Brian Beutler made us do it!


Judgment is mine, pundit says: We had tried, and we had failed, to read Ross Douthat’s column. Two separate times!

We refer to his recent column concerning same-sex marriage, its inevitable ascendance and its aftermath. We find Douthat hard to read. In this case, we tried and failed two times.

In truth, we didn’t try very hard. Then we read Brian Beutler’s new piece in Salon. Puzzlement about Beutler’s piece returned us to Douthat’s column.

What did Beutler write that puzzled us so? He started by quoting part of Douthat’s column, the column we still hadn’t read. Before he quoted Douthat, he built a snarky frame:
BEUTLER (3/4/14): New York Times columnist Ross Douthat...mourns the ascendance of same-sex marriage as a kind of avoidable divine retribution for the outright bigotry of the recent past.

“The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform,” he wrote this weekend. “I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities—thousands of years’ worth—to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status—this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.”
In the passages we highlight, Douthat is correctly describing thousands of years of intolerance directed at gays. He attributes this behavior to his fellow Christians, although we’d have to say that plenty of others pitched in.

He says it will be uncomfortable to be marginalized or sued in some sort of future world; examples of what he’s talking about exist in his fuller column. But he says his fellow Christians should remember all those past sins. And nobody should describe those future discomforts as persecution, he says.

Reading that, Beutler comes to a surprising conclusion. According to Beutler, Douthat believes that those future discomforts will be persecution:
BEUTLER (continuing directly): I agree that nobody should call this persecution, because that’s not what it is. Douthat seems to believe that it is persecution, but that religious conservatives can’t complain because they brought it upon themselves. And yet every act of oppression he foresees—diminished social acceptability, accountability for unlawful acts of discrimination— is only oppressive if you believe social toleration of religiously motivated actions, in all realms of life, is a necessary condition for the free practice of religion. (Beutler’s italics)
We found that passage very strange—so strange that we went back and read Douthat’s column.

We can’t exactly recall what it said—we find Douthat hard to read. That said, the column made more sense, read as a whole, than it did after being excerpted.

What about Beutler’s reading of the column? We found it surprising and sad.

To Beutler, if you say no one should call something persecution, that means you think it is persecution! For that reason, you apparently think it’s “oppression” as well.

Beutler’s less than charitable reading set off a wave of ugly inanity in the Salon comment thread. We're always surprised to find progressives defending gender and marriage equity with clever plays on the word “douche,” to cite one set of examples.

We would suggest this conclusion:

Talk radio and comment threads have served as major learning tools over the past several decades. Through those populist media, we’ve been able to observe the ways we the people reason. We’ve been able to see who we the people really are.

As it turns out, we the people are no walk in the park.

Talk radio came first, and it was largely conservative. It let us liberals see how dumb, dull-witted and ditto-headed conservatives will often be, especially when encouraged.

During the age when talk radio rose, we liberals often assumed that we weren’t like that in our tribe. The subsequent rise of comment threads has given the lie to that notion.

On talk radio, dumb, disingenuous radio hosts brought out the worst in their callers. Today, thought leaders like Beutler open the gate to waves of dumb, unpleasant conduct by lofty, high-minded liberals.

In our view, Beutler is a million times smarter and fairer than this piece makes him seen. But the piece defines what it means to refuse to take yes for an answer, to refuse to let someone from The Other Tribe agree about how wrong that tribe has often been.

Douthat didn’t say that the ascendance of same-sex marriage is a kind of divine retribution. He didn’t say that getting sued for X, Y or Z will be a form of persecution or oppression—unless you’re determined to think the worst of those in The Other Tribe, determined to read what they write in the most negative way possible.

(For results, see Salon comment thread.)

It’s sad to see ourselves playing this dumb, familiar, hateful game. This is how Sean has always behaved. But as the last ten years have shown, We can be a lot like Them!

In our view, Beutler had an off day. Clever jibes about Douchehats to the side, do you think that’s what Douthat said?


  1. Maybe he is using Douthat to speak to the others who HAVE said they consider it persecution.

  2. I think Beutler's ire was aroused by the idea of religious conservatives claiming the highest possible status -- that of victim.

    Today, IMHO, liberals assign victims the highest status. This has been the case for so long that young people may be surprised to know it wasn't always the case. I suppose it arose in the 1960's and 1970's along with the idea of affirmative action and compensation for discrimination. Before that, it pretty much didn't exist.

    E.g., when I was young, there was acknowledged bigotry and/or discrimination against just about any group you could name: blacks, Asians, Hispanics, women, gays, Irish, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, old people, etc. To their credit, many liberals advocated treating these minorities equally. However the idea of rewarding them hadn't caught on.

    1. Maybe a vigorous debate in this combox about theocratically sanctioned and thus acceptable foreskin removal will get our host to pay us as much mind as he pays to Salon commenters.

    2. Long live the natural penis!

    3. Every time you comment here, David, you (rather risibly) claim to be the victim. Cynically terming the government's ease of injustices as "rewarding them", strikes me as an immoral perspective borne from a skewed view of victimhood. Affirmative action and compensation for discrimination pretty much has been existing for white people for quite some time.

    4. "David, you (rather risibly) claim to be the victim..."

      Don't be so hard on David. Can't you tell he's had such a rough life in the good ol' US of A with all this reverse discrimination holding him back. And now in the twilight of his life he and his wife have to suffer in sunny California both collecting maximum SS benefits.

    5. Why is it always about getting stuff, for Republicans?

  3. Anon 8:36 AM: Cynically terming the government's ease of injustices as "rewarding them", strikes me as an immoral perspective borne from a skewed view of victimhood.

    Ah, yes. The government doesn't reward certain people, it eases their injustices. But, in practice, it comes down to certain people getting special treatment, while others pay for it. And, it's not clear to me that there's always "justice" in who pays and who gets.

    Black people who have suffered no racial injustice are given preferential admission to college, presumably, because some other black people once suffered injustice.

    Although Asians suffered injustice in the past, they're not given preferential admission to college today. On the contrary, they're discriminated against today in college admissions.

    Working class people with children pay Social Security assessments so that rich older people can live in comfort. Black teens are thrown out of the workforce by minimum wage laws.

    IMHO Anon is too quick to justify everything the government does as "justice."

    1. Set aside, for a moment, affirmative action from the always intelligent debate which arises from the intelligent offerings of David in Cal and focus on the brilliance of his
      final observations.

      "Working class people pay Social Security assessments so rich older people can live in comfort."

      "Black teens are thrown out of the workforce by minimum wage laws."

      I do believe social good would be acheived if we eliminate Social Security, thus forcing an element of discomfort for older rich folks.

      And Lord knows that black teens employment problems began when we adopted the minimum wage.

    2. It is possible to believe in a progressive agenda such as Social Security and a higher minimum wage without denying that they may have some negative effects on some folks-that nothing can be fair for everyone. David in Cal makes some points that are worthy of an intelligent response. They may be wrong and a well-informed progressive may be able to prove that, but your mockery of him only debases the possibility of informed debate- a la Rachel Maddow.

    3. Disagree. His trollish mendacity is legendary.

    4. So, M. Carpenter, respond intelligently. All you have done is parrot our favorite blogger.

      Sentence 1 ) Everything is possible.

      Sentence 2) You should be doing what I am not.

      Sentence 3) You are just like Rachel Maddow and blog comment boxes are no place for that kind of piddle and pap.

    5. If SS and minimum wage have any negative effects, perhaps some slight impact on the wealthy, well then that would be fair!

    6. I am not claiming to be a well-informed progressive, so I can't really defend against David's points. I have seen David dead wrong many times but he is polite and generally earnest. And a few times I have agreed with him and drawn the same mocking tones as above. The sneering anonymous comments are juvenile, and it is the same arrogance that Maddow throws off.

    7. DAinCA is reliably wrong. He's not only polite and earnest, he cannot be insulted. God knows I've tried to insult his insular ignorance, and I've concluded that it can't be done.

      DAinCA will find some rightard viewpoint somewhere, anywhere and parrot it as gospel. Today's he's found crackpot Thomas Sowell, who once groused that Obama's reception in Berlin was like Hitler's. Or something.

      Is is true that black unemployment was lower than white unemployment "prior to the 1930s"? How long prior? Before 1910 and the start of the Great Migration? In 1920, when the census didn't even record employment status? Are we to suppose that the BLS was compiling nonfarm payrolls in this magic era "prior to 1930"? Did the gov count all those happy, singin' darkies in the fields of the Jim Crow south?

      Who can tell? Certainly not me. The only academic study of black employment that I could find online doesn't support this contention, so I suppose we should ask DAinCA to check his sources to support the claim he likes.

      Oh, wait. I've tried that. Repeatedly.

      Never mind.

  4. And Lord knows that black teens employment problems began when we adopted the minimum wage.

    You think you're being sarcastic, Anon, but you are exactly right.

    In the fourth quarter of 2012, the black unemployment rate was more than double the rate for whites. But prior to the 1930s, Sowell said, black unemployment was actually lower than white unemployment.

    “What changed was the government intervention into the labor market,” Sowell said. “1930 was the last year in which there was no federal minimum wage.

    Read more:

  5. David, you are such a joke. You know what? Before the 1860's blacks had full employment!

    1. What is your point here? I'm sure you're not arguing that the history of slavery justifies current policies that cause high black unemployment?

    2. Just curious. Do you think a majority of conservatives blaming the Community Redevelopment Act for crashing the world's economy is due to racism, or is it just the typical running of interference for Wall Street and the bankers (whose fraud actually crashed the world's economy)?


  6. Black unemployment has different causes than white unemployment. There is no way to make arguments about black unemployment rates prior to the 1930's due to unreliable data. I can't see Sowell saying blacks had it better before the 1930's, that is rather absurd. The trend is that the ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment has been going down through the years as minimum wage has been raised.

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