Part 1—Indiana is Selma: By last Tuesday, debate about Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” had become the focus of the nation’s culture wars—the endless series of division-and-conquest fights which makes the plutocrats glad.
That morning, the New York Times published three letters about the new debate. By happenstance, all three letters voiced the view of the Times editorial board, whose editorial about the topic appeared on the very same page.
(Two days later, the Times published eight more letters on this topic. Extending a pattern, all eight letters agreed with the Times’ editorial view.)
Tuesday’s letters appeared beneath this heading: “Outrage Over an Anti-Gay Law in Indiana.” In our view, all three letters engaged in variants of a practice we’d describe as “liberal loathing”—a practice which was quite widespread last week.
Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t like the practice we call “liberal loathing.” We haven’t liked it for a very long time.
We think the practice tends to be dumb; we think it tends to be counterproductive. We think the practice is mean-spirited. Sometimes, the practice turns ugly.
Does our tribe’s penchant for “liberal loathing” advance progressive interests? On balance, we’d guess that it doesn’t. But however our alleged loathing may play out in our long-run political battles, we’d have to say that our liberal loathing is quite unattractive.
In fairness, milder forms of our loathing are frequently expressed in ways which are genteel and high-minded. On the other hand, in comments at Salon last week, our loathing was more often expressed in the familiar, undisguised language of the mob.
As we all know within our own tribe, our liberal loathing is built on the noblest intentions. That said, the world’s mobs have always parsed things that way as they’ve rampaged through the streets.
All three letters last Tuesday were built upon noble intentions. That said, we thought each letter displayed some aspect of our liberal loathing, which we view as one of the plutocrats’ most useful tools.
The first letter asked several questions about the new law which were perhaps slightly dumb. “How is...this discriminatory law any different from laws that restricted rights for blacks before the passage of the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago?”
On its face, that question was fairly dumb. It’s strange to think that a newspaper would choose it to lead its letters section that way.
The third letter adopted a dramatic, self-glorying framework. It compared Indiana to Selma as a “defining moment in American history.”
We liberals have often adopted such frameworks in recent years. Like high-minded Walter Mittys, we picture ourselves on the ramparts of history in ways we simply are not.
Whatever happened in Indiana last week, it pretty much wasn’t Selma. On the surface, this is what seemed to be at stake:
As best anyone was able to say, at issue was your ability to get your wedding ceremony catered by the caterer of your choice. That isn’t nothing, of course. Depending on where they live, a gay couple could imaginably have a hard time getting a florist to service their wedding.
That certainly wouldn’t be nothing. On the other hand, this wasn’t exactly Selma, no matter how much we liberals may long to convince ourselves of our vast historical greatness.
Frequently, that was the way we pictured last week’s fight. Then too, there was our frequently horrible execution of the high-minded battle we waged:
Good lord! As we liberals expressed our moral greatness—the sense that we are straight outta Selma—we landed on a small-town pizza joint whose owners had said that they, as Christians, wouldn’t want to cater a gay wedding ceremony, which they apparently regard as a religious event.
Just for the record, they only said this when a TV reporter came to them and asked them about it. They said they have always served everyone in their store, and no one seemed to say different.
They said it was only the ceremony they didn’t want to participate in—and that the issue had never arisen in their nine years in business.
Alas! Asked by a hard-charging reporter, a young woman in a small pizza joint gave this unfortunate answer. Many of us liberals proceeded to behave in heinous ways, leading us back to the second letter which appeared in last Tuesday’s Times.
The letter came from Newton, Mass., one of our finer districts. Its writer spoke with great authority about the claims involved in this matter, as if he’d just come down from the mountain bearing the latest tablets.
As we’ll be noting all this week, we liberals tend to declaim in these ways when we get a snootful or two:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/31/15): First, the title of the law—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—is shameless Orwellian doublespeak. The people of Indiana have not been deprived of their “religious freedom.” Fortunately, the First Amendment to the federal Constitution guarantees that freedom.Has anyone in Indiana “been deprived of their religious freedom?” This bearer of tablets simply announced in his epistle that actually no, they have not.
And in seeking to defend the new law, Gov. Mike Pence wonders, “The issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two-way street or not?” The governor is confused. Vulnerable minorities, like gays and lesbians, do not have an obligation to tolerate others’ intolerance of them.
After that, he spoke to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately in our view, this is often the essence of us:
“Vulnerable minorities, like gays and lesbians, do not have an obligation to tolerate others’ intolerance of them.”
Let us translate, perhaps unfairly:
In matters like this, We liberals don’t have to “tolerate” Them. They have to “tolerate” Us!
They are required to “tolerate” Us! Tribal groups have always parsed the world in precisely that manner.
They will have to tolerate Us! We won’t have to tolerate Them! All week long, we’ll consider the wisdom and justice of that approach to this particular dispute. We’ll consider where this attitude takes our plutocrat-friendly national politics.
As the week proceeds, we’ll bring one more note of sadness in. In modern times, we liberals are strongly inclined to parse the world in the way the Times did in its editorial.
The board was speaking loudly last Tuesday, as it so frequently does in the reign of Andrew Rosenthalicus.
Right from the jump, the board employed one of our favorite frameworks. Hard-copy headline included:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (3/31/15): In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for BigotryThe law was “driven by bigotry,” the high-minded board quickly thundered. Luckily, no one’s been fooled about that within our tribe, despite the cleverness of The Others.
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who last week signed a religious-freedom law driven by bigotry against gays and lesbians, has been complaining that the law’s opponents—which include top business leaders and civil-rights groups — are spreading “misinformation.”
It is true that the law does not, as some opponents claim, specifically permit businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. Its drafters were too smart to make that explicit. Instead, the law allows individuals or corporations facing discrimination lawsuits to claim that serving gays and lesbians “substantially” burdens their religious freedom.
But nobody is fooled as to the law’s underlying purpose...
Was the Indiana law driven by bigotry? We would be slow to make that claim, but then we aren’t Moses, or the Emperor Rosenthalicus, or even The Amazing Kreskin. In our view, the various emperors in our tribe could stand to quiet down a tiny tad too.
Warning! We won’t be playing our “Dr. King card” until the end of the week! Until that time, we’ll explore a set of questions about the liberal loathing which was on wide display last week.
In the main, we won’t be asking you to examine the merits of the first Indiana law, or of the later amended version. We’ll be asking you to think about the reactions and attitudes which were on wide display within our tribe last week.
In the main, we’ll be asking you to think about Us, not about Them! Every so often, a minor amount of introspection can help dissipate a false spring.
We’ll be asking several questions. Is it possible to view the young woman at that pizza joint except through the lens of “bigotry?”
We’ll even be asking you this:
Is it possible that some consideration might be extended in some way to people whose religious traditions disapprove of same-sex marriage? Is it possible to imagine doing that, even if we think those traditions and views are possibly just a bit dumb?
We’ll ask you to notice who our reporters ran to interview last week. We'll also ask you to notice who our reporters avoided.
At some point, we’ll even ask if we liberals might possibly have a hint of “intolerance” within our own imperfect souls! Though tribal groups have always known how to answer such questions.
Sifting the rubble of last week’s fight, we’ll be asking those questions anyhoo. We’ll start with just one small request:
Try not to answer with claims about Them when we ask you to think about Us.
Tomorrow: The group we love to loathe versus those we pass over
This morning's background reading assignment:: Reread your Rose Of Sharon!