The Republic of T.

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

What Can You Say?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series what you can't say

Well, when it comes to the Edwards blogger flap, quite a lot. It’s been interesting to read through the aftermath of responses from all sides. Edwards’ statement on his blog has assured some religious groups of his intolerance of religious intolerance, but not everyone on what I guess could be called the “non-religious left” is completely happy with it. And the most interesting reaction probably comes from folks on the religious left. More interesting, even than the initial reaction from the right.

It’s even more interesting when compared with other statements made in the media, more recently, but without raising nearly as much controversy. Taking it all in has left me with more questions than answers rattling around in my brain.

On the our non-religious left (perhaps I should refer to them as “our left” and “our other left” and people can decide which is which), the response to Edwards’ statement was one of disappointment.

Over on Gadflyer, in a post titled “Edwards’ Missed Opportunity,” offered the statement he thought Edwards should have made.

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’ll tell you what I am never going to do, in this campaign or as president. I am never going to let a bunch of right-wing operatives bully me. If they think they can tell me who I can hire and who I should fire, they’ve got another thing coming. And frankly, the news media who got led by the nose into manufacturing this phony controversy should be ashamed of themselves.

Brownfemipower, in a post titled “The Coward Speaks,” has a few questions after reading Edward’s statement.

So, Amanda and Shakes have been properly disciplined–We all now know that blogs are spaces where we say things in order to not offend anybody–what does this all mean for blogs?

As readers–are we supposed to buy into the legitimacy of a speaker who has apologized for having an opinion? Are we never supposed to wonder if the blog we read–the blog that we read (supposedly) because it is more honest or more reliable or less biased by money from big corporations–is really any different than mainstream media?

Has the feminist blogosphere just been censored?

Here’s another question. Has the non-religious left just been censored? Are we headed in that direction? Should the non-religious left — or at least any progressive bloggers who ever hope to work on a political campaign — censor themselves?

It depends on who you ask. And with the apparent end of the Edwards affair, the religious left is speaking up, and some seem just as disappointed Edwards’ decision to “stand by” the bloggers in question as the religious right was upset over Edwards hiring them in the first place.

Democrats — and Edwards in particular — have embraced the language of faith and the imperative of competing with Republicans for the support of religious voters. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, even sits on the board of the leading organization of the religious left, Call to Renewal. But in private conversations and careful public statements today, religious Democrats said they felt sidelined by Edwards’ decision to stand by his aides.

“We have gone so far to rebuild that coalition [between Democrats and religious Christians] and something like this sets it back,” said Brian O’Dwyer, a New York lawyer and Irish-American leader who chairs the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council, a Democratic Party group. O’Dwyer said Edwards should have fired the bloggers. “It’s not only wrong morally – it’s stupid politically.”

O’Dwyer e-mailed a statement to reporters saying: “Senator Edwards is condoning bigotry by keeping the two bloggers on his staff. Playing to the cheap seats with anti-Catholic bigotry has no place in the Democratic Party.”

(For my part, I fail to understand how a group comprising the overwhelming segment of the population, which has succeeded in shifting the agendas of both major parties, still manages to feel “sidelined.”)

Over at the Faithful Democrats blog, Tom Donnelly noted that one of the leading figures in this controversy — Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights — has said some pretty outrageous things himself.

‘Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it. … Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism.’

And while the Faithful Democrat does wince at Donohue’s statement, he seems more offended the post of Amanda’s that’s been quoted just about everywhere now.

“Not only is he an embarrassment who obviously doesn’t hold himself to the same standards he holds for others, but his judgment of what counts as anti-Catholic is, to say the least, seriously suspect, and has a tendency towards, shall we say, ideological selectivity.

“Finally, as much as it pains me to say it, I think Donohue may have a point in this case. The blog posts mentioned in the story did speak of a deep-seated hostility to the Church as an institution.

It’s worth noting, here, that where Amanda’s “anti-religious bigotry” is criticized, Donohue’s bigotry, while it doesn’t go unmentioned, doesn’t seem to warrant as strong a response. Not surprisingly, Donnelly of Faithful Democrats is dissatisfied with Edwards’ statement. So, to whom does it fall to respond to Dohonue, and others like him, with equal force?

Not, apparently, the non-religious left. That is, unless they can temper their response appropriately. Faithful Progressive calls Edward’s choice of bloggers a “rookie mistake.”

Whatever else one feels about the Edwards Blogger flap, it’s clear that his team has made a huge mistake in hiring a blogger who doesn’t understand that the purpose of a campaign is to attract people to your side–not to stridently and profanely attack those with whom you disagree.

The post goes on to repeat a request from an open letter to liberal bloggers, circa. 2005.

So here’s our advice, which I seriously doubt will be followed, but which I hope you will at least consider before you post some anti-religious screed on a blog or snark about people of faith of the left or right. Please remember that there are tens of millions of us black, white and brown Americans whose participation in the political system is largely inspired by our religious and moral values. Please remember that we have been involved in every struggle for justice, peace and civil rights this country has ever had and that many of those battles would not have been won without these efforts. Unlike some on the religious right, moderate and progressive people of faith do not seek to tell you how to live your own life. But we do demand respect, just as we attempt to give it to others who disagree with us.

Also quoted is a response to Bill Donohue, from Melissa’s blogging partner.

I’m not anti-Catholic. I’m anti-ignorance and bigotry–which are what your ideas on gay people, abortion, and contraception are, Mr. Donahue. Ignorance and bigotry. And you can take them and shove them right up your ass.

And the critique of that response.

Some people just don’t get it! Not even Donahue deserves that kind of a rant. It is verbal abuse–one step from making him wear panties on his head while dogs bark at him and tear at his skin. It hurts both Edwards and her partner. Many liberal bloggers still can’t seem to realize what it means to be part of a team, a coalition of people with different values and interests. But that’s exactly what a campaign is all about.

One might say that’s what a movement is all about as well, but as I’ve noted before, the trend of the Democratic party and (to some degree) the progressive netroots seems to be moving towards asking certain members of that coalition — gays and lesbians, women, non-religious people — to pipe down, or at least be a little nicer to their “team members” co-religionists, no matter how nasty they are.

And a post today asks “Will Liberal Blogs Get the Real Point of the Edwards Blogger Flap?”, and repeats an earlier suggestion.

I’d like to see blogs move away from offensive Howard Stern like comments about religion. Maybe some of the big blogs will now pledge to at least limit such profane nonsense from both their posts and comments? Is that really too much to ask for a constituency that is, in all likelihood, bigger than the Netroots? If that happens, this whole tawdry episode will have been worthwhile. I am satisfied but not thrilled with the response of Sen. Edwards to this episode, but only time will tell how the Netroots responds.

There are some things you can’t say, or at least shouldn’t say. Perhaps that has some foundation in the admonishment to “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Fine. But, where, then is the forceful response to people like Donohue from the religious left?

When do religious progressive take on the religious right? When do religious progressives fight the religious right? It’s a question Matt asks and answers rather pointedly, in a post that might get him crossed off the “short list” of a campaign or two.

So it’s cool to Jesse Lava and Faithful Democrats to debate on the terrain set by anti-semites and homophobe? Ok then. Now I know that Faithful Democrats put a caveat in there about how Donahue isn’t a nice guy, but that’s really irrelevant. This is very simple. Donahue is using religion as cover for a political attack. The only ethical response from anyone who actually opposes bigotry is ‘Donahue should be ignored because of his record’ or some variation thereof. So until the self-described religious left decides to stop letting bigoted and extreme right-wingers talk for them, they are no different than the religious right they pretend to oppose.

The problem, or at least one problem, as I see it, comes from a disconnect on the issue of values that Faithful Progressive mentioned earlier. Different values and different issues generally end up yielding different goals, which raises the question of whether we’re really on the same team or not.

Earlier, I noticed a post about the minimum wage over at God’s Politics, titled “God Hates Inequality.” Today the Christian Alliance for Progress blog features a post about the mission statement on the website of Barrack Obama’s church in Chicago. Like the post on God’s politics, it decries “America’s economic mal-distribution” and declares that “God is … not pleased.” Those two posts stood out to me, because from what I can see, it would appear that their God only hates some inequality, and doesn’t mind others, or is at least less concerned about them.

Wallis, in his call for racial and economic justice, stops short of advocating for gay & lesbian equality, or at least would rather not address it right now, placing it on the back burner alongside the choice issue. Obama’s passion for economic justice and equality doesn’t quite extend to gays and lesbians equality either. At best, he’s willing to have been on the wrong side of history, if his beliefs turn out to be wrong. Wallis and Obama are, if not the best, at least the most prominent examples of the partial progressive; who’s progressive on some issues but conservative on others, and would prefer not to focus on the latter. If we’re to know them by their fruits, it seem that God doesn’t entirely “hate inequality,” nor is he “not pleased” with some types of injustice.

For a party that has bought the myth of the faith voter and a progressive netroots that’s accepted the need to support candidates who aren’t progressive on some issues, that means having to make a choice. Which issues are you going to prioritize, and which ones are you going to eliminate or at least back-burner? Which constituencies are you going to prioritize, and over which other constituencies? In other words, what matters and what doesn’t? Who matters and who doesn’t? Or, who matters more and who matters less. At least for now?

And as those smaller (lesser?) constituencies support and work alongside you on issues like economic justice, etc., when and how are the issues that concern them addressed? Where and when are they defended when attacked? Or, if they discomfort or conflict with the values of some larger constituencies, are they addressed at all? Are they defended at all?

And how do you answer the Donohues of the world? Can you answer them effectively if, though more forcefully articulated and more extreme, they hold at least some of the same values as some of the people in your coalition? Or values close enough to their to make addressing them, countering them, or denouncing them both uncomfortable and politically untenable, if only in your own mind?

And where faith is concerned — where it’s either , as Matt said, “religion as cover for a political attack” or to justify inequality and injustice for some of your constituencies — if in addressing it you must not “stridently and profanely attack” those who stridently and profanely attack members of your coalition, how do you answer them effectively, and in a way that can be heard above the din of their unrestrained invective?

How do you effectively address bigotry couched in religion, or bigotry disguised as religion, without being an “anti-religious bigot”? If it even is bigotry? Is it bigotry? It it belief, badly expressed?

How do you denounce it? Do you denounce it?

What do you say?

What can you say?

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Two Must Read Posts on the Edwards Gig at Faux Real Tho!

  2. I’m here via Lauren, and I need to tell you — this is probably the most penetrating and to-the-point post I’ve read on this subject. Lovely work.

  3. OT:

    Please, those SNAP popup widgets are so annoying and useless, to boot.

    Please reconsider, or maybe informally poll your readers.

  4. I am a fairly extreme lefty, though I do have my smattering of rather conservative notions. I am also a Christian.

    I find Bill Donahue absolutely reprehensible. As far as I am concerned, he is in the same catagory I also put Dobson, Kennedy and Robertson – who are truly repulsive people.

    I certainly find Mellisa and Amanda far more interesting and enjoyable. While I find both can be offensive on occasion (thus I don’t read them, except when they are linked by someone else), they don’t make me cringe in anger and embarresment (that they claim the same faith as I).

    That said, I don’t think they should have been picked for a political campaign. There are plenty of very talented, lefty, atheist bloggers, who do not make so many nasty generalizations about theists. I imagine it would have been a flap, regardless of what atheist was chosen, but I don’t think they were appropriate choices. Personaly, I think the amount of profanity they use is as indicative as their religion bashing. This from someone who can swear like a sailor (though I am getting a lot better), but then, I am not representing a presidential hopeful.

    To be clear, I am not averse to people criticizing faith, even my own. Personaly, I welcome it, as such criticism has been very useful to me, in the developement of my personal faith. I am not even adverse to people criticizing religious belief in general. I think my favorite is the FSM – brilliant and thought provoking – while being quite inoffensive (though, of course some find even that offensive – someone is always offended).

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