BIGOTRY BY ANY OTHER NAME

By Paul M. Lewis

Now that marriage equality is the law of the land (as much as certain states are still attempting to throw up roadblocks against its implementation), it’s curious to see how some religious people are reacting. One tack that seems particularly egregious is the claim that anyone who is adamantly pro-traditional marriage (so called) is now the supposed aggrieved party. “I have every right to believe what I believe and to say what I say about the errant and sinful nature of gay marriage,” they say.

Is that so? Of course it is, at least so far as it goes. It is difficult to imagine anyone, gay or non-gay alike, who would argue against a person’s right to believe, or to say, whatever he or she likes (given the usual exclusions, of course, such as defamation, or the iconic yelling fire in a crowded theater, when there is no fire). This is the very essence of the First Amendment, that we are free to express whatever views we care to about almost any subject. In a sense, the more controversial the topic and the views expressed, the more the right to speak or write about it ought to be defended. It is, after all, especially in its most egregious form (e.g. hate speech) that we have no choice but to protect and secure the right to express it, because one person’s extreme is another person’s truth. What often gets overlooked in declamations about the First Amendment, though, is the fact that those who oppose extreme views on controversial subjects themselves have the right to express their own opinions about the opposing point of view, and about those who hold it.

The argument being made by the ultra-orthodox is actually somewhat convoluted, but boiled down to its essence, it amounts to something like this: They, themselves, are experiencing unfair defamation of character when those whom they criticize as sinners call them bigots. “Is it really bigotry,” they say, “when what we are simply doing is pointing out what we sincerely believe to be immoral or unbiblical (or un-you-name-the-holy-book) behavior?” “No,” they reply to their own question, “it is not bigotry; it is simply our God-given right, indeed, God’s mandate, to call a sin a sin.”

But is it truly unfair to call them bigots? In attempting to untie this knot, it may be useful to clarify exactly what is meant by the word bigotry. It is a term much in use these days, one frequently tossed about and applied in many varied circumstances. As such, it deserves closer scrutiny. In delving deeply into the meaning of a word, it’s useful to begin with the etymology of the term, its provenance, if you will. In this case, the etymology remains admittedly a bit unclear. But one commonly held suggestion is that it may be a corruption of the Germanic oath “bi Gott,” a bigot being someone who swears “by God” that he/she is right and that this purported truthfulness is sanctioned by the deity. In modern usage, a bigot has come to mean a sanctimonious person, someone making a special show of holiness or religiosity, in particular vis-à-vis another person’s actions or beliefs, and who as a result takes it upon him or herself to condemn these actions or beliefs.

Those who follow the orthodox interpretation of virtually any organized religion condemn gay people based on their holy book, or at very least on their bishops, priests, rabbis, pastors, mullahs etc., defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Any variation therefrom is held to be against the laws of God, as He has made his dictates known. It would seem hard to deny that this fits squarely in with the accepted definition of bigotry, as the condemnation of another person’s actions or beliefs out of religious conviction. But then there is the follow-up question: Does that mean that LGBT people, and their supporters, are themselves also bigots, when they call the ultra-religiously inclined bigots? Here, the word seems not to fit, inasmuch as most LGBT people are surely not acting out of any special show of holiness or religion.

It’s clear that those who believe God made the world one way—and one way only—and that in this scheme of things two women, or two men, who love each other are not allowed to marry one another, open themselves to charges of intolerance and bias. Again, it bears repeating that such people have every right to hold to these extreme views and to express them in whatever forum or circumstance they wish, but in doing so, they do not have the right to claim exemption from charges of discriminatory behavior, or to hold that they are being treated unfairly when someone calls them a bigot. And whining about the supposed unfairness of another’s appellation doesn’t get you very far. God knows, the religious right has said some truly terrible things about LGBT people over the years, things that amount to hate speech. And while we may have called them bigots in return, at least we can say that the word, in accordance with its literal definition, actually applies.

There’s no doubt that words can be injurious. Being called fagot and queer, to name a few of the less horrible terms, does not feel good. And neither do actions—prohibitions—like not being able to marry the person you love, or the inability to visit a loved one in a hospital, or the denial of citizenship to a loved one from another country—all of which have, thankfully, now been corrected. But other bans continue to remain in place, such as the so-called right of an employer in many states to fire a person, simply because that individual is lesbian or gay.

Words may have specific and precise meanings, but bigotry, by any other name, still remains bigotry. Certain orthodox religious people may not like it. They are not used to “being called names,” as we used to say when we were children. In the end, though, if the word fits, it must be applied, and there is no earthly (or heavenly) reason that I can see not to use it.

Does it hurt a sincere Christian believer when people call him or her a bigot because that person says LGBT people have no right to marry? I suppose it may well. But my advice to them is to buck up and learn to take it. Or better still, maybe they will even be inspired to think: Is it true? Am I actually a bigot!

A LIBERAL SHOUT-OUT FOR CLINT EASTWOOD

by Kevin

On the final night of the 2012 Republican Convention, just before MR spoke, (MR WHO?) 82-year-old actor/director icon Clint Eastwood walked on stage and delivered the only unscripted moment (actually 11 minutes) of the otherwise stultifying 3-day event – an imaginary conversation with an invisible President Obama, sitting in an empty chair. People have not stopped talking about it since, and Clint Eastwood has walked away with the biggest headlines and the most memorable clip of the 2012 Republican Convention.

News teams were shocked and embarrassed by Eastwood’s unscripted, improvised skit. They couldn’t believe that the convention officials would have been so stupid as to turn over such a significant chunk of time, immediately prior to the most important speech of MR’s life, to an obviously senile old actor who embarrassed everyone. Kerrik Lang of the Associated Press called the performance “kooky and long-winded.” Roger Ebert tweeted, “sad & pathetic.”

Two days later on my current fav, MSNBC liberal political commentary talk show, “Up with Chris Hayes,” the moderator, incredibly brilliant and articulate Mr. Chris Hayes himself, ranted that Eastwood’s performance was “disrespectful, vulgar, gross and insulting” – a criticism that might have been more deserved had it been levied against the Republican Platform or the ticket itself, rather than aiming it at 82-year-old creative artist Clint Eastwood. Almost nobody has noted that while the actor/director is indeed a fiscal conservative who clearly likes the idea of electing a businessman to the presidency, he also holds left-leaning attitudes regarding gay marriage and environmental protection.

On his HBO show Bill Maher also commented on Eastwood’s unscripted sketch, starting with the disclaimer that it makes him sad to see a talent he respects so much supporting the Republican campaign. But then Maher pointed out that as a stand-up comedian himself, he had to give Clint Eastwood major props for walking onto an empty stage and improvising a comedy routine with no script, no teleprompter, and nothing but a simple chair for support. “And he KILLED!” said Maher.

I heard Eastwood’s bit live, and Maher is right. “He KILLED!” That audience went crazy. They LOVED it. He held the total attention of not only the convention attendees, but the entire TV audience and every “journalist,” and my five dogs, in the palm of his hand, as he extended it to an empty chair where we all visualized President Obama squirming for 11 full minutes. Eastwood woke up the masses and thoroughly entertained and delighted them without a script or teleprompter, and the consummate actor/director accomplished all of this at the advanced age of 82, alone on stage.

 

Give me a break! The last time I can remember the nation’s full attention being riveted on anything for 11 whole minutes was on 9-11 when the towers fell. To listen to some of Eastwood’s critics, immediately following and ever since he brought the house down on Thursday night, you’d think he had just succeeded in delivering the next major terrorist attack on American soil – at the Republican Convention, no less, and on national TV! He is apparently guilty of an unforgivable sin: Free Speech.

The only crime Clint Eastwood committed to bring down this wholesale condemnation upon his poor old head was to violate the unwritten modern-day law that the major party conventions are required to be totally fake, boring and scripted. But Clint Eastwood and I can remember the days when conventions were real, fermented, exciting events, chock full of drama and surprises. I miss those old political conventions, and apparently Mr. Eastwood does too. There were smoke-filled back rooms, where unexpected deals were made. There were demonstrations, and reporters were strong-armed off the floor while on camera. Battles raged about platform content. And the votes were really consequential and suspenseful, because nobody knew how they would turn out. I’ll bet Clint remembers and misses those conventions like I do. So, he had the audacity to speak from his heart through the very gutsy and risky creative vehicle of an improvised solo comedy sketch. And “He KILLED!”  Of course he did. He’s an 82-year-old master actor/director. He knows how to do this.

I hasten to add that I did NOT agree with very many of the messages in Mr. Eastwood’s creative theatrical performance. I disagreed with most of its content. But there were two exceptions. I couldn’t help laughing when he somehow managed to lead the entire Republican Convention audience into screaming approval for the idea of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan tomorrow! Talking to the invisible President Obama in that empty chair, Eastwood said, “I think you’ve mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question. You know, he says ‘Why are you giving the date out now? (Applause) Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?!”  The audience unwittingly rewarded this masterful manipulation with a raucous ovation of approval! Shouldn’t we give Mr. Eastwood some credit for putting the 2012 Republican Convention on record as supporting an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by spontaneous acclamation?

How could anybody dislike the way Eastwood ended his sketch? Speaking directly into the camera and to the audience he proclaimed, “We OWN this country! We OWN it! It’s not you owning it, and not politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours!…” Yes they are, Mr. Eastwood. Yes they are. Thank you for asserting the power of authentic creative expression over the stale, stilted, scripted restrictions of today’s conventions. Thank you for showing us how it’s done. You made my day! You inserted 11 minutes of real, authentic creative expression into an otherwise lifeless convention. I sincerely hope your example will encourage others to practice creative free speech too.

Now… turnabout is fair play, right? So I have a suggestion for Barack Obama’s upcoming nomination  acceptance speech: Wouldn’t it be totally cool if President Obama walked out onto an empty stage, carrying a straight-back chair, and started talking to it as if Clint Eastwood were sitting there: “Oh!… Hello Clint… (applause) I didn’t see you there. You look a little pale. Are you okay?… Need some water or anything?…” Imagine how wild the response would be from the Democratic Convention audience! President Obama would have the rapt attention of the entire world as he answered Clint Eastwood’s charges, one by one, AND he’d KILL! Nobody improvises better than Barack Obama.

Sadly, we all know that the president’s handlers and the convention planners would never allow him to do such a thing without a painstakingly written script on a teleprompter. And of course, that would throw ice water on at least 50% of the impact. But we certainly cannot risk authentic creative expression of deeply held beliefs! That would be crazy. And anyone who would dare to risk such a real, unscripted form of creative communication at a political convention would have to be senile or crazy.

While writing the rough draft of this post for Two Old Liberals on the back of an envelope and 3 Post-It notes, I was listening to Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry moderating their Saturday morning liberal political commentary shows – my favs, as I admitted earlier. Both moderators, for whom I hold the highest respect and admiration, and their panels, continued to mock and condemn Mr. Eastwood’s improvised comedy sketch, creatively expressing his criticism of the president (with which we liberals disagree) to the wildly enthusiastic response of his audience. At the same time, they complained throughout their commentaries about the lack of truth and authenticity in the Republican Convention.

Come on, Chris and Melissa! You can’t have it both ways! Isn’t it the MESSAGE in Clint Eastwood’s creative performance that we object to, and NOT the METHOD? In fact, aren’t you insinuating that Eastwood is senile and that his comedy sketch was awkward and eccentric precisely because it was so effective in bringing down the house in support of his critical message about President Obama? Please tell me, oh revered liberal commentators and moderators, that you are NOT afraid of creative expression itself – just offended by the content of this sketch. There’s a distinction between content and process. Please acknowledge that. Don’t condemn all oil paintings, or the painters, just because you happen to see a masterfully done satirical portrait of someone you admire.

Just ask yourselves, Chris and Melissa, what you might want to say next weekend after the Democratic Convention, if a similar creative comedy sketch is offered on stage by an American actor icon. Let’s imagine, for example, that Betty White walks on stage and talks to an empty chair as if MR is sitting there. Let’s say her monologue is an irreverent, hilarious, risky expose of the hypocrisy, reversals and aristocratic paternalism of MR. Her performance brings down the house. The entire Democratic Convention audience goes wild, leaping to their feet and giving dear Betty a thunderous standing O. Immediately, Fox News labels Betty White a sad and senile old lady who has clearly embarrassed herself with this eccentric, awkward, disrespectful, vulgar, gross and insulting spectacle.

What would you say then, liberal critics of Clint Eastwood?… Oh… You say THAT could never happen at the Democratic Convention?… Exactly my point. Why not? Why couldn’t we allow an improvised comedy sketch on our stage? Are we really that afraid and uncomfortable with authentic, unscripted, brilliantly delivered creative expression? Are we that insecure?… that lacking in humor?… that wary of creativity?

Come to think of it… this idea of inviting National Treasure Actress Betty White to talk to an invisible MR in an empty chair at the Democratic Convention is not bad… not bad at all. She’d KILL! Let’s try it! What do you think, Betty?… Are you willing to KILL for President Obama?… Oh… You say you’re afraid the press would kill YOU after seeing what they have done to Clint?… I don’t blame you… Well, what if we provided two highly trained body guards and a white steed to see you through the ordeal? Would you agree to do it then?

Under these terms and conditions (hunks and horse) Betty says she’ll agree to talk to an empty chair at the Democratic National Convention next week. We’ll see you there, Betty!