Sunday, February 03, 2008

Nick Kristof And The Limits Of (My) Tolerance

Tristero comments on this column by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. Tristero focuses on Kristof's idea that liberals think it OK to make fun of Mike Huckabee's religious beliefs, and places them on the same level as Obama's race and Clinton's gender - subjects about which any derisive commentary should be off limits. He gets the nub of this (truly idiotic) notion:
For reasons I don't quite understand, [Kristof] equate[s] essential, virtually unmodifiable characteristics - a man's race, a woman's gender - with Huckabee's chosen "faith." And [he] take[s] me, a liberal, to task for deriding it.

So much for that part of Kristof's argument. Indeed, this point should be made over and over again whenever we hear evangelicals whine about how it's OK to make fun of their religious beliefs, but not make racist or sexist comments. Simply put - you can change your religious beliefs, but not the color of your skin (and the way society views you because of it); of course, you can change your gender, but that creates as many complications as being born a woman, if not more.

Far more troubling, to my mind, that this kind of stupid cant, is the following:
Liberals believe deeply in tolerance and over the last century have led the battles against prejudices of all kinds, but we have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals. They constitute one of the few minorities that, on the American coasts or university campuses, it remains fashionable to mock.

Scorning people for their faith is intrinsically repugnant, and in this case it also betrays a profound misunderstanding of how far evangelicals have moved over the last decade. Today, conservative Christian churches do superb work on poverty, AIDS, sex trafficking, climate change, prison abuses, malaria and genocide in Darfur.

Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives. And the Democratic presidential candidate (particularly if it’s Mr. Obama, to whom evangelicals have been startlingly receptive) has a real chance this year of winning large numbers of evangelical voters.

First of all, "American coasts or university campuses" are two very different things, populated by diverse groups of people, including, yes, evangelicals and conservatives. This is the kind of right-wing talking point that is just nonsensical, being both factually false and ideologically vicious.

Further, while it is true that evangelicals are being much more vocal on a variety of social issues that could make them amenable to voting for less conservative political candidates, two qualifying points need to be kept in mind before we get all excited about Obama winning all those mega-church members. First, these changes are highly contested, having been fought against tooth and nail by the "leaders" of America's evangelical community. Second, on what basis does Kristof make his observation that Obama (as opposed to Sen. Clinton) is the first Democratic Presidential candidate with the potential to attract evangelical voters?

Consider the way Obama's church, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, has been raked over the coals in the media, especially by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Does anyone not realize that this is red meat for evangelicals? His Christian bona fides are being stripped away by proxy. His faith is being denied him in order to counter any possibility that evangelicals might be tempted to vote for him. Make no mistake, this is the World Series of political hardball.

Finally, who says that liberals have to be tolerant? I find tolerance degrading, paternalistic, and somewhat smarmy. Why in the world should I accept those who are totally unacceptable, socially and politically speaking? I find the very idea repugnant. Part of tolerance is a kind of smugness, in which the tolerant treats those whose views are different, even diametrically opposite one's own, as basically wrong, the result of ignorance or prejudice. I have heard enough "tolerant" people treat those different from them with condescension that is itself a kind of insult. I would much rather take such persons seriously - and then quite happily insist they are not to be tolerated. To borrow a famous phrase of Winston Churchill's there are some things up with which I will not put.

So, yeah, Nick Kristof, I'm a liberal whose intolerant. I don't see where that's a problem, either. It's not just conservatives for whom I feel a measure of disgust; "liberal" "journalists" are really trying my patience as well.

Virtual Tin Cup

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