Name-calling, political ethics, and blogging.

Should we call Mitt Romney “Willard”? It depends on who “we” are and what role we see ourselves as playing.

Mark has proposed (and, for a second time practiced) calling Mitt Romney “Willard” from here on in. Harold disagrees. I’ll start by saying I’m on Harold’s side. But the reasons for that are, on reflection, kind of complicated.

First, let’s dispose of a piece of silliness: the idea that it’s respectful to call him Willard because it’s his “real” first name. With due respect to Joel Hanes, who put forth this argument in a comment, J. Michael Neal has it right: “To treat someone with respect, you cal[l] them what they wish to be called, whether it is their first name, their middle name or something that doesn’t appear on their birth certificate at all.” My birth-certificate first name, like Ross Perot’s, is “Henry,” and there’s nothing objectively wrong with it. But since neither of us likes that name, it would be disrespectful to hang it on either one of us. Nor does anyone think that one would have shown maximal respect for Tip O’Neill or Woodrow Wilson by calling either one of them “Thomas.”

But that doesn’t settle the issue. As Mark explicitly said, the point of calling Romney Willard would be “to needle him”: i.e. to show him deliberate disrespect. The hope would be to weaken him politically by making others disrespect him too. (James’ comment, learned as usual, noted the long history of doing that.) This isn’t inherently absurd, but it goes to the question of what kind of politics we favor and what kind of blog we’re trying to be.  And it’s not just a matter of “respectable” vs. “populist” or similar labels.

First off, I don’t think Mark literally means his object is to needle Romney. Taken literally, that would mean that constantly calling him Willard in our blog posts and other partisan forums would cause him to lose his cool. That seems very unlikely. He’s capable of losing his cool in debates, but I doubt anybody will call him Willard in a debate—and if anyone did, he’d shrug it off, just as Pete DuPont shrugged it off when George Bush called him “Pierre.” Rather, the “Willard” moniker would be meant to do one of two things: sow doubts in the minds of swing voters, or rally Democratic troops.

Swing voters, at this point, are likely to be low information.  (One hears them all the time in newspaper stories asking why Obama doesn’t just “do something” about the recession, presumably by spending money that Congress hasn’t appropriated. Or something.) I strongly doubt that they’d even notice if every progressive blogger and journalist called Romney “Willard” until the end of time–just as I doubt they notice the Republican use of “Democrat Party.”

That leaves rallying the troops. Mocking one’s opponent can be a very effective way of doing that: just look at the Daily Kos, or at any email solicitation from a party committee, though Obama/Organizing for America tends to steer clear of the method. Too much name-calling can make the caller seem petty, but the usual separation of official candidates from surrogate attack dogs tends to ensure that the pettiness—and partisan glee—sticks to the latter.  John McCain didn’t use Obama’s middle name. But Sarah Palin did, and RedState (on the grounds that “[d]oing so makes all the right people irrationally mad”), and I’m sure any number of mailings for conservative groups. As an exception to this division of labor, George H.W. Bush was fond of calling Al Gore “Ozone” in his own stump speeches. But this was ineffective, I think, and bad strategy; it reflected desperation, not calculation.

I agree that calling Romney Willard will strike partisan Democrats as a lot of fun and may well bear some real fruit: a few million more dollars donated, a few thousand more volunteers. Notice I say “will” and “may,” not “would” and “might.” This is not a mere application of Sabl’s Law but a prediction: I think that the Willard train has left the station and that Kos et al. will use it incessantly from now on.

But the reason I’m not going to join is that I don’t want to be a partisan blogger. (When I temporarily lay down my blogger’s sword and shield a few years back, my reason was fear of becoming one.) While my overall political sympathies are no secret, I think that the point of this blog, and what makes it more interesting than Kos or RedState, is independent commentary on political and policy issues: independent not in the sense of opinion-free or immune to ideology (I pity people who think themselves that) but in the sense of having an intellectual life that doesn’t merely track a partisan or ideological allegiance, though certainly strongly influenced by both. As much as possible, I want my posts—as opposed to my political donations, my volunteering, or anything else I do as a citizen—to reflect my sharpest, most considered judgment of how events are going or ought to go, not a psychic need to express factional solidarity and not an intention to strengthen the morale of my political team or weaken that of the other one. True, some of my posts explicitly recommend political strategies. But even then, they tend to do so in the mode of analysis, and always with the proviso that what I counsel Democrats or progressives to say must precisely reflect what I think to be true. That’s the only way I can have real influence in any case. When it comes to plain old cheerleading, others who do it for a living, and who occupy roles that get them widely listened to when they do it, will be much more effective.

I know that Keith is, controlling for nuance, with me on this. I’m convinced that Mark is too (which is why he invited Keith, and Amy, and others onto the blog), when it comes to policy. But I suspect that one reason for the difference between Mark and me on this is that his intellectual vocation is policy and mine is politics. I think he tends to see politics as a nasty, savage, necessary business that one engages in so as to put good people in a position to enact policy. Having five senses, of course I agree that politics contains a lot of that; when it comes to schools of political theory, I’m on record as plumping for “Realist.” But if I thought that’s all it contained, I’d have to pack up my books and take up something useful for a living.

In any case, I hope Mark steps back from the Kossite brink. There are plenty of ways of showing that Mitt Romney would be a worse President than Barack Obama. Let’s not pretend that noting the relative merits of “Willard” and “Hussein” is among those ways.

 

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

51 thoughts on “Name-calling, political ethics, and blogging.”

  1. There is also the purpose of demonstrating disgust with the post- Citizens United process by using disrespectful names for all major party candidates. In today’s world the candidate who raises the most money, above and below the table, almost always wins.

    1. At last, another Keith who writes here — we will both make the other look that much more prolific. Welcome, Keith!

      And as for the post, yes, I am with Andy on this one.

      1. I’ll start using “X”, a handle I’ve had for a very long time, so there’s no possible confusion. I understand your reasons, and would only like to add that it was a post titled “About Willard” that brought me here for the first time. Thanks for the welcome!

  2. I think the problem is more general than just the name calling. I think that one thing my generation and the generation that followed it has contributed to the national discourse is an overreliance on snark. Snark is fun, it signifies who is in the “in-group” and who the outsiders are (and is thus actually a form of snobbery), and as you said, it rallies the troops. It is not, however, an argument. Indeed, most of the time, it is a substitute for an argument which is way too often used by people who would benefit immensely from actually making an argument (either because they don’t have one at all or they haven’t thought their argument out).

    But having said that, on the specific issue of name calling: if you choose to call someone by something other than what the person wants to be called, don’t be dishonest about it. Just come right out and say it. You are deliberately disrespecting the person.

    Just like the people who disrespected Muhammad Ali continued to call him “Cassius Clay”. That’s the point.

    If you want to associate yourself with deliberately disrespecting people, do it openly and don’t engage in any BS cover story about real names. And don’t think you are doing anything clever by doing it; you are just using snark.

    1. Dilan took the words out of my keypad. I remember Paul Harvey saying “Cassius Clay” for decades but never referred to Tony Curtis as Bernard Schwartz or to Cary Grant as Archibald Leach.

      Maybe something strictly accurate would work here while avoiding inappropriate familiarity. How about “Former US Senate Candidate Mitt Romney?”

      1. How about “Mitt Romney, Inventor of the Original Obamacare”?

        As high-road, above-the-fray types, surely we’d want to give credit where due, even to a man we’d not hope to see elected. And I am sure it will help Mitt with the teabagger constituency, who will surely warm to him once they see that even his ideological opponents can find something to admire in him.

      2. Gingrich was right–Romney should be persistently called on his claim of being an outsider. As Newt said, the only reason he hasn’t spent more time in any particular office is because he kept losing. And one time he won, he totally botched the job, even though state the healthcare plan was approved on his watch (but it actually followed his design far less than he and his cronies claim). Harold (and Andrew) are wrong. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with calling Romney “Willard” if it is warranted. And I do believe it is warranted–just as commenting (to some degree–but not all comments are created equal) on Sarah Palin’s family members were warranted because she was the one who brought them into the campaign. Had they been merely showcased as most political families are, I would have said that it was unfair to bring them in. In Willard’s case, there are multiple reasons for this–he literally lied (without any particular cause of provocation) about his name during a debate; he staked out a “post-truth” position that makes practically any LIE acceptable (as long as it comes from his campaign), and he has been changing positions on just about everything, which makes his desire to use an alternative name (or his political opponents desire to remind him that his first name is not Mitt) perfectly fitting. I also think Mark is wrong, but not in his conclusion–he undersells the reasons for using “Willard”.

        On the other issue, Paul Harvey was a complete ass and a drunken bigot. I could not stand the man while he was alive and likely would have kicked him when he was dead–if I had a chance. He was a despicable human being hiding behind a disingenuous friendly mask. So I am not at all surprised that he had a problem with Mohammad Ali, but he was not alone in this and others were far less ornery despite the effort. But a more fitting point IMO is the case of Albert Belle. Earlier in his career, he was called Joey (his middle name Jojuan). Following a stint in alcohol rehab and a number of on- and off-the-field incidents, he changed his official preference to his first name, Albert, that he shares with his father. Of course, this gave opposition fans–who tend to be quite nasty–a reason to mock him as “Joey” at every opportunity. He beaned a fan who heckled him with “Keg party at my house, Joey”, he was visibly upset at the plate when Yankees fans chanted en masse “Joey! Joey!” His entire career had been marred by temper tantrums, although not on the scale of some of the more recent controversial players. “Willard” is not in the same category as either of these cases. It’s no humiliating–it IS his name after all–and there is no bigotry intended in using it. Nor is it a provocation on the scale of “Joey”–it may show lack of respect, but it’s not an insult.

        The only reason I might not follow Mark’s advice and periodically alternate “Mitt” and “Willard” is because “Mitt” is so much better for punning. And I’ve been referring to him as “Golden Boy” since 1994. (If you want to know the exact reference, you may have to watch Eating Raoul”–at least until you get to the “unblock Golden Boy” line.)

        1. Sorry, but the argument that he”lied” about his name is an excuse. It’s dishonest. It’s not the reason why anyone likes to use “Willard”.

          In fact, liberals like “Willard” for probably the same reason Romney doesn’t like it– because it sounds funny.

          I knew someone growing up who had a very funny name. As soon as he could, he got people to call him something else. And the people who continued to deliberately disrespect his request were, not to put too fine a point on it, jerks.

          This is about acting like a jerk towards Mitt Romey. If you want to do this, own it. Don’t make up some phony reasoning.

          1. Are you suggesting “Mitt” does not sound “funny”? Romney is a compulsive liar. He deserves to be reminded of the fact that he’s a liar at every opportunity. Calling him Willard qualifies as one of such reminders. It’s really quite a simple case, irrespectively of the reason WHY it’s a reminder about his lies. But the actual connection is hardly “an excuse”. Calling him “Willard” is far preferable to calling him “that lying, unprincipled jerk”, even if the latter is more accurate.

  3. When we think about using nicknames to refer to our political opponents, we need to consider, Who’s the audience? Posters and commenters on the Kos are talking to each other. Calling Mitt Romney “Willard,” “Mittens” or “the Mittster” in that situation is a social usage, reinforcing the writer’s and the reader’s shared social group. It’s a way of cementing social bonds. The Kos is explicitly a place for progressives to get together, and using shared language is one way of keeping them together.

    This blog has a different purpose, I assume. The tone of the Kos, the tone of including the like-minded and excluding others, is not an appropriate tone for a blog whose mission is bringing people together to find out the facts. At the Kos, no one will mind if Romney partisans are driven away. But here, I assume, the bloggers don’t want to drive away Romney partisans who want to find out the facts about drug policies and their effects, or the reality of government support of the disabled.

    Affectionate nicknames from one of the Reality-Based Community’s bloggers to another have a place here. Nicknames a public figure’s opponents use for him or her do not belong here.

  4. “Willard” also has the effect (I think) of suggesting that Romney is vaguely upper-class and/or wussy, so it’s not just that it’s the wrong name, it’s a particular kind of wrong name — much like Bush’s “Pierre”.

    1. “”“Willard” also has the effect .. of suggesting that Romney is vaguely upper-class and/or wussy.”
      Well?

    2. I don’t seem to attach any connotations to the name Willard, other than “nerd.” I’ve never met one. I definitely don’t get “upper class” from it. To me it sounds like a family name.

      And I don’t think it’s such a bad name, though “Mitt” does seem sportier. I wonder why he didn’t just go with Will, which is an unquestionably good name.

      Either way, who cares? Do people really pick who to vote for this way?

  5. Personally, I favor Mitt.I.Am. There is a problem with J.Michael Neal’s argument though – what do we do with people who demand to be called by offensive or ridiculous names? Must we really call J.Michael.Neal “Galactic Emperor JMN One” if that is his chosen nomenclature? What if Romney turns round tomorrow and rebrands himself as “White Christian Scourge of Kenyan Muslim Oppressor Hussein”?

    1. That’s the obvious flaw, but the answer is, when we refuse to call someone by the name they selected, it’s up to us to make the argument. That is, our default is to call someone by their preferred name, unless we explicitly explain why the preferred name is offensive or ridiculous.

      I have no trouble explaining why using “White Christian Scourge of Kenyan Oppressor Romney” is both offensive and ridiculous. I can’t come up with a reason why “Mitt Romney” is offensive or ridiculous, so in neutral contexts, that’s what I will use.

      Republicans, in what ought to be neutral contexts, persist in calling the Democratic Party the “Democrat Party.” They do it to be annoying, and they are annoying precisely because it’s rude not to call someone or something by its name.

      — Galactic Overlord Cardinal Fang

    2. Also, we have more leeway with selecting our names than our titles. We can choose the name we go by, but we can’t give ourselves titles. “Mitt Romney” is the name Mr. Romney has chosen to go by. “Galactic Overlord” or “Scourge of Kenyan Muslim” are titles, which others must bestow on us.

      — Galactic Overlord and Scourge of the Universe Cardinal Fang

      1. Actually, if Mitt expressed the wish to be called “White Christian Scourge of Kenyan Oppressor Romney”, I’d be happy to indulge him; publicly, and at every opportunity. Mind you, I think that name might hurt him among some voter groups (e.g., blacks, non-Christians, and sane people). But he must know what is best for him, and we should respect his wishes.

        1. So, if I understand people correctly, you believe that we shouldn’t call Rick Santorum “frothy mix” vel sim, because it might hurt his feelings – even though the former Senator from Pennsylvania who lost his last race by 18% and is also a corrupt member of the K Street Lobbyist-Snouts-In-Troughathon has never shown any compunction about saying grossly offensive things about e.g. gay people? Surely this political correctness about names denies us part of the very real right to satirize the folly and dishonesty of others? Isn’t it more honest and realistic to say that we will satirize them – and that they have the right to satirize us in turn? Equally, if we decide that names are off-limits, because they hurt people’s feelings, what do we do if Romney declares himself wounded by references to the $10 million dollar bailout of Bain? Or possibly to his reptilian-robot demeanor? It seems to me that Galactic Emperor JMN One is being unrealistically politically correct here, in an area where you can’t reasonably expect to limit free speech.

          Lord High Executioner and Arch-Protocol of Galactic Sinus Infusions Morzer

          1. Among friends, all of whom detest Santorum and his despicable homophobia and loathesome Christianism, I call Santorum “Frothy Mixture.” I don’t much care about his feelings, because he seems beyond redemption.

            I do care, sometimes, about civil discourse with people who don’t necessarily share all my political views. They will perceive my use of “Frothy Mixture” as rude, disrespectful and dismissive of their beliefs, just as I perceive a Republican who says “Democrat Party” as deliberately trying to antagonize me. We might come to a better understanding of facts about the world, we might teach each other something worthwhile, if we are able to have a conversation without feeling the other person isn’t taking us seriously.

          2. I don’t honestly see much evidence that civil discourse has got the left or Americans anything in the last 30 years except for more lies and insults from the right wing extremists. We don’t need civil discourse and some imagined compromise based on agreed facts – because such a compromise cannot and will not happen when one side bases its view on reason and science, while the other side relies on prejudice and cultism of the most poisonous variety. How do you split the difference on the reality of climate change? On the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation? On the idea that life begins at conception? On the idea that black people and brown people are as good as white people? On the idea that voting rights shall not be infringed or denied? We’ve seen Obama try desperately to be civil and get knocked back time after time. The left needs to stop fooling itself on this point. No more meaningless civility, no more pretense that the other side wants compromise or moderation. Calling for civil discourse is simply a way of ducking reality at this point. Sorry, but I am really sick of left-wing advocates of playing nice and failing to win the fights that are coming our way with a terrible inevitability.

          3. Morzer: “I don’t honestly see much evidence that civil discourse has got the left or Americans anything in the last 30 years except for more lies and insults from the right wing extremists.”

            Generally, I prefer to engage in civil discourse not just because I expect to get something in return, but for my own sake. Just as I brush my teeth not because I expect to be offered a modeling job in return by someone, but simply because I like my teeth to be clean and healthy. Engaging in civil discourse, as far as I am concerned, is basic mental hygiene that I do for my own good.

          4. Katja, there is a rather obvious difference between fighting out serious issues of politics in the public sphere and your personal hygiene choices. In brief, it is ludicrous to think that politics is about making yourself feel good or virtuous. The big issues of the day are a darn sight more important than whether we feel able to pat ourselves on the back and smirk at our reflection in the mirror. That’s why this talk of civility is so over-rated. If it wins one more vote for my cause to call Romney Willard, Willard let it be. If it loses us a vote, then don’t do it – but don’t confuse politics with personal development. They are not the same thing.

  6. It’s childish to call Mr. Romney something other than the name he has assumed for many years and by which obviously wishes to be known. There are far more important things that may be tied to his person, and we should focus on those.

  7. It’s disrespectful, but if that doesn’t dissuade some folks, it also implies one’s difficulty in finding something material to criticize.

    Like Dowd’s calling Obama “Barry” – the guy is so squeaky clean, what are you going to make fun of, if you’re Maureen Dowd and you substitute mockery for thought? So hey, let’s call him a funny name!

    We should be making the case that Mitt Romney is a bad candidate for president, not that his mama gave him a goofy first name.

  8. “I think he tends to see politics as a nasty, savage, necessary business that one engages in so as to put good people in a position to enact policy.”

    I tend to agree with that. The big problem is that, far too often, “Agrees with me about policy” dies the work of “good people”, and then “Is willing to humor me.” takes the place of “Agrees with me about policy”, and the next thing you know, you’re voting for a John McCain or Barak Obama, and getting neither a good person NOR good policy.

    1. Well, I am sure good people can agree about John McCain being neither a good person nor good policy.

      1. I’d hope that good people could agree about a President who threatens a veto if his power to imprison Americans without trial is limited isn’t a good person, either. We really need to stop cutting politicians so much slack if they happen to be of our own party. As I said, letting policy agreement take the place of being a good person, and being willing to tell the right lies take the place of actual policy agreement.

        Putting good people in place to make good policy would be great. Maybe we ought to try doing that, instead of pretending that’s what we’ve been doing?

        1. If history shows one thing, it is that good people in bad institutions achieve nothing except their own destruction. Nor do I imagine your view on good policy would remotely coincide with mine.

        2. I’d hope that good people could agree about a President who threatens a veto if his power to imprison Americans without trial is limited isn’t a good person, either.

          Brett, I know you’re not too keen on facts, but I’ll try to educate you nonetheless. Obama threatened to veto the bill because he did not want the provision that granted the President the authority to imprison Americans, NOT because he wanted more such authority. He decided against the veto and issued a signing statement that disavowed this authority. It seems it is the entire–or damn near the entire–Congress who are “not a good person” and Obama actually comes off squeaky clean. In your zeal to besmirch him, you got the facts precisely wrong. Somehow, I doubt you will take back the garbage that you’ve already spewed and will continue to insist on the point that is demonstrably wrong. But, hopefully, no one will pay attention to it once they know that you are just making shit up.

          1. To expand on this, here is a good explanation of what actually happened. In short, someone posted a video of an excerpt of the debate to make it appear as though Carl Levin said that the Obama administration wanted the restriction that detention not apply to American citizens removed. However, what this was actually about was an argument about what language the bill had chosen. In fact, the administration had requested to “clarify that that the section providing detention authority does not expand the existing authority to detain under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Force”.

            What the administration seemed to primarily be concerned about, aside from the expansion of its authority to also detain American citizens on American soil, was that its ability to use the civilian rather than the military system was being restricted by the bill.

            This is also apparent from the White House’s written statement, where the administration says:

            “The Administration strongly objects to the military custody provision of section 1032, which would appear to mandate military custody for a certain class of terrorism suspects. This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals. Moreover, applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States, as some Members of Congress have suggested is their intention, would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

            While in general I haven’t been very impressed with the administration’s record on civil liberties, in this case, the bill had passed both the House and Senate with a 2/3 majority (i.e., it would have been veto-proof if Obama had actually vetoed it). Thus, trying to influence the legislation as above, plus the signing statement, was as much damage control as the White House could reasonably be expected to do. The blame for the mess that is H.R. 1540 lies squarely with Congress.

          2. This is a reply to what Katja said, I just couldn’t figure out how to put it in the right place.

            Given what you’ve said, I just have to quibble with the idea that a signing statement is sufficient. To me, sometimes it’s worth it to veto something, even if it’s going to be overridden. Some things are that important. I agree with you that this president’s civil rights record is … somewhat iffy. They let all the Bushies off, they deport huge numbers of non-criminal undocumented people — then miraculously come election time, decide to maybe stop doing that — and so forth. On the other hand, I have to admit, he’s had a lot on his plate. So. But, it seems to me, Congress shouldn’t be telling him how to enforce the laws we have, or at least, he should take a stand and let the lawyers fight it out. What’s the darned hurry, is my question?

  9. I don’t get it — in terms of mockery, isn’t “Mitt” inherently more ridiculous than “Willard”? If that’s the object, you call him Mitt.

      1. Are you kidding? That’s what makes the name “Willard” badass! It’s the thing that keeps the name from being pure St. Grottlesex ruling class pretension! Sure, it’s a rat . . . but it’s a badass rat, a stone-cold killa. It may be evil, it may be ruthless, it may be wrong, but it’s not mockable. Or at least, at the very least, not as mockable as “Mitt.”

    1. He chooses to be called Mitt, so it is respectful to refer to him as Mitt. That’s the point. Whether “Mitt” is silly or not is irrelevant in terms of respectfully addressing a person.

      1. I find it odd that the same people who think calling Romney by his first name Willard is disrespectful, will call President Obama “Barack Hussein Obama because that’s his name.

        Isn’t “Willard” Romney’s first name?

  10. I get annoyed when I tell someone my name is Andrew, and they immediately start calling me Andy. Sometimes they ask first, which is a little better, but if I went to the trouble of telling you what my name is, shouldn’t you assume that that’s what I want to be called? I don’t care for Romney at all, but calling someone what he asks to be called seems like basic politeness, and we could all do with a bit more of that, IMNSHO.

  11. This may be the first time I have disagreed with Mark about anything. I favor needling Mitt by repeatedly asking him how much financial gain he will personally realize if his tax plan becomes law.

  12. Romney made “Willard” an issue when he denied it during the CNN debate – “I’m Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name”.

    It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. (In this case, the crime was committed by Mitt’s parents, naming a kid “Willard” just to buy favor with J. Willard Marriott, their richest friend / patron.)

  13. I think it’s appropriate pretty much only when Mittens says Mitt is his real name. If he didn’t want it, he could’ve changed it.

    And there’s I think a sliding scale of disrespect, just like with lots of things. It is disrespectful to call someone by a name they did not request – but there’s a difference between chosing their first name, middle name, a nickname they did not allow you, a nickname they did not choose, etc, etc up the scale of disrespectful.

  14. For myself – if I want to insult someone, it’s probably because I think they’re worthy of insult. And if so, then the thing that makes them worthy of insult naturally becomes the epithet worth hurling, if any is. Examples might include “Right-winger”, “drug war supporter”, even “willful idiot” (obviously, one would not insult a real idiot). For Mr. Romney, “duplicitous” would be my first choice – per today’s Krugman column, for one example.

    It’s just a personal preference, but mere name-calling strikes me as both rude and childish. Not that there aren’t occasions that call for rudeness…

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