I'm interested in the way tribalism affects our own understanding of politics, and an interesting situation regarding that just brewed this week.
The Village Voice recently wrote a love letter to Dan Choi, portraying him as a sexy rogue who uses Grindr and swears a lot and just can't be held back. He's a maverick on a mission. If only the media still wrote profiles of John McCain like that.
Anyway, there's one quotation from Choi that's misogynist in the profile:
"Harry Reid is a pussy," Choi angrily said after the failed vote in the Senate last month, vowing to speak out about the Democratic leader, "and he'll be bleeding once a month."
Now, let's imagine that instead of Choi making that comment, it was Matt Barber of the Concerned Women for America who made that comment about Harry Reid saying something supportive of gay people. I know how my people, the LGBT bloggers, would react. We wouldn't have any trouble labeling that statement misogynist, and some of us would go even further, advocating a police investigation, because do we really know what Barber meant about Harry Reid bleeding? Those right-wingers, you never know when they're making violent threats.
But since Dan Choi is on our team, fighting for something we believe in, there will be no outrage. Here's Pam Spaulding's initial reaction:
That won't get him a job as a Beltway mouthpiece, lol.
That's not the Pam Spaulding I know. The Pam Spaulding I know built an internet career on finding offensive statements from obscure wingnuts and calling them out on her site. No one at the Blend gets the "they're just too authentic to be respectful to minorities and women" excuse, so why start now? (Personally, I'm unsure if she's referring to the misogyny in the statement or the mere fact that Choi insulted Reid.)
Here's her reaction after her readers, who are used to riding one wave of affected offense to the next without much time to breathe in between, responded to her "in the comments, my inbox, and on Twitter":
What do I think about the whole dustup? It's good to have the conversation about misogyny within the community and how it manifests itself. But if you read the entire Village Voice piece, which digs a lot deeper into Dan's foibles, his earnestness, and off-the-cuff manner, I was not surprised that a military guy would "go there" - it's part of the military culture, for good or ill and there it was in black and white. It actually didn't offend me as I read the article; it was contextually right in line with Dan's lack of inner politically correct censor at times.
I'm not going to defend a military culture that denigrates women as part of daily conversation (not to mention institutionalized slaps on the wrist for sexual assaults by men against their female service member colleagues). The Voice profile is enlightening precisely because our heroes are flawed, and all too human. The last time I checked, we all have the capacity to learn from mistakes; those in the public eye don't have the latitude to go private when they screw up. Dan did say something boneheaded. misguided - and he apologized.
By and large I agree. I'd quibble with her dismissing "politically correct" as if it's unimportant, as many people discuss the concept. But it's not at all unusual how someone who uses the GLAAD style guide regularly to critique people she does not know would turn around and say that not being "politically correct" is just a lovable foible when discussing someone she personally knows. That's a defining feature of American politics.
But that's just a quibble. People aren't inherently bad and apologies do mean something.
Either way, that passage above is still not the Pam Spaulding I know. Here's the Pam Spaulding I know, writing about a no-name politician who made a racist joke via email, just two weeks ago:
When will they ever learn? I'm not just talking about moronic Republican bigoted politicians like this Virginia Beach Republican chairman (remember NC State Rep. Larry "Fruit Loops" Brown?), but people who think that somehow your randy/racist/homophobic emails to your "friends" may lead to forwards to "friends of friends" and then eventually to the MSM?
But back to this brain-dead pol -- David Bartholomew, now the former chairman of Virginia Beach's Republican Party resigned after sending this out to friends:
This person, who's a Republican and is not on our team, is "brain-dead," "moronic," and "bigoted." His email is easily labeled "racist."
Dan Choi, who is on our team, well, when he makes a misogynist statement, he's just being all mavericky. At least he won't get a "job as a Beltway mouthpiece." He's not "brain-dead" or "bigoted," he's just a lovable rogue.
As Pam promises us, it gets better. That Republican pol apologized for that email, and a spokesperson told us he's not racist. I don't know him and I don't think I'll ever hear anything about him again, much less find out whether he's racist or "bigoted" or "brain-dead," but an apology sounds like a good place to start to me. But since he's not on our team, here's Pam's response:
Oh. My. F*cking. Dog. Is that not the most ridiculous excuse you've heard? OK, first, any disclaimer that starts off with "he's not a racist" should just go into the circular file pronto. But "getting familiar with the Internet" makes the guy look like a moron. Perhaps Bartholomew's "forward" and "send" buttons in his email client must be inordinately larger than the rest of the commands, and his hands uncontrollably moved to hit them on that one missive.
Here's part of Choi's apology on Twitter:
Go ahead: call me a 'misogynist.' I'm still pro-choice, pro-ERA. I also happen to think @HarryReid is a #DADT #FAIL.
Pam does not say that tweet "should just go into the circular file pronto," even though it's just the "I'm not a misogynist" excuse. Instead she sums up the whole affair: "misguided - and he apologized." Bartholomew apologized too, but he doesn't get credit. He's not anyone's friend, our people don't know him, and no one can write off his email as just being a "lack of inner politically correct censor at times." He's an enemy and is treated as such.
When it comes to these comments, for my part, I'm inclined to agree with Pam-on-Choi. People make mistakes and if they apologize and no one was physically hurt by their actions, then we can try to move on while acknowledging that racism/sexism/etc still exist, are still problems that need fighting against, and are feelings we ourselves are capable of. If we're not willing to accept apologies, then we aren't willing to accept progress.
I'm not, though, about to just ignore either man's statements based on the fact that he's a good person, that he's a rogue, that people who know him know he's just like that (as if being repeatedly misogynist/racist is better than it just being a one-off mistake). The fact that Choi was on Democracy Now arguing that "War is the force that gives us meaning" recently shows that he's someone I wouldn't agree with generally (even though I agree with him specifically that DADT should be repealed), but neither statement from him makes him a threat, someone who needs to be repeatedly called a "bigot," or someone to hate.
This is the way our world has been operating for some time, giving people a pass for the same behavior that leads to us calling for heads on platters. And then we wonder why people don't see us (politically aware LGBT people and liberals/leftists generally) as the objective "reality-based community," only concerned with progress and facts and truth and justice.
I'm not saying Dan Choi should get the full Matt Barber treatment. I'm saying that we should be more willing to give people we don't know the benefit of the doubt and less willing to ignore misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., when it comes from people we do know, people we know to be good people. In the end, everyone has someone who thinks they're a good person. It's not an excuse.