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D. J. Bettencourt and the art of hateful ad hominem

April 4, 2011

With but a few keystrokes to his Facebook page, D. J. Bettencourt, Republican majority leader of the New Hampshire State House, has secured his forever-unerasable place in cyberhistory as a poster boy of irrational hatred of the Church.

Bettencourt’s Facebook post describing Manchester NH Bp. John McCormack as a “pedophile pimp who should have been led away from the State House in handcuffs” was hurled at the prelate, after the bishop voiced disagreement with, of all things, some proposed state spending cuts! Bettencourt’s jaw-droppingly false accusations show how instantaneously insults can, and probably will for the foreseeable future, be levied at any Catholic bishop who dares to exercise his civil right of free speech regarding public issues. But, that such overt intimidation of a citizen was practiced by an elected pubic figure—one sworn, I presume, to defend constitutional liberties—simply defies description. Is Bettencourt really the face of New Hampshire’s Republican Party?

Bettencourt could have, if he wished, expressed strong disagreement with McCormack’s theory of governmental responsibility, or at least with the bishop’s facile assumption that governments can draw on an inexhaustible money pit. I, for one, would have been happy to offer some talking points for such reasonable rebuttals. Bettencourt could have even, if he wished, (but a different context would have been much better) criticized McCormack’s role in the Boston clergy abuse scandal, though I gather that in doing so Bettencourt would have only re-aired points that McCormack seems basically to have conceded.

Instead, Bettencourt insulted the bishop with a crude ad hominen attack utterly unconnected to the issue before them, and twice accused the bishop of civil crimes warranting immediate arrest, namely, pedophilia and pimping. In writing. Politics can occasion some pretty harsh descriptions of one’s opponents, I know, but it should never, ever, excuse an elected leader’s public leveling of plainly criminous accusations against a fellow citizen who disagrees with the politician, absent, at least, immediately proffered evidence that backs up the claim of crimes.

So, does Bettencourt have evidence that McCormack engaged in pedophilia? Does he have evidence that the bishop worked as a pimp? If he does not, then, even though Bettencourt can never erase his vile words, he can at least apologize for them. Immediately.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Republicans might want to start thinking about finding a new face to represent, if not their fiscal responsibility goals, at least their method of defending them. Or not, if they are comfortable with Bettencourt’s judgment going into the next election cycle. + + +

Same Day Update: J. D. Bettencourt has just published a long, ‘I’m-not-sorry-for-what-I-said-but-I-am-sorry-for-how-I-said-it’ letter to Bp. McCormack. But, is it not obvious, the problem with Bettencourt’s original attack was precisely what he said, not simply how he said it. Bettencourt publicly, in writing, accused McCormack of grave civil crimes. Those accusations must either be substantiated, or withdrawn. Meanwhile New Hampshire’s Republican leadership seems to be digging for Bettencourt. What are they thinking?

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