The best kind of laughter is the self-deprecating kind, when we acknowledge our foibles and limitations and weaknesses and are willing to laugh at ourselves. That brings us closer to an appreciation of the human condition -- we are then able to understand those faults in others. The worst kind of humor is directed at those "others" -- the people who are not like us and are thus deserving of our scorn and derision. We don't have to understand anything, except that we are better than them. Such laughter says more about us than the people we laugh at.
It's a rare week in which there are two such targets of scorn that capture the public imagination. This was one of them.
Miss Teen South Caorlina had a blonde moment and gave a ditzy answer to a question about Americans' geographic ignorance. She had the guts to go on the "Today" show and try to redeem herself with a better response. But in the meantime, she had been seen by millions on YouTube and made a symbol of everything from the failures of public education to the obvious mental defects of pretty 18-year-olds, by people who wouldn't want to admit they have had moments of public anxiety in which they said the wrong thing.
At least she got bipartisan scorn, which might not be a comfort to her but at least can be separated from the political bile this country is suffering from. Larry Craig has been pounded by the Schadenfreude of liberals always on the search for Republican "family values" conservatives who get caught practicing what they preach against. But what does such laughter say about the supposed compassionate understanding of the laughers?
The liberal view of homosexuality is based on two claims: an empirical one and a moral one. The empirical claim is that sexual orientation is inborn, a trait over which one has no control. The moral claim is that homosexuality is no better or worse than heterosexuality; that a gay relationship, like a traditional marriage, can be an expression of true love and a source of deep fulfillment. Out of these claims flows the conclusion that opposition to gay rights is akin to racism: an unwarranted prejudice against people for a trait over which they have no control.
For the sake of argument, suppose this liberal view is true. What does it imply about the closeted homosexual who takes antigay positions? To our mind, the implication is that he is a deeply tragic figure, an abject victim of society's prejudices, which he has internalized and turned against himself. "Outing" him seems an act of gratuitous cruelty, not to mention hypocrisy if one also claims to believe in the right to privacy.
According to the Statesman, the blogger who "outed" Craig did so in order to "nail a hypocritical Republican foe of gay rights." But there is nothing hypocritical about someone who is homosexual, believes homosexuality is wrong, and keeps his homosexuality under wraps. To the contrary, he is acting consistent with his beliefs. If he has furtive encounters in men's rooms, that is an act of weakness, not hypocrisy.
Defenders of "outing" politicians argue that the cruelty is not gratuitous--that politicians are in a position of power, which they are using to harm gay citizens, and therefore their private lives are fair game. But if the politician in question is a mere legislator, his power consists only of the ability to cast one vote among hundreds. The actual amount of harm that he is able to inflict is minimal.
Anyway, most lawmakers who oppose gay-rights measures are not homosexual. To single out those who are for special vituperation is itself a form of antigay prejudice. Liberals pride themselves on their compassion, but often are unwilling to extend it to those with whose politics they disagree.