What conservatives really mean when they say 'groomer'

A school bus.
A school bus. Illustrated | iStock

Liberals are perplexed by conservatives' increasing use of the word "groomer" to describe opponents of the Florida parental rights law and similar policies elsewhere. They are right that the term is hyperbolic at best and worst conflates a host of complex issues with pedophilia.

But liberals (and conflict-averse conservatives) are wrong to confidently predict it will necessarily be perceived by persuadable people as QAnon craziness. It's not entirely clear that many such people even know what QAnon is. And it is just as risky for liberals to reduce all concerns about child pornography and age-appropriateness of sex education to Pizzagate. The obsessions of the "Very Online" on both sides impoverish virtually any debate.

The conservatives who favor the term see it as no worse than bad-faith accusations of racism, which can be similarly career-ending and life-altering. And social conservatives know many of their opponents genuinely do regard their beliefs about human sexuality — still taught by many of the world's major religions — as bigotry morally indistinguishable from racial hatred. Public schools are supported by parents who hold both viewpoints and are not going to be able to easily accommodate this cultural divide.

Consequently, many conservatives are unsympathetic to complaints about "groomer," which they perceive is clearly touching a nerve. There probably ought to be a better, more nuanced word for people who make arguments about the instruction of children that are at least partly motivated by affirming adult identities, lifestyles, and beliefs. Instead, we have the bigot versus groomer brouhaha.

The smarter play for liberals than allowing themselves to get baited into treating all worries about children and sex as QAnon is to simply wait for the inevitable overreach to occur. The flaw of the Florida law is that it is likely to empower the most sensitive parents to make complaints. Some teacher in Florida will be penalized or even fired for comments most voters will regard as innocuous. This will push the pendulum back in the liberals' direction, just as the woke school boards have done for conservatives. But that requires a level of patience and prudence seldom in evidence while the culture war is brewing.

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