Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The NewsBusters Trilogy, Part Three: Restoring Sanity

In Part One I talked about, I don't know…something. Wolf Blitzer, perhaps? It was a while ago. I remember Part Two, though. I discussed the complex relationship between NewsBusters—the tireless exposer of liberal bias in the media—and Jon Stewart. But that's in the past, and it's time to look toward the future. Specifically, this Saturday, when tens of thousands will converge on The National Mall for Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. If these excerpts from the website are any indication, it's definitely an event I can get behind:
We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard.
Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs).
Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement.
    Man, respectful disagreement. I mean, I'm all for nudity and drugs too, but America sure could use a few boatloads of respectful disagreement right about now. Everything else sounds good, too.[1] No reference to any candidates or parties, and no suggestion that the rally is targeted at a particular ideology. Basically, it's not about what we're saying; it's about how we're saying it.

    Even the charity is great: the Trust for The National Mall. Because this is a gathering of people who are responsible enough to do what the government, the unions, the banks, and the oil companies haven't done in a long time—spend their own money to clean up their own mess.

    In short, it's an event no reasonable person could have a problem with. This, of course, is the point where we SMASH CUT to unreasonable people lodging unreasonable complaints (at unreasonable volumes).[2]
    The liberal media just can't stand all the attention Glenn Beck got for his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., last month.
    Obviously their real goal is to mock the hundreds of thousands of everyday people who gathered last month to worship God and love their country. What better way to make average Americans who dare to oppose socialism feel like freaks than with big rallies called "Keep Fear Alive" and "The Million Moderate March" (I guess Stewart won't be attending that one).
    While it seems like so many of Jon Stewart's adoring fans in the media are elated to see a counter-Tea Party, not many have been willing to call this event what it is—an event to belittle people who are exercising their rights as citizens to protest their government.
    If Arianna Huffington, an admitted "progressive," announces she's offering transportation to individuals that desire to participate in Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "million moderate march," can it really be described as "moderate?"
    Obama's endorsement clearly demonstrates a decidedly liberal slant to the event.
    In case Arianna Huffington plotting to spend an estimated quarter-million dollars on buses to the liberal Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally didn’t paint it as an Obama event, how about Oprah Winfrey? The Obama-endorsing, Obama-campaign-stumping Winfrey appeared via satellite on Thursday night’s episode of The Daily Show to announce that she was going to fly Stewart’s audience to Washington, D.C.
    If it's not obvious, all this paranoia is based on absolutely nothing, except maybe the revelation that two of the organizers used to work for Clinton, along with a mountain of deep-seated preconceptions. And I'm focusing on NewsBusters because otherwise this trilogy would be, well, unfocused, but—in terms of both content and tone—they're hardly an outlier.

    And, to be clear, I have no doubt the attendees and signs and costumes will be disproportionately liberal,[3] because conservatives just don't seem all that interested in going. And I'm sure a lot of ralliers will, in fact, expect the whole thing to be about bashing Fox News and the tea partiers, because people are staggeringly good at missing the point. And I'm sure a lot of things will be said that are aimed at Fox News and the tea partiers, because they're definitely responsible for some—not all, but some—of the idiocy that inspired the rally in the first place.

    And, of course, when those things happen, NewsBusters will report that the rally was exactly what they expected it to be.[4] But I'm getting ahead of myself (not to mention starting a few too many sentences with conjunctions in a row), which means it's probably time to wrap up this three-part mess.

    To recap, this, as far as I can tell, is the current situation:

    — Jon Stewart is holding a rally with the stated goal of restoring reasonableness and sanity, and Stephen Colbert is holding a rally to mock the divisive, hyperbolic fear-mongering that has seemingly taken over.

    — Everything Stewart has said—on his show, in interviews, and through promotional materials—has been ideologically-neutral, with frequent re-affirmations that the only characteristic attendees are expected to share is a willingness to have a reasonable conversation about politics.

    — Prominent conservative voices in the media—exemplified here by Newsbusters—have, on numerous occasions, and in no uncertain terms, insisted that the true goal of these rallies is to promote liberalism and debase conservatism.

    — The only evidence—and I use that term loosely—supporting this is that many of the organizers and supporters are liberals.

    — In other words, many conservatives,[5] based solely on an intense distrust of their ideological opponents, have convinced themselves of the existence of a vast, intricate, anti-conservative conspiracy.

    — That's insane.

    And there it is—the trajic irony of the plea for sanity: If you're listening, and if the message makes sense to you, then you're probably not the intended audience.

    1. Ok, one thing. I cringed a little when Stewart called it a "million moderate march." Moderates, in my unfairly-generalized opinion, are people who don't pay close attention to politics, but are inexplicably committed to preserving the two-party system. ("My primary sources of information are the candidates' dueling attack ads, and I only understand a few of the issues with any real depth, and there's a decent chance my decision will ultimately be based on something ridiculous, like which candidate's name sounds more like it matches my skin color, but vote for a third party? That's crazy! I can't just throw my vote away!")
    2. A trick I learned from The Daily Show, by the way.
    3. How can halloween costumes have a liberal bias? Tune in to Fox News at 5 p.m. and/or 9 p.m. on November 1st to find out.
    4. Specifically: (a) the speakers were predominately liberal, (b) Stewart made a few token attempts to appear non-partisan, but most of his rhetoric was aimed squarely at conservatives, (c) the crowd was unruly and disrespectful, and perhaps even hostile toward the few conservatives in attendance, and (d) attendance was less than expected. Maybe it'll be true; maybe not. Regardless, they'll find a reason to say it.
    5. No, not you. The other ones. You know who I'm talking about.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    The NewsBusters Trilogy, Part Two: An Exercise in Futility

    In Part One I discussed NewsBusters, and their relentless commitment to exposing liberal bias in the media. Turns out it's pretty easy, especially when you pick on professional hyperbole-spewers like Keith Olbermann, or disgraced politicians like Eliot Spitzer, or embarrassing loudmouths like Rosie O'Donnell. But NewsBusters wouldn't be where they are today if they were content to go after the easy targets. Their mission is to expose every square inch of liberal bias, even if it comes from the one media personality who still clings to archaic standards of journalistic integrity and intellectual honesty.

    I'm referring, of course, to Jon Stewart.[1]

    Now, close your eyes for a second and try to visualize politics as a one-dimensional line with a horizontal (i.e. left to right) orientation—a spectrum, if you will. And suppose that every person occupies a point somewhere on that line, as determined by their individual ideologies. (I know, I know—belief systems are way too complex and nuanced for such a simplistic model to have any real meaning, but bear with me.) At the left end of this spectrum is, say, Karl Marx, and at the right end is, I don't know…Sarah Palin.[2] Based on those parameters, it's probably a safe bet that Stewart would occupy a point somewhere left of the center.

    Thing is, I don't think it matters, because virtually everything he says and does on The Daily Show is ideologically-neutral. He doesn't use the show to advocate tax increases, or health care reform, or gay rights, or [insert the thing you're most concerned about the liberal media shoving down the throats of Real Americans]. He uses it to promote accountability (in government, corporations, and the media), rational conversation, and understanding of different points of view.

    But still, he's a liberal. Therefore, as far as the brilliant thinkers at NewsBusters are concerned, he's undoubtedly engaged in a narrow-minded campaign to further his nefarious agenda. And don't think they can't produce some evidence!
    In Stewart's castigation of this error, he made it seem as if Hannity was personally responsible for it even though it's much more than likely that the clips were added from the September 12 rally without Hannity's knowledge…[W]hat Stewart did on Tuesday was far from either comedy or media analysis, but instead a clear extension of his own anti-Fox agenda.
    [W]hen Stewart turned to actual data instead of humor, was he innocent of manipulating the polls? A quick look proves Stewart and his researchers mangled the poll numbers he used on screen…If the best argument liberals like Stewart can make is that perhaps Democrats should pass a health care bill that a "plurality" supports after pushed around by pollsters, then the desperate spinners are not the Fox News personnel.
    Liberal comedian Jon Stewart featured a rare conservative voice on Tuesday's Daily Show, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. As he often does during the occasions he talks to right-leaning guests, Stewart turned combative, attacking Thiessen for "living in a selective world."
    Comedian Jon Stewart on Wednesday bashed Fox News for parent company News Corporation's $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association. Unfortunately, Stewart failed to inform his viewers that Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, has so far given disproportionately to Democrats this year. Also missing in the "Daily Show" host's attack of FNC and Glenn Beck was that News Corp. prior to this contribution had historically given more to Democrats than Republicans.[3]
    Actually, many people believe [Stewart is a legitimate source of news] including folks inside the news industry, which of course is pathetic. Also pitiful is that people like Stewart and his ilk routinely talk about Fox being extreme as they typically give MSNBC a pass despite it being much further to the left than FNC is to the right.
    Maybe they're on to something, maybe not. If you watch someone closely enough, of course you'll spot a few examples of the type of bias you're specifically trying to find. But the sheer breadth of NewsBusters' coverage of the Evil Liberal Plot to Take Over the Government or Destroy America or Whatever creates an interesting paradox: Any time a prominent liberal is criticized, it's taken as further evidence of that person's crippling liberalism, so NewsBusters reports it—even if the criticism came from a fellow liberal.[4]

    Here are a few such headlines from the last 18 months (along with a sampling of the language used in the articles to imply that these stories are weird aberrations from the norm):
    Jon Stewart Cows Another Lefty - Did Matthews Change Book Title Over Stewart Mockery? ("unexpected")
    Jon Stewart: Obama Handled Gates Racism Question 'Stupidly' ("quite surprisingly", "I kid you not")
    Jon Stewart on ClimateGate: 'Poor Al Gore - Global Warming Debunked Via Internet You Invented' ("Somewhat surprisingly")
    Jon Stewart Rips Obama's Surge Speech: Sounds Like Bush in 2007 ("surprisingly")
    Jon Stewart Slams Rachel Maddow (!) for Politicizing US Response to Earthquake in Haiti ("There's hope for Jon Stewart yet.")
    Stewart Blasts Olbermann for Brown Rants, Defends Michelle Malkin ("shocking", "surprisingly")
    Jon Stewart Defends Republicans From Claims They Planted Alvin Greene ("mysteriously opposite to contentions by some liberal media members")
    Stewart: Fox Snookered No One, Breitbart Most Honest Person In Sherrod Affair ("surprising")
    Is anyone else reminded of Tom Hanks' "Mr. Short-Term Memory" character from Saturday Night Live? ("There's food in my mouth!") I mean, every damn time, it's "Whoa, that's an oddly reasonable thing for a liberal to say. Where'd that come from?"

    But how can I prove once and for all that Jon Stewart's leftward slant is, if not imaginary, at least irrelevant to the larger message of his show? I can't (hence this article's title). I can think of, like, a dozen more angles I could go into, but it's simply not the sort of thing that can be proven. So I'll just make one last observation: About a month ago, a certain Republican from Delaware got herself all over the news for some pretty silly reasons. Practically everyone in the media—especially the liberals and the comedians (plenty of overlap in that Venn diagram)—weighed in:
    David Letterman: Christine O’Donnell promised that if she’s elected to the Senate for Delaware, she’ll cast a spell on healthcare.
    Jay Leno: I don't know a lot about Christine O'Donnell, but she has some interesting views. She has come out against masturbation. And you thought the war on drugs was unwinnable.
    Jimmy Kimmel: The tea party supported a woman named Christine O’Donnell who, in the 1990s, mounted a campaign to stop kids from masturbating. It didn’t work.
    SNL's Kristen Wiig (as O'Donnell): Hi. I'm Christine O'Donnell, and I'm not a witch. I'm nothing like you've heard. I'm you. And just like you, I have to constantly deny that I'm a witch.
    Keith Olbermann: Karl Rove [wigged out] over the lump of dumb and judgmental that is Christine O’Donnell.
    Maureen Dowd: Evolution is no myth, but we may be evolving backward. Christine O’Donnell had better hope they don’t bring back witch burning.
    Jon Stewart: Poor Christine O'Donnell.  Look, she said something on MTV 20 years ago. I am the last person to judge someone who said weird things on MTV 20 years ago…She may be qualified; she may not…But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on. And I think that's an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make.
    Which of these quotes is not like the others? (Hint: It's a different color.)

    Coming up: Part Three, in which NewsBusters discovers an alarming new threat to freedom and American values, and—guess what?—exposes it.

    1. I'm also being facetious, but only a little.
    2. Yeah, I used Palin because she's funny, but also—and I'm clearly not an expert here—it doesn't seem right to equate people like, say, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman with today's conservatives, because I don't think they'd be so adamant about legislating morality. Am I wrong about that? Who is the personification of the modern conservative ideology? Please tell me it's not really Sarah Palin.
    3. This one is kind of funny. Stewart called out (skullf#@ked, if you prefer) News Corp. for donating $1 million to the Republicans. NewsBusters then claimed his motives were less than honorable, entering into evidence the following points: (1) He didn't say anything about Viacom giving more to Democrats, and (2) If you don't count the $1 million (under the little-known highest-and-lowest-get-thrown-out rule, I guess), News Corp. had also given more to Democrats. Fair enough—both of those things are true. Of course, Viacom had only given 110K to Democrats (67K to Republicans) which at least partially reflects the fact that there are simply more Democrats in office right now (and you can't buy political favors from politicians who aren't in office). And News Corp. had given 123K to Democrats (112K to Republicans), so that million shifted the ratio pretty drastically the other way, but shut up, there's liberal bias everywhere!
        Anyway, I went through all that in part because I also want to point out that I haven't looked into any of the other accusations of bias at all. I'm sure some of them aren't complete nonsense, but I wouldn't take them at face value either.

    4. Because these people are dangerous, selfish ideologues who will stop at nothing to further their radical agendas (agendae?), and therefore cannot be trusted to provide unbiased, fact-based analysis…except when they criticize somebody else we don't like.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    The NewsBusters Trilogy, Part One: Bias, Bias, Everywhere

    NewsBusters is a fun site. They call themselves "the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias," and that's hard to argue with.[1] They're good at it, too—they find liberal bias freaking everywhere. Spend a few hours perusing the NewsBusters archives—you'll wind up convinced there's liberal bias hiding under your bed.

    Take this recent article, headlined "GOP Strategist Schools Matthews: 'Palin's Had A Lot More Experience Than Obama'":
    As a number of GOP candidates of late have sidestepped the issue [of whether Sarah Palin is qualified to be president], Chris Matthews must have expected GOP strategist Ron Christie to do the same on Tuesday's "Hardball."

    Much to the MSNBC host's surprise, Christie not only said she was, but also pointed out, "She's certainly had a whole heck of a lot more experience than a particular junior senator from Illinois."
    "Huh?," you might be thinking. "That's not bias—that's a GOP strategist using imaginary logic to affirm the rather dubious qualifications of a prominent Republican,[2] which is exactly what a GOP strategist should be expected to do, especially in regard to a politician who generates so many legitimate questions as to the extent to which she's, you know, kind of dumb." Clearly, the liberal media has already gotten to you.

    Christie, aware that an assertion is meaningless without evidentiary support, added:
    "[C]onsidering the one that we have sitting there now who's been indecisive on the economy? He's been indecisive on the war…He's been indecisive on every single solitary issue."
    Matthews had no response to this, but, fortunately, NewsBusters knows what was going through his mind:
    Isn't it fascinating the way liberal media members think?

    All someone needs to be qualified for office in their view is to have a D next to his or her name. By contrast, there appears to be virtually nothing a Republican can have on his or her resume that is considered appropriate experience.
    See! It all makes sense. Chris Matthews, a liberal member of the liberal media, had a conservative guest on his show. The guest said Sarah Palin has "a lot more experience" than Obama, then backed this up by complaining about Obama's presidency.[3] Matthews' response? He abandons ship! He cuts off the conservative and, blatantly ignoring the title of his own show, lobs a softball to his liberal guest.

    Matthews did this, of course, because he lacks the intellectual capacity to refute such well-articulated conservative viewpoints, and not at all because the conservative guest was using Matthews' show as a forum for hyperbolic partisanship and off-topic anti-Obama ranting. Right?

    Yeah, nevermind, I give up. It makes no sense. This isn't bias; it's punditry, and it's not even very interesting punditry.

    And that's the problem with NewsBusters and virtually everyone else who sets out to "expose the liberal media." There's no doubt the media is lousy with liberal bias, and, from time to time, that bias rears its bearded, latte-sipping head. When it does, you can count on NewsBusters to be there—heroically raising a stink. But in the meantime, they're busy alienating everyone who might actually benefit from listening to them. As far as most non-conservatives are concerned, they're the boy who won't stop crying "Wolf!"[4]

    Coming up: Part Two, in which NewsBusters takes on its most formidable opponent yet.

    1. Meanwhile, NewsBusters' arch-nemesis, Media Matters for America, is "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." It's fun to search their respective sites (like so) for articles "exposing" the not-at-all-concealed bias of the other. Maybe we'll eventually reach a point where NewsBusters and Media Matters do nothing but comment on each other, and thus become a self-contained infinite regress of partisan squabbling.
    2. Palin: 4 years as city council member, 6 years as mayor, 1 year as chair of a state government agency, and 2.5 years as state governor. Obama: 8 years as state legislator, 4 years as U.S. Senator, and 2 years as President. Obama wins for overall length of public service and significance of offices held; Palin wins for length of service in an executive—rather than legislative—capacity. We all lose for bickering about petty crap like this, and for thinking either one is even remotely qualified to be president.
    3. In related news, Brett Favre has been indecisive about retiring for, like, four years in a row now. Therefore, the Knicks are going to be great this year. It's just basic logic!
    4. I would've been satisfied with the lame wordplay, really, but holy cow. Here's one part of the Coons-O'Donnell debate that the NewsBusters article chose to highlight (condensed and paraphrased):
    — Blitzer: You oppose the government mandating that everyone purchase health insurance. So, what if someone decides not to buy insurance, but gets injured and is taken to the ER? Who pays for their treatment?
    — O'Donnell: Well, um, we can make healthcare more affordable if we—
    — Blitzer: Right, but if a person voluntarily refuses to buy insurance?
    — O'Donnell: Um…[tries to hide the fact that she clearly hasn't thought about this]…illegal immigrants are bad!
        Seriously, read the transcript (or watch the video). That's pretty much how it went. Wolf Blitzer totally out-conservative'd Christine O'Donnell, and NewsBusters still found a way to accuse him of being biased.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Do You Think Fox News Is Biased?

    If so, Neal Boortz would like to hear from you!
    I offered up this challenge last year ... with no legitimate takers. Let's do it again. Watch Fox News and then tell me just where you find an instance of conservative bias in a Fox newscast. I'm not talking about opinion shows here ... Not Hannity, not Beck, not O'Reilly. We're talking newscasts. Go ahead! Find the bias! Call the show and tell us what you've found, or just send us an email! The last time we tried this, as I said, no valid examples were offered. So now we're just five weeks from the most important election in our lives ... so get out there and find that bias! I'll even publish some of your examples here on the Nuze ... with my explanation of why you're wrong, of course.
    That's right, the "news" part of Fox News isn't biased at all. It's a point conservative pundits love to make. And as one of the few such pundits whose Fox News appearances are merely occasional, rather than frequent (or regularly-scheduled), Boortz is among the most qualified to make the argument.

    Anyway, back to the challenge.[1] I have neither the time nor the fortitude (nor the requisite cable subscription) to sit around watching Fox News, but, thankfully, purported examples of its bias constitute, like, 7% of the Internet's non-porn content. So let's see what's out there. I'll even save Boortz the trouble of explaining why I'm wrong—I can handle that part myself.
    During [a segment about a Tea Party rally], both Fox News and [organizer Felicia] Cravens said that the event was nonpartisan. While [Bill] Hemmer spoke, Fox News aired protest footage referencing Obama.
    Well, what else are they going to show? It's not like there's a whole lot of pro-Obama sentiment at these rallies. Besides, when Americans come together in such large numbers to make their voices heard—regardless of the cause—it's an event worthy of coverage.
    Jon Stewart skewered Fox News last night for covering every tea party protest in America (no matter how small) but not sending a reporter, or even a camera crew, to cover Sunday's gay rights march which included more than 75,000 protesters.
    Ok, so some events get more coverage than others, but hey, there's a lot of news out there—nobody ever said Fox isn't allowed to prioritize. Still, can prioritization itself be a reflection of a network's bias? Probably, but I don't see how we can say for sure that Fox News—not CNN or MSNBC—is the one that has it wrong.[2]
    During the June 6 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse, host E.D. Hill teased an upcoming discussion by saying, "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently."
    Eh…I don't think bias is the right word here. Crazy, bizarre, and inexplicable all seem more appropriate, as does a silent, open-mouthed expression of bewilderment. Maybe it was a case of latent bias bubbling to the surface, but there's no way "terrorist fist jab" was the product of even a millisecond of forethought. Also, Hill apologized, which everyone remembers just as vividly as the original comment, right?
    [D]uring the May 6 edition of Fox News's America's Newsroom, Fox News ran on-screen text that read, "House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans."
    Hemmer teased the segment by saying Democrats had reportedly "voted to give special protection to pedophiles."
    Ok, that sounds bad, but, in Fox's defense, they were reporting on the Liberals Hate America, Children, And War Heroes Act of 2009.[3]

    Ha ha, just kidding—I'm pretty sure this one is a legitimate example of bias. All the elements are here: Essentially truthful information, presented in a misleading way,[4] for the purpose of reinforcing negative (and, dare I say, unfounded) stereotypes about liberals.[5] That's bias, right? What other explanation is there?

    Ultimately, I don't see how any of this matters all that much, because of course Fox News is biased, and so are CNN and MSNBC. Those who argue otherwise typically insist that their preferred network is the only one offering an accurate portrayal of reality, which is an argument that, in and of itself, indicates a basic inability to comprehend reality. But all the bickering distracts from a much more troubling slant: Regardless of political differences, the news media is uniformly biased toward laziness, sensationalism, and over-simplification.

    1. Which has been on the table for at least six years now, and remains to this day in a virginal state of un-met-ness.
    2. William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar from fourteenth-century England, would surely argue that they all have their priorities wrong.
    3. I tried to create one of those clever acronyms Congress is so fond of, but it seems acronym-creation is among my lesser talents. Any suggestions?
    4. See, it was a hate crimes bill, which the Democrats were all set to pass when Republican Steve King added an amendment to exclude pedophilia from the bill's definition of sexual orientation. The amendment was pointless, as federal law already excludes pedophilia from any form of legal protection based on sexual orientation, so the Democrats, either unaware or unconcerned that King was most likely engaged in a Simpsons-esque ploy to force them to "vote to protect pedophiles," shot it down.
        As for the part about not voting to protect veterans—that's technically true, but it's not like they voted to not protect veterans, as Fox implies. There was never a vote on whether to add veterans to the bill at all. So, yeah, they didn't vote to protect veterans, and they also didn't vote to protect elephants, Neptune, or the Oakland Raiders.
    5. Liberals would rather protect pedophiles than veterans? No, of course not. That's ridiculous. But liberals are, perhaps, more inclined to seek to understand pedophilia so that it can be dealt with more effectively (and maybe even overcome), whereas conservatives seem content to broadly ostracize pedophiles from society, in the simplistic and misguided hope that they'll either go away or just stop being pedophiles.
        (And, because sometimes the ultra-liberal viewpoint happens to be the correct one, it should be noted that merely being a pedophile is not a crime—pedophiles are just as deserving as anyone else of equal protection under the law. In return, they have to exercise enough responsibility to avoid breaking the law or hurting anyone. It's the same standard to which we hold alcoholics, politicians, stock brokers, and, well, everyone. But we're not ready to have that conversation. It's depressing to think about how far we have to come before we can have that conversation.)

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Attention Conservatives! This Is Your Argument Against Anti-Discrimination Laws

    In April and May of this year, the Commission of Leon County, Florida (which consists primarily of Tallahassee)[1] debated a Human Rights Ordinance. The law proposed to do a number of things—most controversially, creating a legal cause of action for victims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

    I attended a preliminary public comment session, and then the meeting a few weeks later when the vote was held. Each time the room was packed. Hundreds of Leon County residents—and the commissioners themselves—spoke for or against the ordinance. A few of the arguments that were made against it:
    • It's a slippery slope! Next, we'll be prohibiting discrimination based on obesity, attractiveness, height, etc.[2]
    • It will infringe on a preacher's God-given right to preach that homosexuality is a sin.[3]
    • It will somehow diminish the rights of heterosexuals.[4]
    • It will harm business owners by generating—or merely by threatening—frivolous lawsuits.[5]
    And so on. It was a fascinating and enlightening experience, and it led indirectly to the creation of this blog. Anti-discrimination laws are fundamentally incompatible with my libertarian principles, but as I watched and listened I had the same thought over and over: Screw my principles—I don't want to be on the same side as the people who oppose this law.

    When I figured out why, I sat down and wrote the following—the argument that should have been made:

    "We all want to live in a society that treats people as equals. Our opposition to this ordinance is rooted not in a desire to discriminate, but in the belief that we don't need an ordinance to be that kind of society. And now, as we find ourselves on the verge of yet another government intrusion on individual freedom, we are prepared to prove it—to show our community that when we talk about how much we oppose discrimination and value equal treatment under the law, we mean it.

    "Some of us, inevitably, will continue to resist. That's ok. We believe private business owners have the right to hire and fire whoever they want, or do business with whoever they want, for any reason, and we believe in freedom of speech, no matter how offensive. Yet we have no doubt that any opposition will be fleeting, because it will be penalized not in the courts, but in the marketplace of ideas. Businesses that discriminate will be boycotted, rental properties that discriminate will be vacated, and churches that preach hate will be abandoned in favor of churches that preach love.

    "Some of us will make this commitment out of respect for human dignity, and some of us will make it because the strongest society is one where all people are not only allowed, but encouraged, to reach their maximum potential. For many of us, these two reasons are one and the same—we recognize that the free market we so strongly believe in is undermined by discrimination and hatred.

    "Some of us are not convinced that widespread discrimination exists in our community, but there are a lot of people here who clearly believe it does. Regardless of who is right, we understand the temptation for the government to step in. But we also understand how much this law would cost us—and not only in terms of a simple dollar amount. The greater costs are the loss of liberty, and the shame of knowing that our community has reached the point that we need to be told, under threat of forcible seizure of everything we've earned to provide for ourselves and our families, to act like decent human beings.

    "Opposition to a law is not the same as opposition to equality. In fact, we will accomplish more without this law than we ever could with it, because the most meaningful equality is that which does not need to be mandated. In that spirit, we respectfully ask for one more chance to prove that we, as private individuals, can do our part to build a community we can be proud of. A community that judges people on the content of their character—and nothing else. And we will build that community not because we have to, but because we want to."

    If conservatives really want to stem the tide of government intervention in private lives, this is what they need to say.[6] No one did. The ordinance passed, and I was happy to see it happen. What makes me sad is how sorely it was needed.

    1. Official motto (according to Wikipedia): "Florida's Capital City." Exciting!
    2. Often accompanied by the scientifically-dubious (to put it nicely) argument that homosexuality is a choice, and it's ridiculous to allow lawsuits based on groups people can join voluntarily—because other protected characteristics, such as, say, religion and marital status, aren't voluntary at all, right?
    3. It doesn't. Religious organizations are exempt. But whatever—that's not the point.
    4. It doesn't. If a straight person is fired for being straight, the ordinance gives him or her the right to sue, too. But whatever—that's not the point.
    5. Alright, that one's hard to argue with, but anyone who makes it is either being disingenuous, or has their priorities totally out of whack.
    6. It would help, obviously, if they also mean it, but just saying it would be a nice start.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Following the Rules

    In virtually every discussion I've ever heard on immigration the conservative argument sounds something like this: "I've got nothing against immigrants—as long as they follow the rules!" Conservatives, of course, are all about following the rules, and immigration provides an excellent chance to climb up on a soapbox and preach about it.

    The argument is most compelling when it comes from an actual immigrant, or at least a member of a recently-immigrated family:
    Despite their dire situations, their hardships, and their lack of financial means, all of my family members came into this country legally. They all went through painstaking efforts to earn that entry.

    I summarize this background merely to demonstrate that there is a difference between those who are here illegally, and those who played by the rules and patiently made their way here legally. It is an insult to all of the legal immigrants in this great country to act as though the rules don’t matter and should simply be tossed away.
    I couldn't agree more. Well, that's not true—it's almost never true. I'd agree more if there wasn't such a strong implication that the choice faced by aliens is whether to immigrate legally or immigrate illegally. That is, perhaps, the choice faced by aliens with close relatives who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, or aliens with certain desirable job skills, or aliens who happen to be from one of those countries whose people aren't already lined up at the border.

    For most, however, the choice is between immigrating illegally or not immigrating at all. As it turns out, those rules that conservatives have so much respect for exclude a huge amount of people from even having the chance to come here legally. That doesn't mean their argument is invalid, it just means it's incomplete. Here, in convenient chart form, is the rest of it:

    What they say: What they should add:
    [Illegal immigrants] should go home as a family and try to come back through a legal process. …or, more realistically, just go home and not come back.
    No one has a problem with people migrating LEGALLY to this country. The problem is ILLEGAL immigration…people who break the law by coming to this country without bothering to adhere to the rule of law and get proper paperwork. …so what if the rule of law to which these people must adhere requires them, more often than not, to abandon their dreams of immigrating to the U.S.? America isn't for everybody!
    Jan Brewer has the cojones…to secure our borders and allow legal immigration to help build this country as was the purpose of immigration laws. …and we need a secure border because, as those laws reflect, most of the people on the other side of it aren't wanted here.
    Tens of thousands of impoverished people abroad, from Africa to Asia, wait patiently to enter America legally, while hundreds of thousands from Latin America do not. …which is sort of an obvious thing to say, really, since most of them couldn't "wait patiently to enter America legally" even if they wanted to.

    Sure, find a way to put it more tactfully,[1] but this is one of only two positions that can be taken honestly. We can either liberalize the rules, or we can tell millions of potential legal immigrants to forget about it—America's closed.

    1. Not my job—my narrow-minded agenda is to portray conservatives as heartless and xenophobic, which has turned out to be pretty easy.