Politics & Policy

Who Gets a Pass?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill, July 12, 2012
Using illiberal means to advance liberal ideas is hypocritical and untenable.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel recently said of the Chick-fil-A fast-food chain that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago’s values.” Why? Because Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy is on record as being opposed to gay marriage — as is close to half the U.S. population, according to polls. The mayors of Boston and San Francisco also suggested that the company isn’t welcome in their cities.

Oddly, none of these public officials have lectured President Obama to keep clear of their cities. Yet until recently, Obama was likewise on record as opposing gay marriage. Why the exemption?

Nor have the mayors in question disinvited any black churches from their cities. Yet some pastors of churches with black congregations have been quite loud in their denunciations of gay marriage. Fundamentalist Islamic mosques routinely disparage homosexuals, often publicly, in their literature. Is there something about white Christian males that makes their opposition to gay marriage different from that of their black or Muslim counterparts?

Even as Emanuel warned Cathy that his company did not reflect Chicago values, his city remains among the most murderous in the world. This year, Chicago youths have killed more Americans than have the Taliban in Afghanistan. Unable to stop the carnage, a desperate Emanuel welcomed in Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan to help quell the mostly black-on-black violence, even though Farrakhan has a long record of racist and anti-Semitic tirades. Is the Chick-fil-A CEO a greater danger to Chicago than gun-toting gangs, or more illiberal than the racist Farrakhan?

#ad#Politics — not just race or religion — is also a key to the paradoxical double standard. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) recently slandered Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Bill Magwood, an African-American, as “one of the most unethical, prevaricating, incompetent people I’ve dealt with.” Reid, furious with Magwood because of his support for the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Reid’s state, also called Magwood a “treacherous, miserable liar,” “a first-class rat,” and a “sh-t stirrer.”

In 2008, Reid condescendingly attributed presidential candidate Barack Obama’s success to the fact that he was “light-skinned” and spoke “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

More recently, the crude Reid, in McCarthyesque fashion, claimed that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had not paid income taxes for ten years — supposedly on the basis of a rumor that an anonymous source had passed on to him. “His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son,” Reid said of the late George Romney.

#page#Reid has demonstrated that he is both vulgar and illiberal, but there are no calls for him to vacate his post. No such exemption was extended to an earlier counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.). Lott, in similarly illiberal and crass fashion, said at Strom Thurmond’s 100th-birthday party in 2002 that America would have avoided “all these problems over all these years” if the then-segregationist Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Lott was pressured by both the Republican party and the media to step down, and he did so in shame.

There is a common theme here. Our self-appointed priests of fairness from time to time freely commit sins of intolerance. But don’t dare hold them to the same sort of accountability to which they hold other, less progressive Americans, whose similarly dumb remarks are not gaffes but rather windows into their prejudiced souls.

We must make allowances for the Biblical conservatism of some black pastors in a way we cannot for the white Christian CEO of Chick-fil-A. Farrakhan’s hatred cannot possibly earn him ostracism. The anger we feel toward evangelical Christians for their incorrect attitudes toward feminism and homosexuality cannot be extended to Muslims who have similar views.

#ad#Such selectivity is untenable. Classical Western liberalism was predicated on judging people as individuals — and on their merit and performance — rather than collectively in groups identified by gender, race, or religion. Using illiberal means to advance supposedly liberal ends results not just in hypocrisy and cynicism, but in the current disaster of “Chicago values.”

Politically correct exemption is doomed, because who can sort out the conflicting agendas of various identity groups? Who certifies who’s really black, brown, or white in a multiracial, intermarried America — Barack Obama? Elizabeth Warren? Who deserves how much compensation for which particular past oppression?

Can black pastors who oppose gay marriage be judged to be prejudiced? Is the Asian-American who opposes illegal immigration subject to the same charge of nativism leveled at so-called whites? Can Harry Reid be judged a bigot and McCarthyite if he claims he’s a liberal?

A simple antidote to multiculturalism and political correctness is to evaluate all Americans on their actual behavior, regardless of their politics, race, gender, or religion — in other words, to return to the old liberal idea that one common culture treats all sorts of different people absolutely the same.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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