11.02.2009

Moral and Ethical Consistency 5.0: Is it Reasonable to 'Out' Political Supporters?

George Will's Sunday opinion piece takes gay marriage supporters to task for publishing and economically targeting individuals who signed petitions needed to get ballot measures preventing gay marriage on the books, such as California's measure 8. He is concerned that there has been a political and economic backlash to Catholic and Mormon groups for example that threw heavy dollar support toward passing these measures. He claims that some individuals have even lost their jobs as a result of having been outed. (WARNING: Intense irony well)

It's an interesting question, but before we talk about it I would like to point out that one might be forgiven for finding neoconservatives a bit disingenuous about strong arm political tactics of their opponents. I am not aware of any George Will columns bemoaning Swift-boating or the publishing of doctors who perform abortions home addresses on the Internet, but I may be mistaken, not having read all of his published works. My intent is not to smear Mr.Will, but merely to point out that many neoconservatives would appear to be less than blameless.

There is also the not so subtle point that publishing of names of those who support a ballot measure is completely truthful unless there is a rash of people using false identities to sign petitions. Lending support to political action is supposed to be public knowledge.

I have to admit that old Pliny is a bit ambivalent about this. Most of my ambivalence comes form living in a state with the most liberal free speech laws in the land. Not a day goes by where one is not forced by circumstance to pass by some lurid picture show and raucous bunch of true believers waving animal rights propaganda in front of a furrier or abortion pictures in front of a clinic, etc. Their rights to obsess about one aspect of life superceding my rights as a parent to protect children from images that are not appropriate. These individuals are waging economic war on their targets so it could be argued that what's good for the goose...

Nevertheless, the generally hateful tone that much of political discourse takes nowadays makes me pause.

Then again, it can be argued that the targets of repression have a right to know who are their accusers. And is it not sour grapes to complain that people who you loath and whose rights you want to restrict may decide to not put any of their money in your pocket? Consequences, consequences they are often a burden.

Will publishing names make people think twice before signing on to some political stance? No doubt but that might not be the worst thing.

It's a tough question and of course no one wants to promote any kind of political brown shirt process that frightens people away from taking a political stand in which they believe. Simply shouting down those who oppose you is not good democracy. But that is the nature of a taking a political stand - people get to see you standing there.

9 comments:

pboyfloyd said...

I agree.

Asylum Seeker said...

I am torn here also, because I simply do not know whether there is a right to complete anonymity in regards to this kind of thing (i.e. when money is changing hands to support a certain political agenda). If the question were whether or not any given company or institution is allowed to offer such support, it becomes more obvious (hell yes, unless funded by the state). But whether they are allowed to both their money and avoid people knowing that they gave that money too? That's wholly beyond my ability to decide whether it is acceptable, from either an ethical or a legal perspective.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

This is a really tough one and I go back and forth. on one hand a lot of these PAC activities are pretty scurrilous so I think well maybe people should have to think about personal consequences. Then i think of all these crazy's out there who can be dangerous. It really comes down to whether it is intended as a legitimate expectation that supporting these things is a public forum or whether the intent is really to suppress the right to free speech. I think it falls in both camps depending upon the person.

GearHedEd said...

It is if they're engaging in back-room influence peddling, but they have to be discovered before they can be "outed".

mac said...

Tough one. I can see the validity of both sides of this. I suppose it might just boil down to, if you sign, or lend monetary support to, a petition, you should be ready to be "outed" on said issue. If you don't agree with an issue don't lend it support.... my opinion here is about as firm as jello.

Jared said...

Mac, jello can be quite firm provided you don't follow the instructions on the box; use 1/10 the water, you get a mass which is like hyaline cartilage.

A list of supporters (names or organizations), in my opinion, should be required for ANY political organization. Donations to certain truly charitable organizations need not apply unless they engage in political activity.

oneblood said...

Is an essential part of a free country secrecy? Absolutely. Is it ethical when it could lead to repression? No.

But then I'm positing a norm by which to judge that has nothing to do with our laws.

mac said...

This is why I hate danged petitions....or Jello, Jared :-P

Stacy S. said...

I think the key phrase is "... lending political support is supposed to be public knowledge."

I say, if the people letting themselves be recognized as bigoted assholes is hard for them - too friggin' bad!

There's no cure for stupid.