Ad Hominem: adj. Directed at or appealing to one's hearer's or reader's personal feelings or prejudices rather than his intellect or reason (Webster's Third New International Dictionary)
In this era of political rancor and strife, the ad hominem attack seems to reign supreme. Idiot. Bigot. Nazi. Leftwing nutjob. Rightwing wacko. Fascist. Homophobe. Fatso. Fool. Jerk. Neanderthal. Racist. Whore. Communist....the list goes on and on. The problem with these attacks is that they get us nowhere. Even if a word accurately describes someone, if it is incendiary and confrontational, it is inappropriate to use it.
Let us suppose that we were to call someone a pathetic, incompetent fool. For many, this would be an accurate description of George W. Bush. For many, it would be an accurate description of Barack Obama. In neither case is the label productive or positive for the public discourse.
We would all do well to heed grandma's age old advice that if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all.
When you launch a personal attack against someone that has ideological differences, it is proof that you either lack the ability, or as is more often the case, the information or facts, to confront your opponent on a rational, objective basis. The ad hominem argument is the last refuge of those who are not up to a rational debate, for whatever reason.
In these tumultuous times, those on both sides of the aisle would do well to keep the debate civil. Attack ideas, not people.