One of the major problems in our political discourse, on gay rights and every other issue, is that our media believes that there are two equal sides to every story. So, for instance, even though it’s common knowledge to anyone with the ability to use Google and read words that Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe are lying thugs, their “stories” become part of the mainstream narrative. But it’s not all the media’s fault. Part of it is that liberals all too often, out of fear or whatever else, roll over and die in the face of the Right’s fake, usually completely made-up controversies, as happened at NPR recently when a fundraising director was caught saying that the Tea Party is full of insane racists (true), which led to the CEO of NPR resigning (!!!). It’s a sad statement on our cultural state of affairs when a person will resign for saying something so true and so innocuous.
There are much better ways to respond to these things, and Right Wing Watch and People for the American Way have put together a how-not-to guide on what the liberal response to right wing bullies of all kinds should be. It’s all worth reading, as it’s framed around what went wrong with the sane side of the culture’s response to the gay/lesbian art exhibition at the Smithsonian, which featured a harrowing work by David Wojnarowicz created during the early days of the AIDS crisis. It’s all worth reading, but I want to point specifically to two sections of the report, starting with the part about how giving wingnuts even one inch essentially empowers them, and the fact that they’re never satisfied with any kind of compromise:
Backing down so quickly to bullies like Bill Donohue will not satisfy Religious Right leaders who are eager to reignite the culture wars. It will encourage and energize them. Pulling the Wojnarowicz video suggested that there was something wrong about showing it in the first place, giving credence to the Religious Right’s claims that the museum was intentionally insulting Christians.
Case in point: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council continued to attack the Smithsonian even after it pulled the video. Perkins, who said the exhibit contained plenty of “in-your-face perversion,” said in a radio commentary:
Right now, the Smithsonian gets 65% of its funding from taxpayers. But Congressman Jack Kingston says they can count on a lot less if this display doesn’t change. And according to one official, it already has. Curators took down the Jesus video last week. But the Battle of the Smithsonian isn’t over. All it’s done is taken the debate over art funding-and framed it.
Rep. Randy Forbes appeared on the Religious Right “Wallbuilders Live” broadcast in December and agreed with the host that the Constitution only gives Congress the power to protect art, not fund it, suggesting that he believes funding for arts and museums may actually be unconstitutional.
And they will continue to use it as part of their Two Minutes Hate, because that’s just how they are. Remember, this entire controversy, as PFAW’s report covers in detail, was manufactured. No one had complained until a Catholic reporter decided to gin up the Wingnut Noise Machine, which stretches directly into Congress, but all of a sudden a work of art was a “national outrage,” or at least portrayed as such.
Another salient point PFAW makes is the cute little language trick all extremist Christians use when they refer to things that grieve them as insulting to “Christians.” It’s beyond arrogant, and more than a little bit stupid, for these fundamentalists to claim they speak for All Christians, but it shouldn’t be surprising, because they lie in creative ways:
MRC President Brent Bozell’s November 30 letter to John Boehner opened with a claim to be speaking on behalf of all American Christians, indeed, everyone who supports freedom of religion:
On behalf of all tax-paying Americans who respect and support freedom of religion, particularly the overwhelming majority of Americans who call themselves Christian, I call upon you today to take immediate action to halt the obscene and bigoted anti-Christian Hide/Seek exhibition currently on display at the venerable Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery.
It is, on its face, a ludicrous claim, albeit one frequently made by Religious Right leaders. There are in fact many Christians and many freedom-loving Americans who oppose the Religious Right and its hostility to freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, by folding so quickly to Bill Donohue’s practiced outrage, the Smithsonian gave unwarranted legitimacy to the idea that Donohue speaks for American Catholics.
The report ends with a sort of How To Do Better Next Time that all should read. In short, the Smithsonian should have put the damn piece back up and told Bill Donohue and John Boehner to go to hell. NPR should have done the same with O’Keefe. Why don’t liberals do this?! I have said many times that the major problem with the Democratic party, and also with liberals, is their utter inability to take their own side in a fight. People complain all the time about how the media portrays wingnut fever dreams as a valid opposing side [see above], but a big part of that is that liberals let them, by refusing to upend the narrative and expose the Right for the fools they are.
I think a large part of it is fear [the report goes into that too — if we give them what they want, they’ll go away], but the way we’re doing things now simply doesn’t work, so we might as well try something else, you know?