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    Health and welfare

    Good news: Both my father and my little brother were born on 21 March, and I was able to go to my hometown for their celebration lunch today. Happy birthday again, guys.

    Bad news: That stupid, pork-packed, bureaucracy-inflating health-care bill is looking likely to pass. I was able to spend most of the day distracted by wine and birthday cake rather than checking CNN.com every five minutes…which is probably just as well, since there’ll be plenty of time to get worked into a froth of rage over the damned thing once its provisions start poisoning our lives.

    Good news: James Randi, the magician and rationalist debunker of all manner of delusions, has come out on the blog attached to his website. I hadn’t particularly thought about it one way or another, though I did enjoy some of the bitchier passages in his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. Comments are almost all of the “We’re glad you told us, but don’t expect anyone to make a big deal of it” variety, which is great. The man is in his eighties, so he came of age when there was none of the infrastructure that those of us who came out in the last twenty years have had to draw on.

    Bad news: Barney Frank thinks a Tea Party protester called him a faggot; so does someone from Talking Points Memo. I agree with Frank that denigrating him for being gay is unfair; he’s repeatedly demonstrated that he’s a total ninny in ways that have nothing to do with sexuality. But I also agree with Eric: there’s plenty of reason to wonder whether people heard what they think they heard. Faggot is a short, sharp word that any number of noises at a lively protest might sound like. Hell, “Barney, you faggot!” might not sound all that dissimilar from “Barney [pause for breath] Frank!” if there were plenty of background noise. As Eric says:

    This is not to accuse Brian Beutler of lying, because he might be accurately repeating what he heard, but that does not shed any light on whether the old white guy was with the Tea Party movement or whether he was some sort of Fred Phelps style agent provocateur. The only way to know what was said and who he was would be to see some video, and considering the omnipresence of cameras these days, it would not surprise me if the footage of Barney Frank leaving his office turns up.

    And if we assume that this happened, how on earth is that an indictment of the thousands of decent, ordinary Americans who showed up to protest Obamacare? Is it fair to call them Ku Klux Klanners and bigoted homophobes on the basis of a report that someone said something? Does anyone realize how easy it would be for anyone to just show up and yell “FAGGOT”? On what basis can an assumption be automatically made that this person was a Tea Partier?

    Right. How much can we generalize from this, even if it turns out to be true? Given Frank’s history of capitalizing on any excuse to feel put upon, it seems wise to reserve judgment.

    8 Responses to “Health and welfare”

    1. carolyn says:

      I was far more upset about the reports of the N word being shouted at Rep. Lewis and other CBC members, though there seems to be some dispute as to whether the protesters were the ones shouting the slurs (though one guy did spit on Emanuel Cleaver… great way to elevate the discourse, guy).

      However, with signs such as “Send the Black Devil Back” being waved around during these Tea Parties, it makes me wonder what they’re really angry about — the health care bill, or the color of the president who conceived it.

    2. Don says:

      Please, Barney acts like no one has ever called him that before. I can’t get upset by people who call you names, you’re supposed to get over being bothered by that on the playground. Besides I personally think “Faggot” is a wonderfully expressive word and my peer group of homosexuals regularly use the word or a form of it around each other. I certainly like it better than the “all inclusive” queer.

    3. Sean says:

      Carolyn, I think everyone can agree, more or less, on what is and is not vile behavior. One question I have is the one you raise: are the miscreants representative of the group, or could they just as easily be outliers or plants from the opposition. It’s hard to tell with big demonstrations, and it’s safe to say at this point that a lot of leftists have just as much invested in making the Tea Parties look bad as Tea Partiers have in making themselves look good. For that reason alone, I think it’s wise to reserve judgment.

      And then there’s the hypocrisy question. You personally are a reasonable, respectful person, and plenty of other people on the left are, too. Once we start enlarging our field of vision to include attention-whore activists, comedians, and political commentators, though, I think the moral ground for tut-tutting over insults is much less firm. Is it more reprehensible to call someone by a racial epithet than it is to wish for his death (as we were constantly hearing about Bush and, especially, Cheney during the last decade)? A lot of people on the left didn’t seem half as exercised over Bush’s policies as they were over his upper-class origins, either. I mean, I think it all sucks, in whatever direction it travels, but I find untenable the idea that the left has spent all kinds of time and energy trying to raise the level of discourse in the country…only to be thwarted by meanie-meanie right-wingers.

      Don, I agree: a faggot is a fellow homo who’s annoying the hell out of me at the moment. When I first saw the Barney Frank story, my thought was *snort* If I came face to face with that bitch, I’d be yelling, “Barney, you faggot!” myself! OTOH, when it’s used by others not just to express serious ill-will but to imply that you’re a lesser person who doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously at all, you have to consider that, too. What does Frank’s sexuality have to do with his position on health care?

      Overall, you’re right, though. If you want to be a congresscritter, you have to accept that you’re not always going to get the regard you think you deserve, and boo-hoo-ing publicly over basic lapses in civility is sub-adult. Barney Frank could very easily have used good humor to turn this to his advantage: “Look, I’m aware that I’m a homosexual, though I’m grateful for the reminder; what I don’t know until you tell me is what exactly you object to about the current health-care plan.” Unfortunately, that would require a real desire to understand why the bill is actually unpopular, and elected officials only seem to want to entertain opposition along the lines of “The government needs to EXPAND so it can do MORE for me.” Opposition of the “Get out of my face—I know what’s good for me, and you don’t,” they are not as happy with.

    4. Basil Seal says:

      In a crowd that large, who can tell? The fact remains, we tend to hear what we are listening for: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYTlN6wjcvQ

      Given that devotees of identity politics see bigots lurking just about everywhere is it so odd that they should hear them too?

    5. Sean says:

      I agree. It’s neither difficult to believe that a protest against government excess would attract a few loudmouths willing to sling whatever invective most readily springs to mind, nor difficult to believe that politicians in the habit of casting themselves as put-upon victims of prejudice would hear slurs when none were spoken.

    6. Robohobo says:

      Well said, Sean. My thoughts exactly. It is not as if the Leftists/Statists do not accuse any sorta conservative of being ……… (fill in the blank) at the drop of a hat. The meme that only certain groups can be …….. (again, fill it in) is maddening.

      Why I have become such an unrepentant, gun toting conservative is just this.

    7. Eric Scheie says:

      Thanks for the link, Sean! And regarding proper word usage, how come there wasn’t much of an outcry when Andrew Sullivan used the F-word to describe Mickey Kaus?

      http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2007/03/andrew_coulter.html

    8. Sean says:

      Robohobo, during orientation week in college, the president of the Asian-American students’ association (I’m not sure what it was called) gave a presentation in which she explained why “Oriental” is offensive to Asians. She then went on to refer, unironically, to “Western” culture about five thousand times, so the impression I got was that implicitly referring to Europe as the dividing line between East and West is only offensive if you do it in Latin. Since then, I’ve been deeply suspicious of accusations of racism that didn’t involve an unambiguous statement that one ethnic group is inherently superior to another.

      Eric, people were probably so baffled by Sullivan’s characteristic tortuous, torturous logic that they couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to be outraged by.

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