What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. –William Shakespeare
Have you ever noticed that, while conservative publications refer to the “Left” and the “Right,” and to “Liberals” and “Conservatives,” liberal publications never do? They refer to the “Right,” but not the “Left,” and to “Conservatives,” but not to “Liberals.” In other words, they never apply a label to themselves. This NYT’s article, describing a negative documentary that liberals made about Michael Moore, perfectly demonstrates this verbal dance (emphasis mine):
MICHAEL MOORE, who carries around controversy the way Paul Bunyan toted an ax, has won legions of fans for being a ball-cap-wearing fly in the ointment of Republican politics. For tweaking the documentary form. Even for making millions of dollars in the traditionally poverty-stricken genre of nonfiction film.
Many despise him for the same reasons.
The Toronto-based documentary filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk started out in the first camp. But during the course of making an unauthorized film about Mr. Moore they wound up somewhere in between. In the process, their experience has added a twist to the long-running story of an abrasive social critic who has frequently been criticized from the right, but far less often, as is the case with Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine, from his own end of the political spectrum.
“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Ms. Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good he says Mr. Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”
But according to Mr. Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Mr. Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Mr. Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?’ ”
Ms. Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”
That link contains a refutation of a number of complaints taken up by conservatives regarding “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but the Melnyk-Caine movie isn’t really about that. “We didn’t want to refute anything,” Ms. Melnyk said. “We just wanted to take a look at Michael Moore and his films. It was only by talking to people that we found out this other stuff.”
This is just one article, but I’ve been aware of it time after time when I read the Times or The New Yorker, or listen to an NPR story. Always, conservatives get labeled; always, the author or speaker, gracefully or awkwardly, works to avoid applying a political label to those who are not conservative.
Please tell me if you think I’m imagining this, or if you’ve seen the same pattern. If I’m right, I have my guesses as to why this is so, but I’d love to hear your guesses first.