Over Memorial Day weekend, MSNBC host Chris Hayes ignited a little firestorm with his comments and questions about the use of the word "hero" to describe those American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who die in our wars.
Conservative bloggers led the charge in denouncing Hayes. They shouldn't have. Hayes wasn't attacking the war dead. He wasn't even concluding that we shouldn't use the word "hero" to describe them. He was using his feelings -- discomfort rooted in concern that the label applies a positive pressure towards U.S. entry into more wars -- to open a discussion.
"Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'?" he asked, "I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."
Hayes was pretty clear that was throwing out a idea that wasn't concrete, saying: "it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that."
While I shared Hayes' opposition to U.S. invasion of Iraq and continued occupation of Afghanistan, I don't share his concerns over the use of "hero."
But you know what we call that? A disagreement. We should be able to have those without breathlessness and denunciations. But typically, if the pundit and blogger class think someone may have crossed a sacred line, there is a huge freakout with the message basically being: Shut up!
Conservatives regularly feel the stifling hand of the PC censors who declare certain topics out-of-bounds.
What if you wanted to ask whether the cultural shift towards more working women was better or worse for the family? You could expect angry denunciations.
Remember when Rand Paul said he opposed some aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that infringed on private property rights and stretched the constitutional limits on federal power? I think there's a debate to be had there. Instead, we got an insane freakout.
Remember when Juan Williams contributed a discussion about racial profiling and anti-terrorism measures by saying how muslim passengers on his flight make him feel? He was fired and called a racist.
In my view, what Hayes was doing -- putting his feelings on the table as a foundation from which to begin a discussion -- was the same sort of thing Williams was doing. Neither man intended his emotions to carry conclusive weight. Both thought their emotions had some meaning, though.
NPR's firing of Williams was a way of saying, you may not have this discussion. The freakout over Hayes' questions and comments were the same thing.
I'm biased here, because I know Hayes personally, I like him, I've been on his show, and I'm an MSNBC contributor. But my primary concern here is not defending Hayes -- he's got a much greater reach than I do and can defend himself much better.
My interest here is in saying more issues should be game for discussion, not fewer. More contemporary biases ought to be questioned, not fewer. Conservatives, the minority among the media and academic elites, ought to be the first to defend those who raise uncomfortable questions or stake out unpopular views.