My mixed reaction to the heckling of First Lady Michelle Obama. I believe in the right of all Americans, left right and center, to protest. But I also believe in civility, especially in the case of a First Family that has been treated with record incivility. Watch the segment, courtesy of Fox News:
What do you think?
On MSNBC’s The Cycle and in her Daily News column today, conservative pundit S.E. Cupp responded to my essay for Salon about the dangers of conservative embracing gay marriage as part of a larger “marriage promotion” effort.
On Tuesday, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp castigated liberal columnist Sally Kohn after she wrote a piece saying that society should not only accept gay marriage, but move beyond the promotion of marriage as a relevant institution altogether. “The judgmental moral hierarchy of conservative marriage supremacy should be looked at by all of us with a queer eye,” Kohn wrote. After summarizing and dissecting Kohn’s argument, Cupp declared that Kohn’s countercultural call to action was both excessive and flawed.
You can read the rest of Mediaite’s coverage here.
And here’s the video clip:
Also, an exchange with S.E. — whom I very much like and respect — on Twitter last night:
@sallykohn Thanks, you too!
— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) March 26, 2013
I’m back from India — just in time to rejoin the fray of unjustified and uncivil but nonetheless unbounded attacks from the far right against everything and anything Obama. This time? Right wingers take to Twitter to try and sabotage a simple Q&A chat with Michelle Obama on fitness and healthy eating. Sheesh.
Here’s the clip, courtesy of Fox News and Mediaite:
The media insider website Mediaite picked up on my debate with Michelle Malkin yesterday. Here’s my favorite part of the piece:
“You’re a coward,” Malkin said.
“I’m not entirely sure I know how to respond,” Kohn replied. She apologized to Malkin but her apology was rejected. “I’m a naïve idealist who believes in America that we can uphold the tradition of our founders that we can disagree with each other,” said Kohn.
Hannity did say that Malkin should accept Kohn’s apology, but she refused. “This is all kabuki theater,” said Malkin. “She’s not going to be happy until we are all completely politically and ideologically lobotomized and only speak in dulcet tones the way that NPR hosts do.”
You can read their coverage here.
In response to my back and forth with Michelle Malkin in which I asserted that incivility on the part of conservatives is (at least) as bad as incivility on the part of the left, I was challenged by both Ms. Malkin and Sean Hannity to provide a list of examples. My assertion all along is that, while we can disagree vociferously with our ideological opponents, we owe it to our humanity and our democracy to at least assume our opponents are well-intentioned and to avoid nasty insults that suggest otherwise.
With that in mind, by no means exhaustive, here are a few examples of personal insults and baseless hyperbole smearing President Obama and prominent liberals. And I’m not even including the Twitter smears from conservative lay folks. These are from prominent conservatives:
As a bonus, one of my favorites: Brent Bozell (on Sean Hannity’s TV show) critiquing MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for saying Newt Gingrich looks like a “car bomber” speculates what would happen if a conservative on Fox said that Obama looks like “a skinny, ghetto crackhead” — then, for good measure, Bozell then adds, “Which, by the way, you might want to say that Barack Obama does.”
And, less Ms. Malkin protest otherwise, these smears are having their desired intent. A Newsweek poll found that 52% of Republicans surveyed thought it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that Obama sympathized with the goal of fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world. Meanwhile, 33% believe he favors the interests of Muslim Americans over those of other Americans. The majority of GOP voters (52%) in Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim (which at least I still have trouble reconciling with all the smears based on his Christian minister Jeremiah Wright). 39% of Republicans in Illinois and 45% of Republicans in Alabama think Obama is a Muslim.
Meanwhile, almost 1 in 3 Republicans believe that President Obama was not born in the United States.
Bill O’Reilly has also stood up against ugly insults against the sitting President of the United States. And the conservative columnist Michael Medved wrote that, with respect to smearing President Obama personally, “it’s particularly unhelpful to focus on alleged bad intentions and rotten character when every survey shows more favorable views of his personality than his policies.” I couldn’t agree more. It also happens to be mean and unbecoming of any self-respecting American.
Anyway that’s just Obama… Hello? I don’t have time to collect the smears against Debbie Wasserman-Schultz or pick through the many examples in my own inbox let alone look at the everyday examples of conservatives smearing liberals on the Internet. For crying out loud, Rush Limbaugh has called more than 61 women in leadership positions “babe” — which perhaps Ms. Malkin would excuse as just being funny, but most folks would consider demeaning and dismissive, part of an conscious or unconscious campaign to silence liberal women and women in general.
I’d keep posting examples but I have to now go through all the nasty personal attacks and threats of violence in my Inbox thanks to my radio exchange with Ms. Malkin. Meanwhile, if Michelle Malkin wants to attack the left’s smears while contorting to justify smears from the right and simultaneously try and smear me for attempting to draw an equivalency and hold us ALL to a higher standard, well, I certainly celebrate the right to free speech that allows her to spread such sad nonsense.
In a recent column, Michelle Malkin argued that Mitt Romney is being naively civil in calling President Obama a “nice guy”. Malkin decried “disastrous, bend-over bipartisanship” and wrote, “it’s not nice to delude the American electorate in the name of comity, politesse, and simpering civility.”
What I find endlessly impressive about Michelle Malkin is her ability to condemn supposed incivility on the part of the left while championing incivility on the part of the right. Accusing the left of sexist attacks against the Right while demeaning progressive women as “femme-a-gogues”. Bemoaning racist smears against her own Filipino heritage while labeling Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren “Fauxchahontas”. Labeling Barack Obama a bully while mobilizing her own website of aggressive Internet trolls who nastily attack anyone who disagrees with her. You’ve got to respect a woman who can so blatantly misrepresent the actions and intentions of her opponents in an attempt to disguise from her own bad behavior.
I respect Mitt Romney for not going after President Obama personally and for saying, in as many chances as he gets, that Obama is a nice guy. I hope Mitt Romney believe it, but it’s clearly also the wise political move to sway an independent electorate that strongly likes the President but may be questioning some of his policies. But the larger point is that, with a very few Hitler-esque exceptions, I don’t believe and I hope that no one in politics or public life believes that those who disagree with us are fundamentally evil. I believe Michelle Malkin is a smart person, a loving mother and a patriot who wants the best for her country. And while hysterical hyperbole may get Ms. Malkin mouse clicks, the fact of the matter is that progressives are also smart people, loving parents and patriots who, despite her outcries to the contrary, value America’s free market economy and simply think that it could work better for more people. That does not make us evil. It makes us different.
On both sides of the aisle, we have spent too much time demonizing our opponents, distracting ourselves and the broader public from the substantive issues at stake in politics and further driving a wedge between red and blue America. According to a new poll, our nation is more politically polarized than ever.
As I see it, punditry and political discourse are like a highway of information exchange and debate. Most of us try our best to obey the rules of the road — no name calling, no personal attacks, no lies or even intentional distortions. But just like individual drivers can get away with speeding and reckless driving to get to their destination faster, there’s a perverse incentive for pundits to make outlandish, offensive statements in order to rise above the fray. And the “they started it” accusations of which Ms. Malkin is fond are no excuse for equally or worse behavior.
The problem, of course, isn’t just the one off effects of such insults but the broader damage done to our discourse. After all, if everyone were to start breaking the rules, it would be bedlam — both on the highways and the airwaves, with nastiness reaching such a level that spectacle would completely drown out information and the original purpose of punditry to thoughtfully air important political debates which is essential to preserve our democracy.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none”. Let us be vociferous enemies of each others policies and ideas. But can we at least recognize the common humanity and good intentions of our fellow countrymen and women? Has that become too much to ask?
This morning, I was planning to write an aggressive defense of conservative political commentator S.E. Cupp, who was recently viciously maligned by the porn rag Hustler which Photoshopped a picture of Cupp with a penis in her mouth (please don’t Google said picture, it only feeds the beast).
I still plan to defend S.E. and express my horror that Hustler or anyone for that matter would attack any woman, of any political stripe, simply for expressing her view points.
But now, I have to express dismay that after simply tweeting my support for S.E. yesterday and my outrage at Hustler, I was hit with a barrage of tweets from conservatives. In addition to bizarrely accusing me of trying to “co-opt” the situation, many of those who tweeted at me resented my assertion that sexist attacks come from both the right and the left. Just a few highlights:
— Adam Baldwin (@adamsbaldwin) May 24, 2012
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) May 24, 2012
— Edwin F. Buckley (@OHenrysStepchld) May 24, 2012
First of all, it’s worth noting that S.E. has I think appropriately and graciously embraced the defenses of her from the left as evidenced by her Twitter feed. The attacks on my original statement had definitively more of a Michelle Malkin-esque tone to them. After all, Michelle has long tried to make the case that racist and sexist smears come more from the left than the right. This is, of course, to anyone who has studied history around the periods of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, a hysterical assertion. Moreover its incongruous with other conservative smears against liberals, including the assertion that liberals are the politically correct thought police. Pick a characterization and stick with it, won’t you?
But no matter. I have said on air to Michelle and will say here again that I don’t think it matters who gets worse hate mail or who gets called nastier names by radio talk show hosts. Sexism is sexism, whatever side it’s aimed at. Racism is racism. Period. Anyone who doesn’t believe conservatives vociferously and voluminously sling the same sorts of slanderous mud at progressives should check out my inbox — or, probably much worse, the inboxes of Soledad O’Brien and Rachel Maddow. Heck, folks, I’ve been called racist slurs in hate mail and I’m as white as they come. The fact of the matter is that people on both sides of the political aisle all-too-easily resort to fanning the flames of bias and hate in attempting to try and shut down their opponents — but especially women, people of color and gay folks — from speaking up. It’s shameful and we should all condemn it.
Women are under attack from all sides and no matter what political party you are in, I’m going to defend you from sexist attacks. I will not stand by in silence when a woman, any woman, is attacked in this way and belittled as nothing more than a sexual object. It’s about disagreement over ideas; smearing and demeaning women should not part of the equation.
Exactly. Which brings me to feminism. Feminism is based on the simple premise that women and men should be treated equally. Any female political commentator, whether on the left or the right, receives daily reminders of how far we are from that goal. The attack against S.E. is only the latest, particularly egregious example. At the same time, the fact that we even have prominent women leaders like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann who use their prominence to attack the feminist movement is a sign of how much feminism has transformed America for the better. Yet the ways in which those women — and Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – are treated also shows us how far we have yet to go.
So perhaps the next time Michelle Malkin professes to be defending the interests of women from “feminazis” and “femagogues”, she and others would be wise to remember that not only have feminists long been the ones to stand up against these sorts of hateful attacks but that we wouldn’t even have female political voices and leaders were it not for the advances of feminism. It’s understandable that some conservative women want to try and rewrite history to pretend conservatives were the heroes for women’s equality more often than the villains they actually were, but the fact that Michelle Malkin and others like her even have a platform at all is in no small part because of feminism. It’s a shame that in the wake of a sexist attack that undermines all women, some conservative men and women want to turn around and attack progressive women. But I guess solidarity just sounds too socialist….
Anyway, ideology be damned, I know S.E. Cupp to be a kind and intelligent opponent. #IStandWithSECupp against any vicious attack against a woman for speaking her mind. Sign the Women’s Media Center petition against Hustler here (which includes a great statement from Gloria Steinem in defense of S.E.) and let’s all work to put a modicum of civility back in our politics and discourse.
Andrew Breitbart, who died in Los Angeles today at age 43, angered the left less because of what he did than what the left repeatedly failed to do itself.
I first encountered the conservative activist at the 2011 Netroots Nation conference, an annual gathering for progressive bloggers and tech types. Camera in hand, Breitbart had come over to the Netroots site from the conservative Right Online conference nearby. When he walked into the lobby, liberal activists shouted at him, accusing him of nefarious activities with male prostitutes and more. Breitbart smiled as he filmed it all.
When I tracked Breitbart down at Right Online a few minutes later, no one shouted at me (though many knew I was a progressive commentator from my appearances on Fox News). Breitbart had such a sense of humor about being vilified by the left that he posed for a picture in which he pretended to strangle me. Later that evening, we sat down and talked for an hour over drinks. I’m not sure how many other prominent left-wing activists would sit down for a long, probing conversation with a relative stranger from the right. Breitbart may have been nasty in public, but in private he was generous and kind.
Breitbart was such a looming and frustrating enemy of the left in part because he was a public-relations mastermind. He had an eye for digging up dirt and the unique combination of Internet savvy and charisma to spread his campaigns like wildfire. I think history will judge him unkindly for many of his actions, including his false attacks on ACORN and Shirley Sherrod. In the case of ACORN, a community organization that assisted low- and moderate-income Americans, Breitbart publicized a heavily doctored video in which ACORN workers appear to encourage prostitution; the resulting scandal led ACORN to close its doors. A year later, he got Shirley Sherrod, head of the United States Department of Agriculture’s rural development office in Georgia, fired from her post by posting two clips that, taken out of context, appeared to show her admitting to bias against white people. The resulting media firestorm demonstrated the damage a rabble-rouser with a camera and a website—combined with a complacent media—can do.
But there was also a lesson for the left in these manufactured scandals. With ACORN, Breitbart may have lit the match, but a Democratic president and Democrat-controlled Congress sat by and watched (or even worsened the situation) as the flames grew. Many progressive organizations and so-called allies similarly refused to help as ACORN burned to the ground. In the case of Sherrod, the NAACP condemned her remarks shortly after they were publicized. Perhaps if we had been as passionate and savvy about defending ourselves as Breitbart had been about attacking us, he wouldn’t have been so successful.
I’m not suggesting that the left should go out and doctor videos of a Focus on the Family conference, but Breitbart at the very least did challenge the left to up its game, and perhaps journalists are now a bit more careful about amplifying a meme without checking their facts. I have no doubt that Daily Kos, TPM, and Think Progress (not to mention the Huffington Post, which he helped launch) sharpened their claws because Breitbart threw down the gauntlet.
As much a villain as Breitbart might have been to the left, he was far more of an iconoclast within the conservative movement than he is generally given credit for; he was a very public supporter of GOProud, the gay Republican organization, as well as immigration reform and other traditionally “liberal” causes. His penchant for bucking a trend might stem from having grown up a conservative in liberal-leaning Hollywood and feeling attacked for his differences. Unfortunately, Breitbart never realized how myopic and warped his perspective was. But being an underdog is something any liberal can sympathize with.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and my hope is that the progressive movement will be less susceptible to the Breitbarts of the future.
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