The New York Times, it appears, is back on board its moral high horse. "When did it ever dismount," you ask? Well, that’s an awkward question, best left for another day. Suffice it to say that while there are many clear-headed journalists working at the paper, the members of the editorial board sometimes seem possessed by the delusion that the main axis of evil in the world is the line that connects the Bush White House with other Republicans around the country.
We refer here to the ever more frequent use on its editorial page of the adjective "shameful" to describe any act undertaken by Republicans with which the editors happen to disagree.
Last week (September 10) the Times ran an editorial under the title "A Shameful Proclamation" to denounce President Bush for temporarily suspending the Davis-Bacon Act in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This is a law passed decades ago at the behest of labor unions which requires employers to pay locally prevailing wages (if above the minimum wage) on projects that receive federal funding (though federal funds may pay only a portion of the costs). By suspending application of the law in an emergency, the President hopes to facilitate construction projects that might not otherwise be undertaken by contractors who are required to pay "prevailing" wages. The editors are convinced that this is just another Republican effort to stick it to the poor -- even though many such workers might not be hired in the first place because the projects would not be undertaken if the law remained in force. "Shameful" seems a bit excessive as a description of the issues at stake in this controversy.
Then just yesterday (September 14) the editors ran a short piece under the title "Playing Games With Voting Rights" which began with this sentence: "The state of Pennsylvania took a shameful step backward when the State House passed a bill that could potentially deprive tens of thousands of parolees and probationers the right to vote." It seems that the Republicans in Pennsylvania were concerned when a state court overturned a law which required felons released from prison to wait five years before gaining eligibility to vote. A judge, by overturning the law, granted them the right to vote immediately. Democrats naturally began to inform felons that they could now participate in elections and began to register them to vote, albeit only in "Democratic parts of the state," which is perhaps a euphemism for "large cities." The bill to reverse the ruling has not yet become law, as it has only cleared the state House of Representatives. Even so, in the eyes of the editors, Republicans are guilty -- "shamefully" guilty -- of trying to "suppress the vote" in poor areas by pressing for the voting ban for convicted felons.
Both of the above measures seem entirely reasonable to us, though, admittedly, we do not know all the facts and, more importantly, may not possess the moral sensitivity of the editors. Still, the use of "take no prisoners" language in controversies like these is more than a little childish for it reflects a perspective that can no longer make distinctions between things one may not like and things that are genuinely evil or "shameful." What adjectives are left to describe the actions of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden once we have applied such language to a temporary suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act? The word "shameful" belongs more to a lexicon of denunciation and condemnation than to one of persuasion and argument. It is a way of saying that one is beneath you -- and that is perhaps a fair assessment of the way the editors of the Times look upon Republicans.