Obama’s refusal to call the Islamist group ISIS by its name, referring instead to something called ISIL, is the latest iteration of a uniquely American form of political propaganda that is puerile and ridiculous: name-calling reminiscent of junior high school.
Now that the controversy over Mozilla’s firing of CEO Brendan Eich over his antigay politics has subsided (and before something similar happens again, which it surely will), it’s time for a brief tutorial on McCarthyism.
Because, if those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, Americans — who don’t notice history even as it’s happening, while it’s making headlines — are condemned to the endless purgatory of idiocracy.
McCarthyism, also known as the 20th century’s second Red Scare, took on several forms in the 1950s. Today, however, let’s focus on blackballing.
Blackballing, also often known as blacklisting (there are so many a.k.a.’s), is the act of denying employment to someone due to political opinions they express, and activities in which they participate, away from the workplace.
The qualifier “away from the workplace” is important. Denying you a paycheck because of your politics — politics you don’t express at work — is the essence of blackballing, and arguably the most powerful torture device in the censor’s toolbox. Examples of blackballing include the disgusting Hollywood blacklist of left-leaning actresses like Marsha Hunt and director Charlie Chaplin, and the 2004 firing of an Alabama woman because she had a John Kerry bumpersticker on her car. Also in 2004, Men’s Health magazine dropped my comic strip — which was about sex and relationships, 100% apolitical — because I opposed George W. Bush and his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
As Timothy Noah wrote about the bumpersticker firing: “Firing a person because you don’t like his or her politics runs contrary to just about everything this country stands for, but it is not against the law.” The U.S. embraces the savage fiscal Darwinism of “at-will employment,” which allows employers to hire and fire workers as they please, unless a victim can prove — which is difficult — discrimination due to race, color, religion, gender, age or disability.
Incredibly, your boss can fire you simply for being a Democrat or Republican.
Blackballing squelches expression and debate. Yet the American public doesn’t seem to mind that the First Amendment doesn’t protect them where they spend more than half of their waking hours — at work. Which set the stage for what happened to Brendan Eich.
Star LGBT columnist-editor-author Dan Savage “shrugged off” suggestions that Mozilla blackballed Eich: “No gay rights organizations had called for him to step down. This wasn’t really an issue in the gay community, it was an issue at Mozilla. There were people at Mozilla who didn’t want this man representing them.”
(Disclosure: Savage has commissioned work from me, and I have said nice things about him, which I meant.)
Savage is right. No gay rights groups weighed in. They kept quiet. None spoke out in Eich’s defense.
Hey, if someone offs this turbulent priest, it’s no skin off my ass.
“He was perceived by his own employees as an unacceptable CEO,” Savage remarked, pointing to Eich’s record of right-wing politics, which included supporting Pat Buchanan and Rand Paul, in addition to the $1000 campaign contribution to California’s Proposition 8 in 2012, which attempted to ban gay marriage in the state.
Eich was perceived as “an unacceptable CEO” by Mozilla. But this was not because of his computer skills, which are widely seen as unimpeachable, or his management talent, which only came under fire after his politics came to light.
The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki showcased the rationale of McCarthyism. Allowing that Eich is “a brilliant software engineer who had been the company’s chief technology officer,” Surowiecki explained: “The problem was that Eich’s stance was unacceptable in Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology.” To which one might ask: so what? If I only bought products made by companies whose CEOs I liked, my house would be empty.
And here, the “well, duh” logic that ignores the much bigger question of whether censorship is a good idea: “In interviews, [Eich] repeatedly spoke about the need to respect the diverse views of Mozilla community members…But there was something self-evidently odd about the pairing of Eich’s rhetorical support for diversity with his financial support for denying legal rights to gay people.”
Bear in mind: Eich pledged, in writing, not to discriminate against gay Mozilla employees. There’s no evidence that he ever mistreated any member of the LGBT community.
What is “self-evidently odd” about the argument that a company that values diversity ought to be able to make peace with a right-wing, anti-gay marriage CEO? Nothing. These “liberals” are blind to their own prejudice. In the same way that cable news channels believe that ideological diversity runs the gamut from center-right Clinton Democrat to right-wing Republican, Surowiecki and Mozilla’s top executives think acceptable political discourse allows for no disagreement on gay marriage.
This makes me nervous, and not just because I’m a political pundit or because gay marriage is an issue about which Americans have changed their minds at a breathtakingly rapid rate. If anything you say can be used against you in the court of the HR office, who is going to risk saying what they think? At Mozilla, Republicans would be wise to stay in the political closet. Isn’t that kind of…fascist?
I think Eich is wrong about gay marriage. I disagree with his right-wing views. He’s a rich (former) CEO, so I don’t care about him personally. Nevertheless, Eich has become a symbol of something dangerous and wrong.
If you can lose your job due to your politics — especially if those in charge find those politics repugnant — there are only two options available to those of us who need to earn a living: keep our opinions to ourselves, or lie about them. If politics leaves the public sphere, forced underground by watchful employers and politically correct coworkers and anonymous online crusaders, how does the United States differ from East Germany?
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Of Hicks, Duck Dynasty and Free Speech
“Don’t talk about politics or religion.” It’s boilerplate advice, especially this time of year when family members and friends with varying cultural outlooks gather to break (if you’re a California liberal, gluten-free) bread.
Keeping your opinions to yourself is smart if your priority is conflict avoidance. But keeping the peace makes for seriously boring holiday meals.
Aside from the tense tedium of forced blandness, all that self-censorship accomplishes is to paper over conflicts and differences everyone knows or suspects are there anyway. Nothing gets resolved.
To the contrary, self-censorship enables bad ideas. Unchallenged year after year, the stupid people at the table return to their stupid homes as confident as ever in their stupid opinions, no matter how indefensible.
We are seeing the no-politics dictum play itself out with increasing frequency on a national level, with dismaying implications for freedom of expression.
This week we’re talking about “Duck Dynasty,” a reality TV show I haven’t watched. Phil Robertson, the ZZ Top-bearded patriarch of a Louisiana clan who struck it rich with a gadget that calls ducks, is the show’s star. He’s also a hick. Like many other hicks, Robertson holds stupid opinions about gays and blacks, which he expressed in media interviews.
After people complained about Robertson’s stupid thoughts, A&E “suspended” Robertson. He may or may not come back to the show.
Right-wingers, including ferret-faced Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and intellectual beacon Sarah Palin, played to their bigoted Republican base, issuing strident electronic missives decrying Robertson’s maybe-firing on the grounds of free speech. MSNBC and other Democratic Party mouthpieces responded in kind with a talking point that many Americans remember conservatives using against lefties during the Bush years: the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right not to be fired.
“Yes, everyone is entitled to express his or her views,” Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian. “Not everyone is entitled to keep their jobs, though, if they decide to express views that are entirely odious and potentially costly to their employer.”
We’re again witnessing an odious truism: Americans defend free speech they agree with and sign on to the suppression of that they dislike. What if, instead of filling GQ magazine in on his far-right bigotry, Phil Robertson had gotten himself maybe-fired over an interview in which he expressed views that put him to the left of “mainstream”? What if, for example, he’d said instead that all Republicans are racists and homophobes? It’s a safe bet that joints like MSNBC and The Guardian would have denounced A&E for censoring him, and that Rush Limbaugh et al. would be the ones trotting out the “you can say whatever you want but you don’t have a right to get paid for it” bromides.
These free speech battles inevitably break down along partisan lines — but it’s dumb and hypocritical and needs to stop.
Let’s dispense with this sophistry that prevents us from getting to the meat of the matter. Yes, obviously, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. There is no legal issue. Under the law, A&E can fire Robertson.
The question is: should he be fired/suspended?
Should any employer be able to fire you because they dislike what you say?
On that point, my answer is 100%, unequivocally, no way.
“The right to freely speak your mind without government interference is crucial,” allows Filipovic in her essay. “But few of us are permitted in the course of our employment to say whatever we want without consequence from our employer.”
Legally, that’s true. To which I ask: why the hell not?
Americans spend 54% of their waking hours at work. What good is a First Amendment that ends at the keycard door? (Maybe we should rename it the Half Amendment.)
As someone who has lost gigs because I said something that someone didn’t like — usually about politics or religion — I’ve spent a lot of time imagining an America in which workers could express themselves freely. Try as I might, I don’t see the world falling apart if — I’m going to go extreme here — the bald guy at the hardware store turns out to be a Nazi skinhead — after all, the dude was a Nazi all along, right? If anything, it would be good to see him wearing a Nazi badge because, assuming I have the guts to confront him, there would then be a chance that someone could argue him into a better political place.
If you can be fired for expressing yourself at work — or, as in Robertson’s case, not at work, in an interview, which means that for him, 100% of waking hours are an A&E censorship zone — then free speech is a meaningless abstraction that applies only to the tiny fraction of superrich Americans who don’t have to worry about getting fired.
“It sounds nice in theory to say, ‘Walk away, and look for another job,’ ” says Lewis Maltby of the National Workplace Institute. “But in practice, most people just can’t take that risk. They just put up with it.” Which is why the American workplace is a fascist state. “In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control,” noted The Guardian in 2012. “If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears.” Many workers have gotten fired for off-the-cuff tweets.
Because it’s legal to fire louts like Robertson for mouthing off, it’s legal to fire you too, for saying just about anything, no matter innocuous. In his 2007 book “Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace,” Bruce Barry documents countless examples of people losing their jobs over banal political speech — for example, having a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car.
Any judgment about A&E’s action on “Duck Dynasty” has to consider the result.
What, exactly do the “social justice warriors” who led the charge against Robertson win if they succeed in getting him fired, or “Duck Dynasty” taken off the air?
I doubt they’ll change Robertson’s mind about gays or blacks. You can’t bully someone into political correctness. The cure to the illogic of bigotry is logical argument. Which requires more effort than organizing an Internet pile-on. All that PC bloggers get out of Robertson’s suspension is a “victory” that makes them feel good. But it diminishes society’s racism and homophobia not one iota.
Bigotry can also give way to experience — like the time a vanload of big black guys with gang tatts emerged from their vehicle, carrying tire irons, while my car was broken down in bad-old-1980s-days Bedford-Stuyvesant. They fixed me up and sent me on the way — after refusing a tip. Robertson obviously needs to spend some time with some LGBT people and people of color.
Getting someone fired, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a recipe for making new friends.
For Robertson and everyone else, the message is clear: keep your politics to yourself, and you’ll be OK. Unless, of course, your politics happen to coincide with whatever happens to be acceptable to whatever happens to be mainstream at a given time — which can, and eventually will, change — and bite you on the ass. So yeah, if you value your paycheck, shut up.
A society in which the workplace is a zero free speech zone is not free. A nation without the free exchange of ideas, where everyone can express themselves without fear of economic retribution, is not — cannot be — a democracy.
The First Amendment should be amended to include the workplace.
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COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
To Survive, GOP Should Out-Democrat the Democrats
Republicans, engaging in the traditional losing party’s post-election wound-licking, blame-flinging and anger-at-the-dumb-voters ritual, are facing the awful truth: The American people just aren’t into their gay-bashing, race-baiting, woman-hating, Eisenhower-era positions on social issues.
“It’s not that our message–we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong–didn’t get out. It did get out,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville told The New York Times. “It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
Exasperated radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh asks:
“Condoleeza Rice…is a pinnacle of achievement, and intelligent, and well-spoken…You can’t find a more accomplished person. Marco Rubio. And really, speaking in street lingo, we’re not getting credit for it…Are these people perceived as tokens?”
Yes. Uncle Toms are easy to spot.
“In order to get the Hispanic or Latino vote, does that mean open the borders and embrace the illegals?”
“If we’re not getting the female vote, do we become pro-choice?”
Liberal pundits are helpfully offering advice to their Republican counterparts this week, arguing that if that if GOP officials and pundits make a few nips and tucks into their Neanderthal platform and tone, downplaying their unpopular stances on social issues, they may yet save their white male–dominated party from irrelevance.
Let’s set aside the obvious fact that no one does nor should listen to counsel offered by their enemies. And that even a devastating defeat–not that this one was–doesn’t always necessarily take long to recover from. Consider, for example, the post-2008 commentaries wondering whether there was a future for the GOP; by early 2010 the written-off-as-dead Republicans were riding high.
Nevertheless, Republicans might be more willing to listen to me than to other left-of-center columnists. After all, I love the GOP just as much as I care for the Democrats (not at all). Really, truly, I don’t give a rat’s ass which corporate party wins or loses.
The Republicans’ big problem is that they think they’re me.
I am a pundit. I am an idealist. The pay isn’t great, but I get to be pure, to stand up for what I think is right regardless of whether or not anybody else is willing to follow me. My job isn’t to be popular. It’s to be right.
If I were tapped to head a major political party like the Republicans, however, I wouldn’t have the luxury of being right at the price of being unpopular. Political parties are in the business of trying to win elections. To paraphrase the philosopher Don Rumsfeld, you run campaigns with the voters you have, not the ones you wish you had.
It’s one thing to push for changes that your ideological base believes in. God knows the Democrats should do that sometimes. It’s another to commit political hari-kari, trying to fight the tide by espousing points of view that are not only in the minority, but whose constituencies are consistently shrinking.
If Republicans want to win elections here in the United States, they need to set the stage for a transformational shift as dramatic as 1932, when FDR turned the Democrats into the party of liberalism and progressivism.
Republicans need not wonder why Obama got 71% of the Latino vote; if anything, the shocker is that that figure wasn’t higher. For decades, right-wing talk radio hosts and other Republican surrogates have been bashing illegal immigration (racist code for anti-Hispanic propaganda, particularly on the West Coast). Now that the Latino vote has become essential to win national races, the GOP can no longer afford its hardline stance on immigration, whether the reasons behind it are evilly nativist, benignly protectionist or law-and-order upright.
On every social issue of note, Americans are moving away from the Republican Party. We are becoming more tolerant of gays and their rights, more supportive of abortion rights, and more open to people of different backgrounds. Despite the terrible economy, Americans are less inclined to blame their troubles on competition from undocumented workers.
These trends toward a leftier country are long term and unlikely to reverse in the near future.
Beginning last summer, Republican strategists consciously decided to downplay Mitt Romney’s stances Republican Party platform’s takes on social issues. Now liberal commentators are joining them, strangely and cynically suggesting that Republicans need to change their emphasis of their messaging–but not the content of their policies.
Style isn’t enough. Republicans are doomed unless they radically change to social-issues policies that are not only in step with the country, but to its left–since the electorate will soon catch up. If the Party of Lincoln is adaptable and intelligent–which I seriously doubt–they will exploit the opportunity to move, not just left, but to the left of the center-right Democratic Party, which abdicated its traditional progressive stands on social issues when, for example, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and gutted welfare.
The GOP could make good on its long-standing assertion that it favors a legal path to immigration by proposing that we open our doors to a huge surge of legal immigration. That would be consistent with previous opinions, and outmaneuver the Democrats, who have been reluctant to favor much immigration at all, and who have deported record numbers of Hispanics over the last four years.
Yes, Mr. Limbaugh, the Republican Party must become unabashedly pro-choice if it wants to keep the women’s vote. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government conservatism; why not say that this is a simple matter of keeping the government out of our bedrooms and out of women’s bodies? Same thing goes for gay marriage and other rights for people who are discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.
You can’t roll out a new and improved Republican Party social-issues platform overnight without alienating the crazy Christian fundamentalists and other unattractive sorts who currently form the basis of the Republican Party at present. But you can start a transition to a viable future in a methodical, gradual way that prepares the Republican Party for the huge demographic shifts that will drive the politics of the country as it moves further and further to the left.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
Herman Cain and the Criminalization of Poverty
Pizza baron Herman Cain leads in the polls. Yet nobody believes he can win the Republican nomination. The fact that the #1 candidate doesn’t stand a chance is an improbable truism emblematic of our broken-down political system.
Partly it’s that he’s black. Republicans are racists.
Partly it’s that the nomination was promised to Mitt Romney. He’s been waiting. It’s Willard’s turn.
It’s not the accusations of sexual harassment. Republicans are sexists. For the GOP touching the hired help (or wannabe hired help) is the droit du CEO.
The reason Cain isn’t allowed to be president is money. Romney is spectacularly wealthy. Cain is merely rich. As of October Romney had used his white-male Wall Street connections to raise $14 million. Cain had a paltry $700,000.
After reports surfaced that Cain had groped Susan Bialek, a woman who asked him for help landing a job, Cain received $250,000 in contributions in a single day. Attempted rape—she says he tried to force her head into his special place—pays.
Unsurprisingly, the Cain campaign went to work smearing the credibility of his accusers. One of his proxies, right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh, took to pronouncing Bialek’s surname “buy-a-lick.”
Cain’s main attack, however, is focusing on the women’s finances. “Who Is Sharon Bialek?” asked a Cain campaign email to reporters.
It was a perfect illustration of what’s wrong with the media.
“The fact is that Ms. Bialek has had a long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances—which may help explain why she has come forward 14 years after an alleged incident with Mr. Cain, powered by celebrity attorney and long term Democrat donor Gloria Allred,” said the Cain camp.
Well, sure, Bialek’s past-due bills “might” explain why Cain waited so long to speak out. For that matter, she “might” be a delusional space alien who prefers Domino’s. Heck, she “might” even have vomited at the thought of her groper becoming president.
Who knows anything, really?
Not Cain—he’s never heard of neoconservatism. But I digress.
Back to Cain’s smear campaign. The narrative is simple: this bitch is poor. I’m rich. She’s lying about me to pay her bills.
The fact that the media plays along with such reasoning shows how elites wage class war against the 99 percent of us who work for a living.
“Ms. Bialek was also sued in 1999 over a paternity matter,” spat the Cain campaign. “In personal finances, PACER (Federal Court) records show that Ms. Bialek has filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois bankruptcy court in 1991 and 2001…Ms. Bialek has worked for nine employers over the past 17 years.”
The New York Times added some context.
“Saddled with $17,200 in legal fees related to a paternity fight with the father of her infant son, Ms. Bialek filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. Her income had dropped to $19,000 in 2000 from $38,000 the year before, court records show, and she had only a few thousand dollars in assets. Court records show that Ms. Bialek has continued to experience money troubles in recent years. The Internal Revenue Service in 2009 filed a lien against her for $5,176 in unpaid taxes, and an Illinois lending company won a judgment last year for $3,539.”
Bialek and her attorney anticipated attacks that she was planning to profit from her account, announcing that she would not sell her story. That should have done the trick, but no. Cain’s smear tactics appear to be working so far.
No one but Bialek and Cain know what happened that night back in 1997. Regardless of the truth, the implications of Cain’s approach should be troubling. To follow Cain’s argument to its logical conclusion, anyone who has ever had money problems can’t be trusted to tell the truth.
Poor people are liars.
Rich people are not.
Which no doubt comes as news to former clients of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.
Bear in mind, there is no evidence that Bialek or the other women committed perjury, or fraud, or embezzlement. Their characters are not at issue. Bialek’s sin, if you agree with Cain, is that she’s broke.
These days, who isn’t?
Over a million Americans a year file bankruptcy. One in nine Americans have seriously considered it since the economy died in 2008. According to Cain, they are all—to a man, or is it just women?—lying sacks.
The I.R.S. filed liens against over a million Americans in 2010, a 60 percent increase from the year before. Are they inherently untrustworthy?
I’ve gone to court. I’ve had judgments against me. I don’t think I was more honest before those things happened.
The Tories of Great Britain widened the gap between rich and poor, then cast the poor into debtors’ prisons. Like their ideological forebears, Cain and his fellow Republicans want to criminalize poverty. Thanks to their pro-corporate policies, which have dominated the U.S. for 40 years, the economy is dead. The ranks of the poor, the dispossessed, the bankrupt and the tax non-payers like Susan Bialek have grown and continue to expand.
To be poor, Cain and the GOP argue, is for your word to be worthless.
Bialek may or may not be lying. Either way, her veracity has nothing to do with her income. “It’s not about me,” she told an interviewer. “I’m not the one running for president.”
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL