Friday, December 27, 2013

Free Association

By the time Nelson Mandela died earlier this year, the idea of justifying apartheid was hard to fathom. Just what did P.W. Botha and F.W. de Klerk say in those pre-enlightenment days to excuse a hate-based system of oppression? Well, they started with a noble sounding sentiment: people have a right to freedom of association.

We all agree with that, but in South Africa it was understood to mean that white people could associate with whom they chose, i.e., whites, and also, that nobody could force them to associate with those with whom they chose not to associate, i.e., blacks. Of course that was then, and this is now.

And by “this is now,” I mean people are still claiming that their “freedom of association” is being violated so that they can justify raw bigotry. It’s happening in the U.S.A., and I don’t mean Union of South Africa.

As everyone knows by now, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle because as it turns out, Duck Commander Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family said some things that are not politically correct. (Neither were they factually correct, but people don’t seem to object to that so much.) That he would condemn homosexuality should surprise nobody, since his fundamentalist Christian faith is the hallmark of his TV persona. That he would express it in such harsh terms took some people aback, but still, he could justify the sentiments by selective reference to the New Testament.

What was really shocking was his assertion about life in Jim Crow Louisiana when he was growing up:
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
The take-away from this is that Phil Robertson is a jerk. But who cares? Predictably, people criticized him, and A&E network suspended him from their mega-hit. That’s when the fight started.

Sarah Palin talked about Mr. Robertson’s First Amendment freedom, proving what we already knew: she’s an idiot. Later she defended herself by saying she hadn’t read the Robertson interview. Bobby Jindal said some nice things to say about Phil Robertson. “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. …  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.” 

In Alabama, State Sen. Jerry Fielding (R) promised to introduce a bill calling for the state to lend its support to suspended Robertson. Ian Bayne, a candidate for the 11th congressional district in Illinois sent out an email to his supporters comparing Phil Robertson to Rosa Parks. And Newt Gingrich takes a back seat to no one on the stupid bus: He compared Phil Robertson to Pope Francis.

All of this would be funny if it weren’t for the peculiar aspect of right-wing talk that is so obnoxious. I refer, of course to the victim stance, the most egregious example of which is the faux war on Christmas. It was wearing thin until the Duck Dynasty contretemps came along, to breathe new life into the conceit that Christians in America are somehow victims of oppression. 

Here's what Walter Hudson has to offer on his own a reactionary right-wing blog:
As the drama surrounding cable network A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson enters its second week without losing steam, our analysis of the incident becomes more refined by critical thought. Where emotional reactions at first prevailed, we now see thoughtful consideration of why this episode matters so much to so many people.
Caring about Phil Robertson and his ordeal says something about those who stand with him. It reveals a solidarity informed by shared values, and similar experiences. For Christians in today’s increasingly secularized culture, there exists a persistent subversion of our religious expression. While it often takes the form of private censure, as it has in Robertson’s case, the influence of the state can be sensed bearing down on private decisions.
Actually, I can’t sense the influence of the state bearing down on private decisions.  So, as if to help those like me, the author asks what the ACLU would do if A&E had suspended a reality TV personality for urging closeted gays to come out.
We know the answer. We know it because the unequal recognition of the freedom of association lies naked in the various public accommodation and anti-discrimination laws strewn throughout various levels of government. Indeed, mere days before the Duck Dynasty controversy erupted, a judge in Colorado ordered a Christian baker to serve cake for a gay wedding or face fines. Where’s the ACLU on that one? Naturally, they represented the gay couple and stood against the baker’s freedom of association. ‘No one should fear being turned away from a public business because of who they are,’ they said in a statement.[emphasis added]
Did you catch the false dichotomy? You have “public accommodation and anti-discrimination laws” on one hand, and “freedom of association” on the other. Lest you think this was a casual usage of an ill-advised phrase, consider that on his own website his comment policy states: 
Free speech is great. You are entitled to speak your mind in whatever way you see fit – on your own blog. Here, we flaunt the right to free association.
It seems like an odd use of the word “flaunt” which means “display (something) ostentatiously, esp. in order to provoke envy or admiration or to show defiance." But perhaps it is more thoughtful than I gave the writer credit for.

The author is indeed defiant. He opposes government intervention into the private affairs of citizens even when it is to eliminate discrimination and segregation. He adopts the rationale for apartheid that the rest of the civilized world has rejected. Yes, he embraces it -- defiantly.

For a long time now, Progressives have had a strong feeling that Conservatives are racists. It’s a serious accusation and one that ought not to be made without strong evidence. It is true that Conservatives have found a home in the Republican Party, and starting with Nixon, the GOP pursued a Southern strategy that explicitly embraced racism. The vast majority of the South has moved on from the racism of those days, but there persists a strain of it in Dixie. Still, racism is so universally condemned that it is easy to assume that discriminatory laws, e.g. voter ID laws, are not aimed at Blacks because they are Black, but rather because they are Democrats.

When Rachel Maddow asked Rand Paul (R-KY) in May 2010 about his views of the landmark Civil Rights Act, he allowed that he has concerns about the idea of ordering private business owners to implement non-discriminatory practices. (Of course, he lied about it when speaking to Howard University students, but that's Rand Paul for you.)

De jure discrimination is dead in America. But there is a great divide between those who want to be able to discriminate in their private businesses and those who reject the philosophy of apartheid. The former are now embracing even the rationale of the apartheid regime. They flaunt the “Right of Association.”

Keep your eyes out for them …
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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