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“It’s Instructive Whose Sticking Up For The Worse”: There Are Two Americas, And One Is Better Than The Other

Matt Lewis writes of the controversy over Duck Dynasty that “There really are two Americas” and that the divide over the show “has as much to do with class and geography and culture and attitude as it does with religion.”

That’s true.

Specifically, there’s one America where comparing homosexuality to bestiality is considered acceptable, and another where it is rude and offensive.

In one America, it’s OK to say this of gays and lesbians: “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.” In the other America, you’re not supposed to say that.

There’s one America where it’s OK to say this about black people in the Jim Crow-era South: “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” There’s another America where that statement is considered to reflect ignorance and insensitivity.

In one America, it’s OK to attribute the Pearl Harbor attacks to Shinto Buddhists’ failure to accept Jesus. In the other America, that is not OK.

There are two Americas, one of which is better than the other. And it’s instructive who’s sticking up for the worse America.

The conservative politicians who are complaining that Phil Robertson’s firing flies in the face of “free speech” are generally smart enough to understand that Robertson doesn’t actually have a legal right to be on A&E. When Sarah Palin and her cohorts talk about the importance of “free speech,” they mean something much more specific: That the sorts of things that Robertson said are not the sorts of things a private employer should want to fire someone for saying. That they are, or ought to be, within the bounds of social acceptability.

But they’re wrong. The other America — the America I live in — has this one right. Racist and anti-gay comments and comments disparaging of religious minorities are rude and unacceptable and might cost you your job. It’s not OK to say that gay people are “full of murder.”

I will add one caveat, in the vein of Andrew Sullivan’s comments. The things Phil Robertson said should get you fired from most jobs. But starring on a reality show is a special kind of job, one where demonstrating that you are a good person who follows good social conventions may not be necessary.

For example, if at a Business Insider function I were to flip over a table and call one of my colleagues a “prostitution whore,” I’d probably be fired. But when a Real Housewife of New Jersey does that, she’s doing her job just fine. Similarly, Phil Robertson represents some very real pathologies of his culture, and his job is to provide a look into the reality of that culture to the TV viewer.

In some sense, when Robertson compares gays to terrorists, he’s doing his job, too. So I’m sympathetic to the idea that A&E shouldn’t suspend him for this. But if they shouldn’t suspend him, it’s because it’s acceptable for Robertson to say unacceptable things, not because his remarks were acceptable.

 

By: Josh Barro, Business Insider, December 20, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hate In A Neat Little Package”: When You Defend Phil Robertson, Here’s What You’re Really Defending

Let’s get a few things straight about what Phil Robertson said that got him in trouble.

Defenses of Robertson, the star of “Duck Dynasty” suspended for his remarks in an interview with GQ, have focused on the idea that he was just crudely expressing the sincere, Christian view that homosexuality is sinful.

Condemnation of Robertson therefore amounts to condemnation of views that are part of Christian doctrine. What are Christians to do about the fact that their beliefs require them to condemn homosexual acts? Why are cultural elites oppressing Christians by making it forbidden to express their views?

Robertson’s defenders should read his comments again, because their defenses are off-point. If you’re defending Robertson, here’s what you’re defending:

  1. Robertson thinks black Americans were treated just fine in the Jim Crow-era South, and that they were happy there. “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
  2. Robertson thinks the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because they didn’t believe in Jesus. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
  3. Robertson hates gay people. Robertson in 2010: “Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

This last one is key. My inbox is full of “love the sinner, hate the sin” defenses of Robertson’s 2013 remarks. But Robertson doesn’t love gay people. He thinks they’re, well, “full of murder.” His views on gays are hateful, inasmuch as they are full of hate.

As a side note, it’s remarkable how often these things come as a package. Robertson’s sincere doctrinal view about the sinfulness of homosexuality comes packaged with animus toward gays and retrograde views about blacks and non-Christians. It’s almost as though social conservatism is primarily fueled by a desire to protect the privileges of what was once a straight, white Christian in-group, rather than by sincere religious convictions.

You might recall that conservatives are currently trying to figure out what to do about the fact that the Republican Party performs quite poorly with the growing share of voters who are not white, straight Christians. They think some of it has to do with economic issues. But then they’re scratching their heads, trying to figure out how Mitt Romney lost the Asian American vote 3-to-1 even though, by Republican “maker-vs.-taker” metrics, Asian Americans are disproportionately likely to be “makers.”

Non-whites and non-Christians and gays keep getting the sense that, even setting aside policy, conservatives and Republicans just don’t care for them. The “Duck Dynasty” episode, with Ted Cruz and others rushing out to defend Robertson’s honor, is just another example of why.

 

By: Josh Barro, Business Insider, December 21, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Our New Isolationism”: Sometimes, You Have To Put Some Spine In Your Diplomacy

The United States has just spent thousands of American lives in a distant land for a victory that now seems hollow, if indeed it can be called a victory at all. Our own country, moreover, is emerging from a recession, dispirited and self-absorbed, worried about the fragility of the recovery and the state of our democracy. Idealism is in short supply. So, as another far-off war worsens, Americans are loath to take sides, even against a merciless dictator, even to the extent of sending weapons. The voices opposed to getting involved range from the pacifist left to the populist right. The president, fearful that foreign conflict will undermine his domestic agenda, vacillates.

This is the United States in 1940. Sound a little familiar?

I’ve been reading two engrossing new histories of that time — “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson and “1940” by Susan Dunn — both focused on the ferocious and now largely forgotten resistance Franklin D. Roosevelt had to navigate in order to stand with our allies against Hitler.

Of course, 2013 is not 1940. The Middle East is not Europe. President Obama is not F.D.R. But America is again in a deep isolationist mood. As a wary Congress returns from its summer recess to debate Syria, as President Obama prepares to address the nation, it is instructive to throw the two periods up on the screen and examine them for lessons. How does a president sell foreign engagement to a public that wants none of it?

The cliché of the season is that Americans are war-weary from our long slogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is true, but not the whole story. To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration. But the isolationist temper is not just about the legacy of Iraq. Economic troubles and political dysfunction have contributed to a loss of confidence. Add to the mix a surge of xenophobia, with its calls for higher fences and big-brotherly attention to the danger within. (These anxieties also helped give rise to the expanding surveillance state, just as nativism in that earlier period gave license to J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive eavesdropping.)

Isolationism is strong in the Tea Party, where mistrust of executive power is profound and where being able to see Russia from your front yard counts as mastery of international affairs. But sophisticated readers of The New York Times are not immune, or so it seems from the comments that arrive when I write in defense of a more assertive foreign policy. (In recent columns I’ve advocated calibrated intervention to shift the balance in Syria’s civil war and using foreign aid to encourage democracy in Egypt.) Not our problems, many readers tell me.

Isolationism is not just an aversion to war, which is an altogether healthy instinct. It is a broader reluctance to engage, to assert responsibility, to commit. Isolationism tends to be pessimistic (we will get it wrong, we will make it worse) and amoral (it is none of our business unless it threatens us directly) and inward-looking (foreign aid is a waste of money better spent at home).

“We are not the world’s policeman, nor its judge and jury,” proclaimed Representative Alan Grayson, a progressive Florida Democrat, reciting favorite isolationist excuses for doing nothing. “Our own needs in America are great, and they come first.”

At the margins, at least, isolationists suspect that our foreign policy is being manipulated by outside forces. In 1940, as Olson’s book documents, anti-interventionists deplored the cunning British “plutocrats” and “imperialists,” who had lured us into the blood bath of World War I and now wanted to goad us into another one. In 2013, it is supposedly the Israelis duping us into fighting their battles.

Many pro-Israel and Jewish groups last week endorsed an attack on Syria, but only after agonizing about a likely backlash. And, sure enough, the first comment posted on The Washington Post version of this story was, “So how many Americans will die for Israel this time around?” This is tame stuff compared with 1940, when isolationism was shot through with shockingly overt anti-Semitism, not least in the rhetoric of the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Both Lynne Olson and Susan Dunn, in interviews, were wary of pushing the analogy too far. The Middle East, they point out, is far murkier, far less familiar.

“In 1940 everything was black and white — there was no gray,” Dunn told me. “On one side, Adolf Hitler and ruthless, barbaric warfare; on the other side, democracy, humanism, morality and world civilization itself.” Yes, at least so it seems in hindsight, but the choice was not so clear in 1940. Both books offer copious examples of serious, thoughtful people who had real doubts about whether Hitler was a threat worth fighting: cabinet members and generals, newspaper publishers and business leaders. At Yale, Dunn reports, an antiwar student movement that included such future luminaries as Gerald Ford, Potter Stewart and Sargent Shriver drafted a petition demanding “that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”

Olson told me she was startled to hear Secretary of State John Kerry inveighing against “armchair isolationism” last week in his testimony on Syria. “I think to be skeptical now does not mean you’re an isolationist,” said Olson, who is herself skeptical about taking sides in Syria. “It’s become a dirty word.”

Fair enough. But can we dial down the fears and defeatist slogans of knee-jerk isolationism and conduct a serious discussion of our interests and our alternatives in Syria and the tumultuous region around it?

The event that ultimately swept the earlier isolationists off the board was, of course, Pearl Harbor. But even before the Japanese attack the public reluctance was gradually giving way, allowing the delivery of destroyers to the British, the Lend-Lease program, a precautionary weapons buildup and the beginning of military conscription.

One factor that moved public opinion toward intervention was the brazenness of Hitler’s menace; Americans who had never given a thought to the Sudetenland were stunned to see Nazis parading into Paris.

Another was a robust debate across the country that ultimately transcended partisanship and prejudice.

Most historians and popular memory credit Roosevelt’s leadership for the country’s change of heart, but Olson points out that for much of that period Roosevelt was — to borrow a contemporary phrase — leading from behind. He campaigned in 1936 on a pledge to “shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars” and to seek to “isolate ourselves completely from war.” It was a vow he renewed repeatedly as Hitler conquered country after country: there would be no American boots on the ground.

Olson argues that while Roosevelt resolved early to send aid to Britain, it is not at all clear that he would have taken America into the war if it had not been forced upon him by Pearl Harbor. But by December 1941, she writes, “the American people had been thoroughly educated about the pros and cons of their country’s entry into the conflict and were far less opposed to the idea of going to war than conventional wisdom has it.”

“Obviously we got into it because of Pearl Harbor, but that debate made a crucial difference,” Olson told me. “And I think that is what’s called for now.”

Congress in recent years has not won much respect as an arena of policy debate, but it was heartening last week to hear leaders of both parties moving a little beyond petty obstructionism and bitter partisanship and inviting a serious discussion.

I hope that Congress can elicit from the president this week a clear and candid statement of America’s vital interests in Syria, and a strategy that looks beyond the moment. I hope the president can persuade Congress that the U.S. still has an important role to play in the world, and that sometimes you have to put some spine in your diplomacy. And I hope Americans will listen with an open mind.

 

By: Bill Keller, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 8, 2013

September 9, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Newt Gingrich And The History Channel Have In Common

The Republican candidate Newt Gingrich and the cable channel History have both followed the same formula for success, by elevating fantasy over actual history. The difference, however, is that Newt wants to carry his sensational vision of a bygone age into office.

Newt is the most prominent self-described “historian” in the United States. If he were elected in 2012, he would be only the second president after Woodrow Wilson to hold a PhD. Indeed, according to Newt, his gifts at decoding the past are so illustrious that Freddie Mac paid him $1.6 million, not for lobbying, but for his historical skills. Meanwhile, over on cable, the History Channel is rising in popularity with the mission statement, “History: Made Every Day.” With practitioners and purveyors of the past soaring so high, these might seem like giddy times for the historical profession.

But neither Newt nor History shows much interest in the serious study of human experience. Newt has never published any scholarly history at all. And the lack of real analysis on History has become so absurd it was skewered by “South Park” in the episode, “A History Channel Thanksgiving”.

What motivates these peddlers of yesteryear is not history but fantasy. Newt’s staple is the alternate history or the counterfactual. What if Robert E. Lee had won at Gettysburg in 1863? What if Hitler had not declared war on the United States in 1941? His other books include historical novels, as well as prophetic visions like “Winning the Future,” which opens with the line, “In the twenty-first century, America could be destroyed.”

On cable, History has followed in Newt’s footsteps with a cocktail of conspiracy theories, counterfactuals, religious hokum, and science fiction. Many of its shows are entirely fictional, like “Ancient Aliens” and “The Bible Code,” or summon future possibilities like “Armageddon” and “Life After People.” The channel has a particular fascination with fortune telling, including “Seven Signs of the Apocalypse” and “Nostradamus 2012.”

What History adds to the mix that Newt has resisted, so far at least, is reality television, with hit show like “Pawn Stars” and “Ice Road Truckers.”

For both the candidate and the cable channel, what actually did happen seems less interesting than what might have happened, or what could still happen — with History throwing in some ice trucks for good measure.

Focusing on alternatives to history has proved to be a recipe for success. Newt’s eight counterfactuals and historical novels are bestsellers. By avoiding the actual past, History has become the fifth most popular cable channel.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with writing, or reading, fantastical stories. And Newt and History could be the gateway drug that lures people into a more substantive engagement with the past. Alternatively, their rise may reflect, and reinforce, a national dumbing down of history.

In any case, the real problem is that Newt is unwilling to keep the fantasy and reality separate. For the candidate, the past is a succession of sensational moments where civilization is at risk, until one man steps forth to hold the barbarians from the gates, whether it’s Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, FDR, Thatcher, Reagan, or Newt himself. “I have an enormous personal ambition”, said Newt back in 1985, “I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it.”

The historical parallels that Newt draws are telling. When he failed to collect 10,000 signatures required to qualify for the Republican primary ballot in Virginia, he reached into the grab bag of history and pulled out Pearl Harbor. “Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941,” scribbled campaign director Michael Krull on the Gingrich Facebook page. Here was an alternative universe, where the deaths of 2,400 Americans in a Japanese sneak attack were comparable to routine signature collection in Virginia. As Krull put it: “We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.” As a candidate, this kind of fantastical thinking is absurd, but as president it would be hazardous.

Newt and History are on the same page. If the Republican primary doesn’t pan out for Newt, he can always work for the cable channel. One of their upcoming shows is “Full Metal Jousting,” about a bunch of guys on horses smashing into each other. The problem with the show, of course, will be clearing all of the muck from the stables. It’s here that a solutions guy like Newt can think outside of the box — by employing poor kids as janitors.

 

By: Dominic Tierney, The Atlantic, January 3, 2011

January 4, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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