I wince when I recall the first opinion column of mine that ever saw print. It was in the University of Chicago's student newspaper, the Maroon, and it admonished left-leaning students about the habit some of them had of using an extreme-right political label as a casual term of disapprobation. It was just as unfair, I meant to suggest, for them to castigate foes loosely as "fascists" as it was for others to find a "commie" under every couch. One line of undergraduate eloquence sticks relentlessly in my mind: "Fascist," I declared, "is a word with a fairly strong sting to it."
This was in 1968, when some students around the world were up to a good deal more than ill-chosen rhetoric. My column came off rather preachy, and the fact that it was accompanied by an unfortunate photograph (not enough shadow?) made the whole episode embarrassing. I'd be in the dormitory dining hall minding my business when the conversation around me would take a certain turn and one young sarcastic intellectual would say to another, "Uh-oh, that's name-calling. Kelley won't approve." At which point it was incumbent on me in the name of good sportsmanship to snarl back, "Shut up, you fascist!"
So it is with some trepidation that I take up my editorial pen once again to bemoan an unwarranted instance of guilt-by-association rhetoric. I refer to the yeoman service the Clinton Health Reform Plan is rendering these days — not in its intended function, of course, but as an all-purpose bugaboo. Anyone who even whispers of assigning some new health care function to the federal government hears his idea dismissed contemptuously by its opponents as the return of the Big Bad Clinton Plan. (See Washington Initiatives for one example.) Is it too much to hope that, at least until they reach 1,300 pages, new proposals can be judged on their own merits and not by such cynical demonizing?