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The increasingly disappointing politics of selective outrage

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On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Huffington Post reported on Russian opera star and parliament member Maria Maksakova, also a member of Vladimir Putin’s own party, speaking out against new anti-gay laws in her country.

Yet here at home, we’re still talking about something else—something apparently more all-consuming that anti-gay legislation or real homophobia resulting in murder across the globe.

It almost seems necessary to apologize for any further commentary on the Duck Dynasty controversy as another celebrity managed to put his foot in his mouth but Thursday also featured David Horsey of the L.A. Times appropriately quipping,

“In a country that seems as culturally polarized as it has ever been, it is no surprise that a reality show has gotten a little too real.”

The left and the right have both had more than their share of out-of-bounds statements to defend recently and in fact, in a 24-hour news cycle now largely defined by what Ted Koppel has referred to as “advocacy journalism,” there is no shortage most of the time.

Almost forgotten in the wake of Martin Bashir’s suggestion that someone defecate in Sarah Palin’s mouth and various comments about gays by Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson in an interview with GQ were the second in a series of recent anti-gay rants from Alec Baldwin that led to his firing from MSNBC.

Bashir’s comments also led to his eventual resignation from the liberal network and it doesn’t seem too farfetched to suggest that MSNBC might want to set the bar a little higher when selecting commentators. Many of the remaining hosts make outrageous comments on a regular basis even if they don’t cross the line as far as Baldwin and Bashir did.

But as media analyst Howard Kurtz pointed out on the O’Reilly Factor, it smacks of a double standard when those who were outraged by Bashir and called for his head then object to A&E’s temporarily suspending Robertson for what they believed to be offensive.

The right has said that Bashir’s comments are clearly hate speech that advocated (literally or symbolically) an attack on one individual. Those assessments are accurate and any reasonable person should understand that Bashir’s comments were way out of bounds, especially for someone on an ostensibly “news” channel, even one that is virtually devoid of anything other than liberal commentary.

At the same time, why should A&E suspend someone for simply stating his Biblically based beliefs and as a more pragmatic point, when you have a reality show, should there be any uproar when things get real either on or off the show? Sometimes reality bites, so why not let the market work or issue a statement saying, "Phil Robertson's views do not represent those of this network but we respect his right to voice them" and leave it at that?

But suspend him they did and the outcry from conservatives at times has seemed louder than the defense of Chick-Fil-A whose “crimes” seemed far less egregious.

Bernard Goldberg’s comments on the controversies highlight some unfortunate truths:

“All Phil did, many on the right have been telling us, is say what he believed. That seems to be enough for conservatives. If you say what you honestly believe then the thought police should back off. This might be a good time to note that all Martin Bashir did was say what he believes, specifically that Sarah Palin is an idiot and that someone should take a crap and urinate in her mouth.

That was too much even for liberals who normally like Bashir’s far left politics. He lost his job at the most liberal news network on cable TV. I don’t recall conservatives telling us that he was being persecuted for nothing more than saying what he honestly believed.

What both sides understood in the Bashir case is that there are limits. There are lines that no one should cross. Bashir’s vulgar, vile comments crossed more than a few lines and just about no one was sorry to see him go. But bashing gays, if your inspiration is the Bible, is something else altogether, at least as far as conservative Christians are concerned.”

Conservatives have focused on Robertson’s assertion that he loves his fellow man regardless of their sins and that has been a common retort from the right, even though in doing so he made sure to lump gays in with a number of other objectively bad people.

There are militants in virtually every corner of politics and LGBT circles are no different. Make no mistake: the “homophobe” and “hate” labels are thrown around far too often. While there are many Christians who may believe that homosexuality is a sin but do not treat gays any differently from others, GLAAD and other organizations cut them very little slack compared to bigots who speak with actions as well as words. And while liberals are constantly banging the drum decrying anything criticizing gays in this country, they are largely silent on places in the world where there is no “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but rather real persecution and even murder of gays. We have heard far more about Duck Dynasty than we have about anti-gay laws in Russia or earlier reports this year that Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe publicly threatened to behead themcombined.

Regardless, the right believes that Robertson is only exercising his rights to free speech and religious freedom. But there seems to be very little scrutiny of the totality of comments he has made. Then comes the defense of his "Biblical beliefs” and he isn't exactly standing on solid ground.

It’s a given that conservative Christians believe homosexuality is a sin. It also makes complete sense that that Phil would prefer a woman's vagina to a man's anus. It seems hard to understand, however, that no one has pointed out that this statement is not only crude but also alarmingly irrelevant. Phil ought to know by now that relationships, love and even sexual attraction are not entirely based on which orifice or appendage you prefer. Then again, perhaps his own relationships and marriage have been based on which vagina he likes best. One never knows but in the rest of the world, it’s generally known as searching for your soul mate, not your hole mate. Suggesting anything else is just plain absurd.

Some Christians believe that the Bible stipulates that all sins are the same but in his GQ interview, Robertson likened homosexuals to drunks and terrorists. While the idea that certain sins seemingly mild by today’s standards were grounds for execution in the Old Testament, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Biblical support for the idea that murderers, particularly killers of innocent civilians and children, should be lumped in with sexual "misbehavior" between consenting adults. In today’s society, we don’t give shoplifters a death sentence.

But that isn't all he's said:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,”

Paraphrasing Corinthians, he added:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

It seems at the very least, observant but tolerant Christians acknowledge that they are not the decision makers and follow the “judge not lest ye be judged rule.” Robertson seems to have crossed that particular line and that’s in addition to his misguided comparison of homosexuality to a whole lot of malicious behaviors.

Beyond that, there have been many other statements Robertson has made that have zero basis in scripture, including that gays are “insolent, arrogant God-haters” who “bow down to birds, animals and reptiles, and each other.” He also stated, “they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

It’s hard enough to defend ignorance ostensibly based on any religious beliefs but even harder to defend hypercritical statements when the very religion in question provides no source for them.

As Gandhi has often been noted for saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Goldberg added in his commentary:

“I said that too often liberals reflexively defend trash, like Miley Cyrus – and too often conservatives reflexively defend ignorance. Just because Phil got his ideas about gays from the Holy Bible doesn’t mean they’re not ugly and mean spirited. But to a lot of conservative Christians the Bible can never be ugly or mean spirited or wrong about anything. It’s simply impossible. So I don’t expect my conservative Christian friends to understand when I say that while in many cases religion can make people noble, sometimes it can make people stupid."

And there also seems to be an absence of Biblical support and a surplus of either ignorance or cognitive dissonance when Phil commented about black people hoeing cotton in Louisiana in the pre-civil rights era in the same GQ interview:

“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Do we really even need to go down that road? Where is the qualifying statement, Phil? You know the “they made the best of their situation which was clearly better than slavery but a far cry from the long overdue equal rights they deserved.”

Maybe that’s just not the way Phil rolls.

Robertson is entitled to his opinion and free speech; you’ve heard all the talking points before. And we've heard Phil claim that he loves all sinners. Unfortunately his other statements are somewhat less forgiving.

Goldberg hit the nail on his head regarding selective outrage and how it has become a partisan or ideological issue.

“I’m growing more and more weary of the culture war. I’m growing more and more tired of liberals defending the indefensible and conservatives yelling about double standards because we’re not all circling the wagons for Phil Robertson. I’m getting sick of both sides."

Indeed, we came from a time not so long ago when atrocities went on behind closed doors and civil rights protections were nonexistent; yet now as we’ve “evolved” into a society which largely treats everyone equally, our love for free speech seems to have given way to an entire disregard for decorum. Make no mistake: we should never focus on people who say stupid or offensive things while largely ignoring atrocities occurring as a matter of course in other parts of the world. Regardless, what’s offensive is not a black-and-white issue but it shouldn’t be an ideological or partisan one either.

UPDATE, 12/31/2013:

Glenn Beck, radio talk show host and purveyor of The Blaze has indicated he is moving toward a libertarian philosophy but in the past has been supportive of conservative Christian Republicans such as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachman. In a recent interview with CNN's S.E. Cupp, Beck stated unequivocally

"he finds it ridiculous that Americans were debating Santa Claus’ race and a comment made by a Duck Dynasty star while, over in Mother Russia, laws have criminalized public homosexuality and a well-known TV celebrity actually called for the burning alive of gay people.

'Hetero-fascism,' Beck called it. And he said he’d gladly stand with GLAAD in taking a stand against Russia’s anti-gay legislation."

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