I know that I said I was done with Bumpergate but there is a residual point that are banging around my head and I need to it out of there so I can spend the rest of the preparing for next semester's Civil Procedure class and reading theology in connection with some scholarship that I am working on. Both require a mind freed of distractions.
Why was this the source of so much bloggy excitement? I posted twice about it even though I said that I wouldn't put the original sticker or the parody on my car. (The only thing on my car is a Marquette parking sticker and they made me put that there.)
There are cynical explanations. One is that the thing started with Charlie Sykes who serves as both a foil and a leader in Wisconsin's Blog World. Another is that it gave an opportunity for both sides to put on the silk of moral high dudgeon and that feels so good against the skin.
But I also think it touched on some of the fundamental differences that we have. My view is that the difference between liberals and conservatives is the emphasis they place on competing goods. We believe, at core, in much the same things but we assign them different values, often because of different assessments of empirical matters.
What follows is blog-abbreviated and thus oversimplified. Still I think that it is instructive.
One of the goods that left liberals place a high value on is the need to be solicitous of certain (but not all) minorities who they believe that the mainstream culture has treated or is likely to treat unfairly. They saw McMahon's parody as offending that value.
It's not that conservatives don't value that good, but they generally don't think that, in our time and place, it is quite as salient as a guiding principle for public action as their friends on the left. They are more interested in active (and personal) virtues (by this I mean something other than tolerance or voting for what are perceived to be morally superior social policies). They are more likely to see these virtues as rooted in distinctive faith and cultural traditions and more likely to see external threats to the culture in which they are rooted as something that must opposed rather than accommodated. Liberals don't reject these active virtues as much as they see them as less salient in resolving public controversies. That some of them seem to revolve around sex and marriage underscores their perception of conservatives as hostile to the "other."
Knowing all of this, conservatives were more likely to see the original bumper sticker as denying the existence of these transcendent values and as tolerating the intolerable. They were more likely to see the parody as an attack on the original bumper sticker than as a general indictment of Islam.
I think this is one of the reasons that people were drawn to the controversy. One might have thought that an appropriate reaction was to pronounce a pox on both the sticker and the parody. The sticker is hopelessly devoid of content (so much so that it needed a footnote) and the parody had too much (and, therefore, also needed a footnote that it wasn't saying that all Muslims are like Nazis). But we all got past that because the issue seemed to be saying something about a difference that we feel is important.