Today's Camille Paglia column has been roundly vilified for its idiotic take on Palin's decision to drop out; I think it deserves vilification for an entirely different reason.


A conservative reader writes in to Camille, presumably because he doesn't want to be challenged or provoked in any way:

I am conservative politically, yet I see the profound weaknesses in the movement. One thing from the liberal side of thinking that I struggle with is the concept of a "hate crime." If I am murdered, is that less heinous than a member of a protected class being murdered?

Matthew Shepard's case is often singled out as the reason we need hate crime legislation. The question is: What more would those who propose hate crime legislation like to be done to the perpetrators? They are serving consecutive life sentences. I believe they should be executed for their crime, but it seems that most liberals oppose the death penalty. So what would be different in his case if this legislation were enacted?

The proper answer, of course, is that like any number of exacerbating factors in sentencing, a hate crime designation may not actually result in a higher sentence for someone who's already committed an atrocious crime. Hate crime legislation is designed to target those who commit crimes that, even though only a single person or group was harmed, demonstrate an intent to either intimidate members of a larger group or a likelihood to inflict actual harm on other members of that group. Basically, it's a recognition that someone is a greater threat to society, and is reflected in pretty much every form of sentencing we do. It's why the person who kills in the middle of a heated argument receives a relatively lighter sentence than someone who rigs a shotgun to shoot their spouse when they walk through the front door - the latter shows a far greater intent to harm the person, and a greater likelihood of harming others in the future.

Camille Paglia's answer is a lot like that answer, except totally different by being so much worse it's scary.

Only a week before, Shepard had expressed fears about being killed. Given that apprehension, it is still inexplicable -- if the case is examined only through a political lens -- why Shepard would leave a public place in the company of such blatant thugs. A hate crimes law that claims to be able to penetrate the mind of the perpetrator should be equally open to questions about the victim. If, out of fairness or pity, one avenue of inquiry is shut down, then the other must be too.

So, in case you were wondering, we cannot use intent as an element of trying a murderer unless we also figure out the victim's intent in getting murdered. It's a novel legal theory with any number of wondrous applications: if we try a thief for his intent to steal, we must also try the victim for having a wallet so full of cash; if we try a rapist for his intent to rape, we must also try the victim for her having a vagina around such obvious threats of rape.

I see absolutely nothing wrong or destructive in following Paglia off of this cliff. Especially not when Shepard's murderers get the idea to try Shepard for causing something like a "gay panic"...which would never, ever happen.