In an article published recently on the right-wing website WorldNetDaily, country-crooner-turned-right-wing-pundit Pat Boone compared the anti-Proposition 8 movement in California to the Mumbai terrorist attacks in India. Boone's essay is a tour de force of violent framing, not to mention civic, historic, and political ignorance, but it is nothing new. Right-wing pundits have been framing political issues in violent terms for decades. Heck, it was not long ego that two prominent right-wing pundits blamed 'the gays' for causing the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. Old pundit habits die hard.
According to Boone:
Well, if current theories and intel are correct, this slaughter was planned and executed by one of many Islamic groups that feel directed by their religion to subjugate - or exterminate - "infidels" like Hindus, Jews, Christians and even other Muslims who don't hew to their extremist views. To them, there is only one acceptable worldview - a theology they intend to enforce on all humankind - and anyone who might disagree or obstruct their goals should be removed, violently if need be...Have you not seen the awful similarity between what happened in Mumbai and what's happening right now in our cities? (link)
Protesters in California are like the terrorist murders who tortured and murdered people in Mumbai? That is true only if your goal is to reframe the Prop-8 protesters as a potential terrorist threat to the safety of other Americans, which appears to be Boone's goal.
It is worth pausing for a moment to describe in our own terms exactly what Pat Boone is arguing. If we accept his logic, we are supposed to believe statements that can be reduced down along these lines:
- Californians protesting the organizations that funded and passed an anti-equal-rights ballot measure are the same as terrorists who tortured and murdered hundreds of innocent people in Mumbai.
- Protesters who speak out against the sponsors of discriminatory ballot measures are the same as terrorists who kill innocent people.
- Protesters who speak out are the same as terrorists who kill.
- Protesters are terrorists.
Boone then continues to explain that the Prop-8 protesters are not terrorists right now, so much as they are terrorists in the making:
Hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And hate, unbridled, will eventually and inevitably boil into violence. How crazily ironic that the homosexual activists and sympathizers cry for "tolerance" and "equal rights" and understanding -while they spew vitriol and threats and hate at those who disagree with them on moral and societal grounds.
So let this be a warning to anyone who protests: your hate will soon turn violent no matter what you do--at least that is what Pat Boone says.
Unfortunately, Pat Boone is about as ignorant as a post when it comes to the Constitution.
In fact, the difference between speech and violence was always been a crucial one in the minds of the Framers of the Constitution. Protest is precisely that form of speech the Framers sought to protect because it is an engine of civic discourse. Without protest, civic discourse breaks down. Violence, by contrast, is an incendiary presence all by itself, which is why it was believed that it must be judiciously controlled, regulated in its use beyond military, and in not mobilized as a substitute for politics.
So, if we fast-forward to the the present discussion of Prop-8 in California, we arrive at a Constitutional logic remarkable different from what Pat Boone suggests.
When gays and lesbians are brutalized and murdered by thugs--right-wing adherents told by pundits like Boone that homosexuality is a 'lifestyle' undermining the survival of society--that actual violence threatens American civil society. Mob violence, like vigilante violence is the epitome of anti-Constitutional behavior. On the other hand, when gays and lesbians organize to speak out against the violence and discrimination they experience as a result of right-wing pundits and their followers, that protest speech protects and strengthens American civil society through the exercise of fundamental rights of free speech.
Incidentally, when the the Prop-8 protesters speak out against marriage equality, they are also strengthening civil society. But at no point in time does this mean they are free from protest or dissent. Particularly in a plebiscite system like California's, freedom of speech implies two rights: the right to expression, and the right to dissent.
The Framers knew this. Apparently, Pat Boone and a large number of people in the right-wing of American politics do not. Instead, these right-wing pundits and their followers believe that expressing your political views somehow strips people of the right to respond--and to not follow that convention is to become, in so many words, a terrorist.
Keep in mind, however, that reframing political issues in violent terms is nothing new to right-wing politics in America. In my book Outright Barbarous I lay out in painstaking specifics how the right-wing framed dozens of political issue using violent metaphors, narratives, and predictions. Most people do not remember, for example, but in the hours after the attacks of September 11, 2001, right-wing pundits Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell surmised on national television that part of the blame should be assigned to 'the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians' (p.29).
In those days after 9/11, there was a great deal of confusion amongst many Americans, but the arguments blaming 'the gays' voiced by Robertson and Fallwell were in place and ready to use because they had been ongoing for years leading up to 2001. Up to that point, the right-wing had spend so many decades, so many hundreds of millions of dollars, and so many tens of thousands of broadcast hours blaming gays, lesbians and abortion for every ill in American society. When the planes hit, those were logically the arguments they reached for--like a smoker reaching for a cigarette in a time of great stress.
When Pat Boone calls Prop-8 protesters 'sexual jihadists,' he says less about the nature of political discourse in America than he does about the bad habits of right-wing pundits. Like Boone, there are still many pundits on the right who have become so accustomed to defining the left in violent terms, that it may take years before they are fully worked out the system and a new, more productive cohort of right-wing pundits emerges.
In the meantime, every journalist with a license to speak on public airwaves has a professional responsibility to take Pat Boone to task for inviting his readers to hold in check what he describes as the inevitably violent, 'jihadist savagery' of the California Prop-8 protesters.
Pat Boones' description of political dissent in America as hateful 'savagery' verging on violence is precisely the kind of speech that defines political opponents as dangers to society--thereby exhorting people to strike out first against what they perceive to be a mortal threat. It is the kind of punditry that clogged America's airwaves for too long over the past decade, and particularly during the last election. It should be redressed immediately and unhesitatingly by everyone with a commitment to healthy public discourse.
(cross posted from Frameshop)