05/11/2008 08:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Moral Relativism and the Right

One of the more popular phrases used by the Right to describe the Left is "moral relativists."

"Good golly, Chip, these liberals have no sense of good and evil. They have no appreciation for the fact that there is Real Evil in the world, and that stems from their moral relativism! They accept that a bad deed is not quite so bad in certain instances. But we know that evil is always evil, right, Chip?"

"Right you are, Skip. Some things are always evil. Like hating freedom."

(For some reason, I always picture far-right mouthbreathers having cute nicknames for each other, like Skippy or Chip. I blame this prejudice on both Scooter Libby and our president's weird quirk of assigning nicknames to everything and everyone: Brownie, Guru, and the ever-popular Turd-blossom. It seems he's given everything a nickname but the White House Rose Garden. ... Wait, has he nicknamed that too? Maybe he calls it "Roselita" or something. Jesus ... Anyway, enough of the tangent. I believe the Far Right all have goofy nicknames. Enough said.)

But in this case, with all apologies to the title of Arianna Huffington's new book, the Right is right. For the most part, we on the Left side of the political divide -- along with most thoughtful types -- recognize that morality is a mushy subject. Stealing a loaf of bread to feed one's family is not the same thing as, say, draining a pension fund and stealing millions from hapless workers who will then have to steal bread to feed their families.

But the interesting part about the moral relativism of the Left is that, out there on the edge, where man's inhumanity to man becomes truly horrific, we suddenly throw moral relativism out the window and recognize that certain actions are always wrong, regardless of the reasons why. Rape is always wrong. Child molestation is always wrong. And, yes, torture is always wrong.

When it comes to moral relativism, the difference between the Right and the Left seems not one of who practices the philosophy and who doesn't, but in which areas we are willing to concede that, among all the stark black and whites, there is room for shades of gray.

The moral relativism of the Right is found in its specious arguments for torturing the bejesus out of jumpsuit-clad detainees at Guantanamo, many of whom are as deserving of being locked up as anyone reading this. Take, for example, the case of al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, who was released from the American internment camp in Cuba last week after six years. He was never charged with a crime and, when captured by Pakistani intelligence officers in Afghanistan, he carried a work visa and was on assignment in the oft-war-torn country.

And yet, back when the Republican presidential primary was still sexy, the contenders were falling all over themselves to assure potential voters how far they would go in maiming Guantanamo detainees. Moral relativists like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani fell all over themselves to see who could win the requisite pro-torture voting bloc.

Now that it's over, and John McCain is the man, the Right has found perhaps its most shameful flunky for its pro-torture message. The coming debate between McCain and Barack Obama (I like Hillary too, but let's be real here.) will be a debate about the future of our country. The Right fears that an Obama administration would "cut and run," "give comfort to our enemies," or "insert focus-group-tested slogan here." It fears that an Obama administration would mean the destruction of America, or at least that's what it screams to make people afraid enough to vote against their own best interests. But America is, of course, too strong for that. The only way America will ever be destroyed is if we destroy ourselves; if we destroy what America means. And tossing out habeas corpus, the Constitution and basic human rights should accomplish that destruction nicely.

Which is why I ask of the moral relativists of the Right: Why do you hate America?