The worst political slur of 1998, to judge by the media attention it drew, was uttered by Al D'Amato, New York's Republican senator. In a private meeting with supporters during his re-election campaign last fall, D'Amato called his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charles Schumer, a "putzhead."
Now, it is not nice to call people that, and I wasn't sorry to see D'Amato spanked for his boorish language. But it is also not nice to call people white-sheeted racists, yet so far as I know, none of my media brethren spanked Illinois Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun when she implied that George Will, the noted commentator, belonged to the Klan.
"I think because he could not say "nigger,' he said the word "corrupt,' " Mosely-Braun offered by way of rebutting Will's columns about her many ethical lapses. "George Will can just take his hood and go back to wherever he came from." (In fact, Will hadn't said the word "corrupt.")
Why did Moseley-Braun's vile slander get a pass while D'Amato's crudity became a national story? Because in one case, a liberal insulted a conservative, while in the other, a liberal was insulted by a conservative. I devote a column each year to illustrating the pervasive double standard by which liberals are permitted to say vicious things about conservatives _ things that would get a conservative beheaded by sundown if he said it about a liberal.
In Salem, Mass., the superintendent of schools declared that Barbara Anderson _ the state's leading taxpayer activist _ "should be tried for murder" for her opposition to raising property levies. In Berkeley, Calif., advocates for the homeless denounced bookseller Andy Ross _ who campaigned to keep vagrants from sitting and lying in the streets _ as a "fascist," and defended the swastikas that were painted in front of his store.
This is liberal hate speech, and I choose the word "hate" advisedly. Conservatives tend to view liberals as people whose views are profoundly misguided, people woefully in need of straightening out. But liberals are more likely to see conservatives as hateful _ people whose views should be suppressed, people who deserve only contempt.
This is why Alan Dershowitz, a formidable liberal who defends rapists and murderers, could publicly curse members of Congress who voted for impeachment as "the forces of evil. Evil. Genuine evil." This is why Tom Shales, the Washington Post's gifted TV critic, could suggest of independent counsel Kenneth Starr: "Beneath the dullness lies pure evil." This is why liberal talk show host Phil Donahue could go postal during a conversation about politics "and begin shouting," as the New York Post reported this month, "how much he hated Republicans."
Moseley-Braun wasn't the only liberal to sling the racism mudball in 1998. Charles Rangel, the congressman from Harlem, smeared Republicans in May. "Don't you believe that they don't want to dismantle the Social Security system. They are afraid to come out from under their hoods and attack us directly." The novelist E.L. Doctorow compared Bill Clinton's critics to the murderers in Jasper, Texas: "The president of the United States (is) being dragged through the town by a pickup." Keith Olbermann of MSNBC identified Lauch Faircloth, the conservative North Carolina senator, as "one of the junior grand wizards of the vast right-wing conspiracy."
And then there was the pre-election radio spot aired in St. Louis: "When you don't vote, you let another church explode. When you don't vote, you allow another cross to burn. When you don't vote, you let another assault wound a brother or sister. . . . Paid for by the Missouri Democratic Party."
Repugnant stuff. Yet liberals routinely get away with injecting it into the public discourse. Just ask Starr, who would have been crucified if he had hurled at his critics the libels many of them hurled at him.
Olbermann, the MSNBC commentator, announced in August that Starr made him think of Heinrich Himmler, who ran the Gestapo for Hitler. In February, Larry King compared him to Nazis. In October, Vanessa Redgrave also compared him to Nazis.
Indeed, it sometimes seems as if liberals can't look at a conservative or a Republican without seeing the SS. The GOP decision to block a vote on censuring Clinton, U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos of California snarled, is something one would expect "in Hitler's parliament." When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani displeased an artists' association, it publicly depicted him with a Hitler moustache.
But for sheer poison, nothing compares with the diatribe uncorked by Alec Baldwin on the Conan O'Brien show. A liberal activist and staunch Clinton supporter, the actor was condemning the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.
"If we were in other countries," he shouted, "we would all right now, all of us together _ all of us together would go down to Washington and we would stone Henry Hyde to death! We would stone him to death! Wait! . . . I'm not finished. We would stone Henry Hyde to death, and we would go to their homes, and we'd kill their wives and their children! We would kill their families!"
That is hate speech so monstrous, the outcry against it should have cost Baldwin his career. But Baldwin is a liberal. So of course there was no outcry, and his incitement cost him nothing.
Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist.