The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

You Can’t Say That

One of the things I noted during the 2004 presidential debates was how often Bush began his responses to John Kerry’s statements with the phrase “you can’t say that.” I bugged me because by that time there was a whole list of things that fell under the “you can’t say that” heading in post 9/11 America.

Or, at least, you couldn’t say those things without consequences, which would be visited upon you by your fellow citizens, not the government. Things like speaking out against the war in Iraq, having an anti-Bush poster, giving the commander in chief the thumbs-down, carrying the “wrong” reading material, teaching your kid “un-American values” could get you a visit from the feds.

Well, in the last couple of days there’s been a story roiling the progressive blogosphere that highlights some other stuff you can’t say without consequences; one that makes me glad I’m not among the top tier political bloggers, and that it’s highly unlikely anyone will ever want to hire me to blog for their presidential campaign. At least, not if they’ve seen anything I’ve had to say about religion recently, or in three years of blogging.

It’s the story of how the John Edwards campaign hired, kinda-sorta-maybe-almost-fired, and possibly rehired two bloggers, after right-wing bloggers waged an intense campaign to get the Edwards campaign to fire and/or denounce the bloggers in question. This includes, by the way, the hilarity of Michelle Malkin leveling “smear” charges against anyone. Hilarious of not, though, it’s had some effect.

The right-wing blogosphere has gotten its scalps — John Edwards has fired the two controversial bloggers he recently hired to do liberal blogger outreach, Salon has learned.

The bloggers, Amanda Marcotte, formerly of Pandagon, and Melissa McEwan, of Shakespeare’s Sister, had come under fire from right-wing bloggers for statements they had previously made on their respective blogs. A statement by the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, which called Marcotte and McEwan “anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots,” and an accompanying article on the controversy in the New York Times this morning, put extra pressure on the campaign.

What’d they say? Well, they were less than deferential to religion, to say the least

Ms. Marcotte wrote in December that the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of contraception forced women “to bear more tithing Catholics.” In another posting last year, she used vulgar language to describe the church doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

… Ms. McEwan referred in her blog to President Bush’s “wingnut Christofascist base” and repeatedly used profanity in demanding that religious conservatives stop meddling with women’s reproductive and sexual rights. Multiple postings use explicit and inflammatory language on a variety of issues.

If that got them into hot water, I shudder to think what people might come up with after a short stroll through my archives. I can’t count how many times I’ve used the word “wingnut”, even in the past year, and I didn’t find any uses of “Christofascist.” But my posts about the Pope, both the previous Pope and present Pope would probably be a good place to start.

Not that it matters much. Edwards still has his bloggers (maybe), and it ain’t like HIllary, Obama, or anyone else in the current field of candidates is going to knock on my door. What’s interesting though is the response Edwards posted on his blog.

The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte’s and Melissa McEwan’s posts personally offended me. It’s not how I talk to people, and it’s not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it’s intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I’ve talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone’s faith, and I take them at their word. We’re beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can’t let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Edwards, or any other candidate, wouldn’t permit a campaign blogger to use the kind of language on a campaign blog that Amanda and Melissa used on their own blogs. And any political blogger at that level with any kind of sense would already know that, without being told.

Anyway, it wasn’t that the Edwards campaign blog would start featuring terms like “Christofascist” or publishing posts that irreverently denounced religious doctrines that created the opportunity for this “tempest in a chalice” to happen in the first place. The outrage was that any presidential campaign would dare associate with any one whose views are not sufficiently deferential to faith and people of faith.

Basically, Amanda and Melissa said stuff that you can’t say in America without getting spanked for it. And they got spanked, or at least smacked on the hand, by the Edward s campaign, because the Edwards campaign got spanked for hiring people who say things you can’t say in America without being punished for it; not because anyone reasonably believed Amanda an Melissa would say those things on Edwards’ blog.

No other Democratic candidate would or could do any less, if he or she wants to win the nomination and take the White House. I’ve probably wandered pretty far afield as it is, but it strikes me that part of what this whole mini-drama illustrates is the degree to which the Democrats are susceptible to pressure from the right when it comes to religion. From a DNC chair sitting down with Pat Robertson and encouraging others to do the same, to a Democratic front runner doing evangelical outreach and chastising the less-than-faithful, and a party distancing itself from separation of church and state. I can’t help thinking I can just make out a hand writing on the wall.

Various folks around the progressive blogosphere are trying put a positive spin on this, as much a as possible given the circumstances, and some are taking on biased media coverage of this event and Democrats in general. But I think there’s another element here, one I’ve mentioned before, that remains unspoken.

There’s an irony here that’s easy to overlook in these days when many Americans don’t “do” irony, and when having a sense of irony seems to run against the grain of patriotism. It is, for anyone who needs it spelled out, the irony that it’s actually Bush and his supporters (because these days, not even all conservatives support the president) who are embracing “their freedom not to be criticized and held accountable for what they say,” by silencing critics whenever possible and making examples of them powerful enough to cause would-be dissenters to “what what they say” and think twice before criticizing the Bush administration or its policies.

The other point that’s easy to miss is that the commenter is basically right — the 1st amendment prevents the government from censoring speech (to a degree). But in the beginning phases of fascism, the government doesn’t need to censor speech. It merely needs to arouse the passions of enough citizens sufficiently enough that they will enthusiastically police their fellow citizens and mete out appropriate punishments for daring to dissent against the state and its representatives.

In fact, the government only needs to sully its hands with censorship once things reach the point that even some of it’s most ardent supporters start making seditious utterings. And thanks to those very citizens, it will have more than enough power to do so.

Maybe it’s unspoken for a reason.

Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and–all too often–what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable–to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments–can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person’s religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality. One of the worst things about religion is that it tends to separate questions of right and wrong from the living reality of human and animal suffering. Consequently, religious people will devote immense energy to so-called moral problems—such as gay marriage—where no real suffering is at issue, and they will happily contribute to the surplus of human misery if it serves their religious beliefs.

But, it’s been said before.


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  2. It’s too bad, but not at all surprising, that Edwards felt the need to spank them, demand apologies, and not just explain it as you have done–which I think could be done in the neccessary time bite.

    I wish not to judge the girls. I am sure this is a good opportunity and they want the gig.

    But I really wish they had not sucked up. John Edwards is just not worth it–and that is true regardless of political beliefs.


  3. Edwards is shedding the softie,breck girl image though…here’s video proof: