THE PLANK AUGUST 13, 2009
Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a frequent contributor to a variety of political journals.
TNR published my article yesterday suggesting parallels between the absurd public rationales typically offered by opponents of gay marriage, and the absurd public rationales offered by some opponents of President Obama’s agenda, most recently on health care reform. Jamie Kirchick responded on The Plank, basically arguing that (1) I didn’t offer enough evidence for tarring health reform opponents with concealed and invidious attitudes, and (2) there is in any event no moral equivalence between homophobia and hostility to poor and minority people.
On the first point, I was reasonably clear that I wasn’t talking about all opponents of health care reform (such as those Kirchick cites, who just prefer the status quo), but those who have embraced bizarre arguments about death panels or the abolition of private medicine or Nazi Germany (or, to cite the latest example from Chuck Norris, home invasion and the suppression of religion). Since my hypothesis is that these talking points may disguise different motives, I cannot, of course, prove it in every case. And that’s why I pointed to a pattern we’ve seen in the more emotional Obama opponents--the angry people at McCain-Palin rallies last year demanding more talk about the ACORN/Fannie Mae conspiracy to destroy the housing market though cheap mortgages for shiftless poor and minority people; the Tea Party stalwarts threatening to “go Galt” and posing as victims of confiscatory taxes; and the persistent treatment of Obama supporters as eager supporters of totalitarianism--that suggests self-righteous disdain for fellow citizens. So long as this pattern continues to manifest itself, I don’t think it’s terribly unfair to speculate about its origins, since it certainly exceeds in intensity anything I’ve personally seen since my childhood in the Jim Crow South.
As for Kirchick’s unhappiness about my willingness to compare homophobia to hostility to poor and minority people: Well, I personally think that they are equally despicable attitudes (on religious grounds, as it happens), but I was actually making an analytical point, not making judgments. Self-righteous disdain for gay people and for poor and minority people is, fortunately, a lot less reputable than it used to be. So those who have those feelings tend to come up with other public rationales for political positions on issues like gay marriage, progressive taxation, or providing health insurance for everyone. It’s actually a sign of social progress. But it also leads to a lot of displaced emotion and absurd arguments.
Kirchick, along with several of the commenters to my original post, seems to think I’m slandering some Obama critics with a terrible insult. (One commenter, who probably had no reason to be aware of my Crackro-American background, asserted that I could not have possibly spent any time around “regular conservative folk.”)
What’s the bigger insult? Thinking that some of these protesters are having dark feelings they’re half-ashamed of and thus don’t often articulate, or thinking they really believe that Obama is Hitler, Democrats are Nazis, and we’re on the brink of a totalitarian revolution if health reform or the stimulus bill or a slightly higher top income tax rate is enacted? Maybe I’m wrong in arguing for the former possibility, but we should all hope I’m right.
UPDATE: Since several commenters and a couple of emails have noted my self-description as a "Crackro-American," I should make it clear I didn't invent the term. Roy Blount Jr. used it extensively in his hilarious 1980 book about Jimmy Carter and Georgians, Crackers.