Homophobia faded after straights realized that many of their friends and close relatives were gay. Racism remains an intransigent problem. Could a similar solution be at hand? probably not.
Top NFL draft pick Michael Sam came out as gay, prompting a welcome from the league but also old-fashioned concerns by football players and fans about the possibility that the totally-not-homoerotic locker rooms of the totally-not-gay profession of football might become an uncomfortable place…a hostile work environment for straight men. One asked: how should I react if a gay dude looks at me? Here’s how.
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
What Happened to the Wild, Free Gay Movement of the 1970s?
I miss the gays of the 1970s.
Before AIDS made them fearful.
When they were wild. On the fringe. A threat to decent society.
Decent society sucks.
I miss the gay-rights movement that came out of Stonewall. I miss the hilariously profane gay pride parades that prompted upright straights to assert, with a (ahem) straight face that if only gays didn’t act so flamboyant, so disrespectful, so gay – then straight society might well condescend to “tolerate” them. (Accept? No way. Approve? Obscene!)
“The speed and scope of the movement are astonishing supporters,” The New York Times points out this week. And hey, if playing Ozzie and Harriet behind a white picket fence is your thing (or Ozzie and Ozzie), congratulations. This is your moment.
But gays and their straight allies are deluding themselves if they believe that achieving marriage equality is anything but a pyrrhic victory for liberals and progressives.
A sign carried by a demonstrator at the high court hints at the sad truth: the marriage equality movement isn’t propelling gays forward, it’s keeping all of us back. “Gays have the right to be as miserable as I make my husband,” read her placard.
Yay for assimilation.
Gays and lesbians may not all realize it yet, but adopting the cultural trappings of America’s hegemonic majority culture is a tragic, disastrous, suicidal move. This is why those fighting for the right to enter into state-sanctioned monogamous marital pacts are finding that they’re pushing against an open door.
Right-wing support for marriage equality ought to make gays suspicious. Theodore Olsen, arguing against California’s anti-gay marriage proposition in one of the two cases before the Supreme Court, co-founded the Federalist Society and argued in favor of the judicial coup d’état that installed George W. Bush in 2000. Several possible Republican presidential candidates have endorsed or softened their positions on gay marriage. And 80% of voters under age 30 are for it. Even on the right, gay marriage has few enemies left.
Why would it? As Jon Huntsman wrote in The American Conservative recently, “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause.” Olsen adds: “The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance.”
Close but not quite. The sad truth is that the LGBT movement has abandoned its progressive roots. It has become a conservative movement.
“From asserting a powerful political critique of the heterosexual organization of society – to which monogamous marriage between two people is central – the loudest, strongest sections of the gay movement have set their sights on becoming just the same,” mourns Ray Filar in a UK Guardian piece titled “How Conservatives Hijacked the Gay Movement.”
Not convinced? Think about the other big LGBT issue of recent years: trying to convince the government of the United States to allow openly-“out” gays and lesbians to join the military so they can kill Afghans and Iraqis. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to argue against militarism? To say that no one, gay or straight, should kill Afghans or Iraqis?
When oppressed Afghans and Iraqis can’t count on solidarity from oppressed Americans, the terrorists who run the Pentagon and CIA win.
Back in the 1970s, Michael Warner reminds us in his 1999 book “The Trouble with Normal,” gays weren’t trying to assimilate into the toxic “mainstream” cultures of monogamism and empire. Instead, they were pointing the way toward other ways of life.
Gays didn’t want the “right” to kill the Vietnamese.
I don’t get it. The big advantages of being gay were that you didn’t have to get married or go to war. Why give that up?
Most liberation movements ultimately seek to advance society overall. For example, men who want to raise their children have benefited from feminism. After the Stonewall riot the gay movement struggled to free not just gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people, but straights as well from a dominant heteronormative narrative that oppressed everyone. They pushed to destigmatize sex and the expression of sexual identity, and presented alternative means of sexual bonding and child-rearing such as triad and polyamorous relationships.
Of course, these “wild and crazy” approaches merely recognized demographic reality: by 2000 nontraditional families outnumbered the “normal” nuclear family headed by a father married to a mother with children.
Filar mocks the conservatives running today’s gay movement: “We’re just like you, honest! Please like us!”
It would’ve been so much better if we – the straight “normal” majority – had become more like gays. The gays of the 1970s, anyway.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Demographics are changing. Angry old white men are dying. Since they were the base of the Republican Party and younger voters tend to be more liberal on social and other issues, how should the Republican Party adapt? Party stalwarts worry that the GOP might sell out its long-held cherished principles just in order to win elections. On the other hand, the Democrats did that years ago.
President Obama’s second term cabinet is being criticized for not being diverse enough. Clearly, for example, victims of American drone attacks would much rather get killed by a secretary of defense who was African-American or Latino than an Ivy league-educated white male.
The president’s defenders told liberals and progressives that Obama would burst out as a liberal during his second term. But he renewed 99.5% of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. He nominated Chuck Hagel, a homophobic Republican, as Secretary of Defense. For Treasury Secretary he picked a veteran of Citibank who bet on the housing market to collapse. What’s going on? Maybe Obama will turn into FDR in his third term.
Six Weeks After Reelection, Obama Sells Out Liberal Democrats
After the election Kerry Eleveld wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled “Why Barack Obama Will Be a More Effective Liberal in His Second Term.”
“In response to their initial disappointment with the president’s early performance, many progressives speculated that Obama was just waiting for a second term to be more liberal,” he said. That was true. They were.
Eleveld continued: “A more likely explanation is that Obama was still finding his groove, figuring out which levers worked best for him in the context of governing the nation. And in some ways, he was still developing the courage of his convictions.”
That, it turns out, was false. He wasn’t.
You can’t develop convictions that you don’t have in the first place.
It’s hard to remember now, more than six weeks later, but there was once a time (six long weeks ago) when liberal Democrats who naïvely chose to ignore Obama’s consistently conservative first term, his consistently conservative career in the Senate, and his consistently conservative pre-politics career as a University of Chicago law professor, seriously believed that his reelection would lead to a progressive second term.
“It’s time for President Obama to assume the Roosevelt-inspired mantle of muscular liberalism,” Anthony Woods wrote in The Daily Beast. “This is his moment. He only has to take it.”
It’s his moment, all right. And he’s taking it. But when it comes to Obama, liberals are once again guilty of some major wishful thinking. Obama’s economic policies are closer to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt.
“With re-election safely behind him, we hope Obama will be bolder in his second term,” Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen wrote in The Nation.
Again with the Hope!
Change, not so much.
Race doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Style doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters when you’re electing a politician: policy. And the willingness and ability to carry it out. Everything you needed to know about Barack Obama boils down to the fact that he voted nine times out of ten to fund the Iraq war, at the same time that he was giving speech after speech pretending to oppose it. And that was before he won in 2008.
It didn’t take long for Obama to sell out the liberal base of his party the first time. Everything became clear in December 2008, when his cabinet picks didn’t include a single liberal. Well, here it is, December 2012, and can’t get fooled again but we did, as George W. Bush would sorta say.
Wait a minute: I thought Obama was a Democrat. So why is he appointing a Republican as secretary of defense? Not just a Republican, but a homophobe? In 1998 Republican Senator Chuck Hagel criticized President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to the sensitive strategic hotbed of Luxembourg not only for being gay, but for being “openly, aggressively gay.” Gay rights groups demanded that Hagel “repudiate” his bigoted comments, and he dutifully did so, but the point is that a truly progressive Democratic president would never have appointed a gay-bashing right-wing Republican in the first place. Yeah, America has changed, but it wouldn’t be that hard to find a liberal Democrat who thought gays and lesbians were real human beings back in 1998.
The “fiscal cliff” negotiations have led to another replay of Obama’s 2008 sellout, this one on economic fairness. Throughout the 2012 campaign the president promised to raise taxes on the top 2% of American households, those earning over $250,000 a year. As of November 9th he was still “sticking to his guns,” calling his stance nonnegotiable. On December 17th, however, without the defeated Republicans even having to propose a counteroffer, Obama pulled a classic Democratic negotiating-against-himself maneuver. Not only did he offer House Speaker John Boehner to protect the spectacularly wealthy taxpayers who earn up to $400,000 from a tax hike, he quietly sold out senior citizens by gutting the current system that calculates cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other federal entitlement programs.
At first, few people would notice Obama’s switch to a so-called “chained consumer price index.” (Under the new system, if the price of steak goes up, the government assumes you’ll switch to hamburger—so it doesn’t count as inflation.) This year, for example, the inflation rate under the chained CPI is 0.3% less. But inflation is exponential and the effect is cumulative. By the time you hit age 92, you’d lose an entire month of Social Security benefits each year.
This, remember, was the president who was supposed to bust out as an FDR-style crusading liberal ready, willing and able to fight the right-wing Republicans and stand up for ordinary Americans.
The good news is, the anticipation is over. Liberals who worried that Obama would sell them out need worry no more. Not so deep down, they knew this would happen. Now they can settle down for four more years of depressing Republican-lite kowtowing to corporations and the one percent.
I know what they’re thinking. Things would be even worse if Mitt Romney had won.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
Policy-wise, a Romney administration would have been pretty much the same as Obama’s second term. Who knows, he might have picked Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.
In terms of building the political Left, a President Romney would have galvanized liberals and progressives to fight for a fairer society that treats everyone equally and with dignity. Obama, his sellouts, and his faux liberal apologists represent two steps backwards for progressivism.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to take up the issue of gay marriage in California as soon as Friday morning. The moment has prompted nervous debate within the gay-rights movement about the best path to achieve gay marriage. If the justices opt not to hear the Proposition 8 case, then a federal appeals court ruling that found the 2008 state ballot measure banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional would stand, clearing the way for marriages to begin. If the justices take up the case, a ruling would not come until next year and gay marriage would remain on hold until then, or longer depending on how the court rules.