, they are so even if everyone who holds those ideas devotes his or her life to selfless charitable works. The same is true for those who support the new health care bills. People with good ideas can behave badly; people with bad ideas can behave well. Good people can hold bad ideas; bad people can hold good ideas.
Guilt by association for people has at least some validity. If Zeke seems like an okay guy but his best friend is Will who I know for sure is as dishonest as the day is long, it’s reasonable for me to think Zeke may not be exactly what he seems. After all, humans can hide their true nature and Zeke may be concealing the less desirable aspects of his personality from me.
Guilt by association for ideas has no validity. If Zeke’s idea is a good one then the fact that Will also likes the idea doesn’t suddenly make it a bad one. Ideas cannot hide their true nature; they have no deceit, no charming facade. We are all intelligent, reasoning beings capable of evaluating ideas for ourselves. The behavior of the people who hold those ideas is irrelevant.